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Active IQ Chief Medical Advisor
Twitter: @danevishnubala

I am delighted to be joined by Strength and Conditioning coach Mark Williams who works with the Great Britain Basketball Senior squads, and as a consultant through his company MatchFit Strength & Conditioning.

Mark’s other interests include education and he lectures in HE. I have worked with Mark at GB Basketball and a key topic that is discussed regularly within the Sports Medicine and Science team as well as the coaching team is loading.In this blog, I ask Mark to give us an introductory overview to loading, drawing on his experiences at a number of elite level institutions.

Dr DaneQ1. What is loading?

LMark Williamsoading is a term that generally represents the physical workload that has been performed by an athlete. So, any training that they have performed in a given training session, day, week -or longer, is workload which in some form is physically taxing the body. It enables us to quantify the amount of physical work that has been completed and this information to make decisions over the training content in a given training day, or a training week.

Dr DaneQ2. How do you measure loading?

Mark WilliamsThere are many ways in which loading can be measured. We can look towards technology to provide us with more detailed data, which may differentiate what is going on both externally (such as distance covered) through GPS, or internally (heart rate response) with heart rate monitoring systems. Additionally, and commonly used, is the Rating of Perceived Exertion, or RPE, a subjective reflection of how physically demanding a training session or match is. This rating can be multiplied by the session duration to give an idea of how much workload has been performed by giving us the session RPE. Example: 5 out of 10 RPE for a 60 minute practice provides a sRPE workload of 300 arbitrary units or AUs.

Dr DaneQ3. Why is it important to measure loading?

Mark WilliamsBy measuring loading, we are able to track increases in how much work an athlete has performed, and establish an idea about their levels of accumulated workload over a period of time. This enables better decision making to be made around programming. It provides a picture of the athlete’s general workload levels so that appropriate increments or decreases can be made.

Dr DaneQ4. When the acute load has spiked high, how do you manage this? What is your thought process around providing guidance on de-loading?

Mark WilliamsMuch of my understanding of spiking of the acute load comes from the work by Dr Tim Gabbett. While the concept of gauging acute training load against chronic data, he has many published studies that utilize the acute-chronic workload ratio in determining risk of injury.

To clarify, the chronic load is the picture painted across a period of time about an athletes loading provides us with an idea of their fitness levels. This commonly represented as 28 days worth of load data. Acute loading is generally the sum of the previous 7 days worth of load data with a ratio of the acute to chronic loads providing an idea of whether there is a spike in the workload, or a decrease against the previous 28 days.

Where a spike has occurred, decisions can be made as to whether there is a subsequent reduction in load, or whether there is a continual progression in load. Ultimately, better decisions can be made.

There are no hard and fast rules to what these decisions will be, especially when it comes to unloading. Within Dr Tim Gabbett’s work, he provides thresholds which serve as a good starting place, but the reality is that you have to learn what each athlete can tolerate and when and where to push them, and when to back off.

Perhaps digress a little here…

To elaborate, the information should not be used in isolation to drive decision making regarding the subsequent training content. Instead, it is there to provide some objective information that informs the decision-making process. For example, it might be that the acute load has spiked above the chronic loading levels, but this was because of multiple training sessions occurring in a given day or series of days. Does the spike in load warrant a back off from a planned hard training session that is to take place the next day? Not necessarily. The contributory loads to the spike may have come in the form of upper body conditioning type circuits and a cycling session. The planned session for the next day may include speed training and lower limb strength. If action was to remove these planned trainings then there may be some vital training units now missing from a given training period.

Dr DaneQ5. How do you communicate loading to the coaching staff?

Mark WilliamsThis can be tricky, and each coach will have their own way in which they wish to have the information conveyed. As a strength and conditioning coach, it is important to learn quickly, the way in which the coach wishes to have this information displayed and conveyed.

It is, however, my job, to raise areas of concern and provide details that will help the coach to understand the potential implications and enable them to make an informed decision about subsequent training content. As such, these conversations need to take place in one way or another.

That said, there is a need for me to recognise, with a context, what the coach views as important and to find a language by which they will understand the potential implications of the loads of the players, individually and as a squad.

For example, a coach may just want to know whether it is a hard day, or instead it needs to be a light day. By creating a mutual and practical understanding of the types of content that pertains to each, it becomes a more straightforward conversation. Overtime, this may develop and given metrics may be added or presented. However, it is the outcome that is most important with the means only mattering to achieve this.

Dr DaneQ6. How do you utilize loading information when planning periodising training?

Mark WilliamsBy capturing information about workload, I can look at where we need increments in loads, or where we may need to reduce the load. Again, there is work by Dr Tim Gabbett that helps provide a starting point in terms of how to increase load; however, it is about making logical progressions that acknowledges all other factors such as time limitations, and other constraints that we operate under. Where do we need to get to? What means will I use? How do these fit with one another? And, what logical progressions will get us there? These are among the questions that as the S&C coach, we must answer. It is then our role to review the data – as well use our coaching skills – to make adjustments where necessary.

Ultimately, we wish to build a large capacity for work by increasing the chronic workloads of the individual or squad of athletes. Having a high chronic workload may reflect high levels of physical fitness and therefore a tolerance to large volumes of work. The aim is to build this up over a period of time (governed often by the sports calendar) rather than with a very sudden increase in the amount of work in the athlete. Not only does this carry the aforementioned risk of injury, but the athlete’s preparedness to perform will also be affected by large spikes in workload.

Within this, through the work of Dr Gabbett and his group, suggests that increments in weekly load do not rise above 10%. Large increases in load that this may increase the likelihood of injury that may not be observed until a number of weeks after the spike.

Ratios of 1 or less will represent circumstances whereby the athlete has accumulated an acute load that has not spiked above the chronic levels and would pertain to the athlete being prepared. However, a ratio greater than 1 would indicate a spike above the chronic load and in turn show the athlete to be in a fatigued state.

Taken from his work, the following figure shows a ‘sweet-spot’ of where the acute-chronic ratio should be:

Workload Ratio

Dr DaneQ7. Whenconsidering load data what other variables do you take into account?

Mark WilliamsGenerally, loading is combined with scores relating to wellness. This can take many forms but often will be in the form of a questionnaire that includes questions around sleep, mood, and muscle soreness. This, collected over time, and in conjunction with the load data, provides a pretty rounded picture of the progression of training and the athlete’s response to it. There are times where the wellness of the athlete will be down, for example, muscle soreness is high and mood is low off the back of high training load. This then will provide the coach with information to help them decide where they go with subsequent training content.

An element of common sense is required in making some of these decisions and often it is through conversations or movement observations in aspects the warm up where it will become apparent that the athlete is not right. The metrics we collect are again, as with sRPE, acknowledged, but as a coach, the coaching eye is and the subjective monitoring of the athlete is paramount.

Dr DaneQ8. For those interesting in learning more about S&C, are there any books, journals or resources you particularly recommend?

Mark WilliamsFor more detailed information regarding loading, it is recommended that people read Tim Gabbetts published work. Outside of this, there are multiple sources that I would recommend to learn more about S&C.

These include:

  • UKSCA Coaching Journal
  • The UK Strength & Conditioning Association Publication Science & Practice of Strength Training by Zatsiorsky
  • Principle of Strength and Conditioning Training
  • Coaching Consciousness by Brett Bartholemew: The importance of relationships with athletes and how to understand them better
  • The Pacey Performance Podcast: A great resource with interviews with many great practitioners in the field
Mark Williams BSc PGCE MSc CSCS ASCC
Twitter: @matchfitcoach

Mark has been in the industry for over ten years having gained his bachelors degree in Sports Science and his Masters in Strength and Conditioning at St Mary’s University based in Twickenham. He is a NSCA and UKSCA accredited Strength and Conditioning coach with an interest in education. He has a PGCE and teaches within FE and HE regularly.Mark has a wealth of experience and as well as his roles for Great Britain Basketball, he consults and has consulted for a number of professional and semi professional organisations and governing bodies.

When Mark is not busy teaching or coaching, he can be found in a book or looking after his twins, Elsie and Carter.