A key idea in both preventing and managing injuries is understanding the balance between training load and your capacity to cope with that load.

Simply put, it is about working within your limits and increasing them gradually.

What do these terms mean?

Load:- Physical demand placed upon your body. Anything from lifting weights to tying your shoe laces.

Capacity:- Your bodies ability to withstand load without pain/injury.

When load exceeds your bodies capacity for load…you’ll get hurt.

Understanding this concept will help you understand WHY you experience musculoskeletal pain and more importantly HOW to avoid it.


“The Bucket Principle”

When the load is LESS than your capacity, you will not experience pain.

When the load is MORE than your capacity, pain and injury sets in. Pain is the warning sign, alerting you that your bucket is overflowing and you need to improve your capacity!

What else, apart from exercise affects our capacity for load…?

Before we discuss the role of exercise using up our capacity for load, we need to think about what else may affect it.

Sitting on your butt for 8 hours a day slouching over a desk is deconditioning for and puts immense load on the lower back, which simulataneously uses up and reduces your capacity, without you even realising it!

Back Pain@Typing away on a computer, phone or tablet puts stress on the wrists and forearms (tennis/golfers elbow), adding load to your bucket before you have even picked up a weight.

If you have a sedentary lifestyle and you then add excessive exercise to your day without gradually building up to it, you are headed for injury fast.

How to boost your capacity via exercise…?

The key with exercise is to build up your capacity to tolerate load incrementally. If you are new to running and on your first jog you charge ahead for 10 miles, chances are you may experience pain, swelling and sensitivity in your tendons. This is because your bucket is too small to tolerate this distance.

However, if you start with 1 mile, allow enough time and rest for your tissues to recover, then next time run 1.5 miles, you have increased your body’s capacity safely and effectively. You have built a bigger bucket, which will help prevent injury!

The same principle applies if you are rehabbing an injury. Patient and gradual increments in load within your rehab program will increase the tissues capacity to tolerate load and gives you the strongest foundation to make progress.

The scientific diagram below shows how exercise and rest improves capacity…

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Another common cause of injury is overtraining, AKA People working out too often without enough rest between sessions. This happens when the bucket is still partially full from the last work out. (see diagram above…)

Giving your body appropriate rest and the chance to heal before topping up your bucket will decrease the risk of injury. We know that stress and poor/inadequate sleep will slow down the healing process, so these personal factors must be considered too BEFORE training, You may want to give your body an extra day!

Don’t leave it too late to build capacity..

We have all heard the expression “use it or lose it!”

For all those who dislike or who feel they do not need to exercise. The load vs capacity principle does not only apply to sports and fitness, maintaining a healthy capacity will allow you to keep going with essential daily tasks for longer, allowing you to maintain more independence into later life.

Take home point…

Loading tissues through sport and exercise is healthy and promotes positive adaptations such as strength gains, improvements in fitness, and even tissue healing.

Our bodies really are amazing, we’re made up of complex tissues that constantly adapt to load. Disrespecting load and capacity will NEVER result in a healthier, fitter body.

If you want to reduce the risk of injury, learn to balance the training load with the capacity to cope with the load.