Some of you may have heard this word quite a few times in the exercise world. This may have been in the form of exercise load, the principle of overload or even overload injuries. In the midst of so much talk about load we decided we would break this down a bit for you.

So what is Load?

There are many definitions for load, but we want you to focus on these Google definitions:

  • a weight or source of pressure borne by someone or something.
  • the amount of work to be done by a person or machine.
  • a burden of responsibility, worry, or grief.


From these definitions, we may say load is any work you have to do in order to achieve your goal, this may be physical as with exercise, emotional (i.e. overcoming grief), or even intellectual (i.e. learning), etc. In all of these areas, for you to achieve your goal you will be required to repeatedly do a certain activity to grow in that specific area of your life. We may call it practice or training but the principle remains the same, the more you do it the better you should be able to be at it and the more you will be able to progress the difficulty level.

In comes Overload Principle…

This is an exercise principle where we slowly increase the difficulty level of the exercise in order to overcome adaptation. Adaptation is the principle whereby after being subjected to a certain load repeatedly, we become more efficient, which means we use less energy and effort to do the same amount of work. This is why after a while things start getting easier. Overcoming adaptation is what allows us to become increasingly better, it may mean becoming stronger, faster, having more endurance, skill, or a combination and this is what guides most of our progressions in physical activity.

Then we have… Overload Injuries

These are injuries that occur when we load ourselves more than we can actually bear. We increase the load we are subjected to, either too much or too soon, where we have not allowed for adaptation to occur to allow us to move on to the next level. Overload presents itself in many ways, physically we have muscle strain, ligament sprains, tendinitis; emotionally and mentally we have stress and burnout.

That is why, when it comes to exercise we hear about progressive overload. This means a guided and measured increase in load.

Types of Load

There are different types of load, we have listed a few for you:

  • Type: The type of activity, this may be cardio, HIIT, sprinting, long-distance running, jogging, weight-lifting or even type of training within a certain modality. For example in weight lifting we may do pyramid training, eccentric load, supersets, etc.
  • Frequency: How often you train within a certain time period, this may be a day, a week, a month or even a year.
  • Intensity: How hard do you train, how much effort you put in each session (think of it as % of your full effort). This may be through speed, distance, weight.
  • Duration: How long do each of your sessions last.
  • Terrain: The environment where we do our activities such as treadmill, road, track, trail, pitch, turf, swimming pool, open waters, etc.
  • Equipment: type of shoes, weights, clubs, etc.
  • Disease: different conditions put an added strain to our bodies thus loading our systems. The treatment of these conditions are also a factor to consider.

When it comes to exercise the general principle is that you increase your load between 5-10% per week in order to avoid injuries. This percentage is an overall percentage, meaning you shouldn’t change your type of duration, and frequency each by 10%, but that the aggregate of all change should be no more than 10%. When it comes to things like type of exercise, terrain, equipment, which are harder to measure in terms of percentage we advise that these be changed individually and given time to adapt into the new factor.

The principles of type, frequency, intensity, duration, terrain (think environment) may also be applied to emotional and mental load. However, the load management plan should be done with a trained professional, i.e. a psychologist. As physiotherapists, we would simply like to make you aware that your emotional and mental state affect your body and contribute to some of the conditions we see at the practice, and therefore it is important to be aware of them and manage them appropriately.

Last but not least, Rest

One of the most overlooked principles in our lives is rest. Rest is time for us to not only recover our energies but it is also the time our body repairs itself, our brain makes new connections and our body organises the structures allowing us to function optimally. Rest affects every single aspect of our being, as no matter what our activity level, lifestyle, or status we all need this time. Rest may be active, meaning we rest a certain type of activity, joint, muscle or it may be passive such as stopping all activities, like sleep.

We hope this article has been insightful and has given you some food for thought for your training and lifestyle overall. Let us know what you think, and feel free to ask any questions you may have.

Start typing and press Enter to search

Shopping Cart