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How do you know when to push and when to back off?

How hard or intense should your workouts be? How do you know when it's too much or not enough?


This is a very common problem I see in people who are just trying to participate in their sport or activity, but they keep getting hurt and burning themselves out or they aren’t doing enough and they plateau with no progress.


How do we find that nice balance of challenge and recovery?


It’s an incredibly fine line and very frustrating at times to stay on the right side. And you can look at it from both a performance perspective and an injury prevention one.


When it comes to performance, you need enough of a training stimulus to create an adaptation. If your body isn't challenged, then it has no reason to adapt and get stronger and perform better.


You can use a system like RPE or rating of perceived exertion to help quantify this.




I'll use resistance training as an example. While doing a set of squats, you're looking for an RPE of at least 7 in terms of challenge. This means that you're leaving roughly 3-4 reps in the tank by the end of a set. That would be a sufficient challenge to create adaptation. If you're doing something like running, you may rate this as a 7/10 in terms of difficulty or going to 70-80% of your capacity.




If you're always training to failure or to your maximum, (RPE 10), you'll eventually burn out. It's perfectly acceptable to have instances of strategic overreach, but with too much training in this area your body won't be able to recover from it and you'll most likely see a decrease in performance.


That's why many people "periodize" or plan their program cycles ahead of time to account for periods of high-intensity work with a suitable recovery afterwards.


Generally, I prescribe most of my client's work and my own training in and around the RPE 7 and 8 range to find that happy medium in the middle.


When it comes to injury prevention and rehabilitation, it's a similar approach with a few key differences.


First off it's important to note that absolute rest is rarely the answer when it comes to pain and injury rehab. Doing nothing leads to further dysfunction and an increased risk of injury in the future. Ideally we want to build strength and tolerance in our muscles and joints so that we're prepared for whatever gets thrown at us.


So yes we want to move, but at the same time we don't want to be doing things that cause further irritation and injury. There's again that sweet spot between pure rest and pushing ourselves too far. And to illustrate this I use what I call the "traffic light" system.



We use a scale in this case also from 1-10, but this time we're talking about levels of pain or discomfort. A pain level of 0-3 means you're at a "green light". This is an acceptable level of pain to work through without causing issues. Pain between 4-7 out of 10 is a "yellow light" meaning you should proceed with caution and potentially decrease intensity. Pain between an 8-10 is a "red light" meaning you should back off before causing further harm.



The goal is to see an improvement of your symptoms or your ability to tolerate more. If you can handle more load, volume, and intensity without your symptoms getting worse, that's a sign you're on the right track.


Speaking of those training variables, you should regress and progress your training based on how you're feeling and what your body is telling you. You could look at variables like:


- weight and load selection

- total volume of work (reps)

- rest times

- training frequency

- range of motion

- tempo or speed at which you move


Ultimately your goal is to keep moving and training in a way that allows you to progress, recover, and stay pain-free while doing so.


To your good health,

Coach Stephen


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