When I wrote this, my puppy was sprawled out on his bed, looking very peeved at me. I woke up early in the morning, and thought “it’s been a few months since I’ve been for a run with him”. And then, he was spent!
He is a year old, and he’d been running regularly with me since 3-4 months old, up until about 2 months ago - mainly due to constant cold and heavy rain, and now the warmer temperature takes its toll on him, just like most dogs.
Dog owners out there had told me to be careful. “You shouldn’t run them until they’re older”, “they need to be fully grown”, “five miles is too far”
So, together we built slowly, and I was always extremely mindful of his body language and demeanour during and after each run, to determine what was potentially too much or not.
I was grateful for all of this advice, and I still am. I was being careful, and I still am. I started running with him as I was returning from a bone stress injury, myself.
As he lay there, I thought about the advice I had received, then my attention veered to the nature of said advice. Whilst the intention is always good, this type of advice can be quite negatively inferred. And limiting. Especially the language used; “you mustn’t”, “you shouldn’t”, “you can’t”.
Next, my mind shifted to running. And, how often I’d received advice of the same ilk. “You can’t run that much”, “you have to stretch after each run”, and of course my favourite “running is bad for your knees!”.
To me, all of those statements are both correct and incorrect. Running might be bad for your knees... if you have a high foot inclination angle at initial contact, or significant knee excursion as you travel through the stages of stance phase.
But, someone who runs 10 minutes-per day to manage their mental state, may not have any problems even if the characteristics of their running style are associated with greater risk of knee injury. But, if that same person started training for an ultramarathon, followed a plan they found in a book that started with them running 40% more per week than they are currently doing, they might develop problems. It’s the change in load variable that actually increases their risk of running being bad for their knees.
The point is, look at your own situation, listen to your own body, and rank that above others’ experiences. (In fact, after initially writing this, I listened to one of my favourite podcasts, The Physical Performance Show, with Brad Beer interviewing one of the worlds best runners, Zane Robertson, who said exactly this: “learn to read your own body, not someone else's”)
So, this leads to something important I’m frequently discussing with clients - load management.
Research is emerging in this area for injury prevention and optimising performance. I will need to post separately on load management tactics in the future, so this one doesn't turn into a book chapter!
Mostly, when a client walks through my door with a painful Achilles or a sore knee, it’s almost always due to erratic training loads, one way or another. You may be thinking “it’s not rocket science - you start running a lot more you’ll end up injured” (which is exactly the type of limiting thought process aforementioned).
In my opinion, however, the origin for specific tissue overload begins when you stop (I’m not talking about recovery, I’m talking about unnecessary deload).
Detraining, or deloading, makes retraining, and therefor reloading, more demanding on our adaptive bodies. Just how we need appropriate rest to adapt to stress, we need appropriate stress to avoid fully adapting to rest. It’s an ongoing, meandering adaptation process.
What about after you’ve completed your peak event? You take a month off to recover and relax, and then you start back where you left off. And, wow, it’s tough. We always put it down to the training build-up. We don’t think about the damage that the prolonged rest could have done - detraining.
We were designed to move, walk, run, climb, crawl, throw and fight. These are our most important survival instincts. And, over the millennia, we’ve created a world that means we need to rely on these less.
So, yes, it’s likely then that we are less capable now of hunting and being hunted every day compared to our early ancestors. But, it doesn’t mean we won't ever be capable. It also doesn’t mean you can't choose to go out and run back-to-back marathons next year. Or, squat 2 times your body weight before Christmas (another tangent for a future post). We just have to build our chronic loads to get there. By making the right decisions for your body - resting when you need to rest, training when you need to train, using other contextual modalities such as Sports Massage to facilitate load management - you reduce the risk of injury. (See my latest video on when I think you should get sports massage here)
So, back to how this post started - the puppy. Essentially, Copper had a bout of exercise that was higher than his chronic training load. He spent months running a couple of times a week and growing his capacity to run more. Then, he spent a few months decreasing his capacity to run for longer, and then ran longer. And, then, paid for this spike in load by being very tired (perhaps the better half appreciated his lethargy, although he’s a spaniel so chances are it was short-lived!)
But, unlike our pets, who do what we want them to do, or don’t really know when to stop, we choose what we do. And, we can let our own bodies guide us through this process.
The three things I hope you take away from reading this:
Don’t dismiss advice from others - but don’t ignore your own body
Think about monitoring your chronic training load
Make training individual to YOU - what might break someone else, might not break you.
Thanks for reading!