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What can horses tell us about injury prevention?

When it comes to training for sport, a simple mistake in how we structure our week can lead to increased injuries and a drop in performance. We are constantly looking to improve our skills, our speed, our power following the rules of progressive overload. “The harder I train the better I get.” This is of course true, with some exceptions. We know that over-training is real and that progressively “training harder” on the netball court, football oval, running track with drills, or in the gym with weights, does not lead to a linear improvement in performance.

Variety is important.

Monotony of training is a key predictor of illness and injury. Monotony is a measure of changes in training load over a period of time. When monotony is high, variety is low. I.e. if all 4 training sessions a week are rated as difficult and all last similar amounts of time, the risk of injury and illness are high. The simplest way to reduce monotony is to have heavy and light days, short and longer sessions in your week. Mix it up.

A study by Bruin et al (1) showed in a group of race horses that when training was conducted on a "hard day/easy day" basis, incremental increases in the magnitude of training on the "hard" day, led to the horses improving their performance in response to the increased training load. However, when the training load on the "easy" day was increased, the horses decompensated rapidly, developing symptoms consistent with the equine equivalent of overtraining syndrome.

It’s a story that is common across all sports. In searching for that extra 2% of improvement we increase our training load by targeting the easy days and making them harder.

Lack of variety not only increases the risk of injury and illness but can have a detrimental effect on performance.

So what do we do when we want to increase our training load and make things harder? A simple rule of thumb is to make the hard days harder and keep the easy days easy. Keep the variety in your training days and realise the benefits.

1. Bruin G, Kuipers H, Keizer HA, Vander Vusse GJ. Adaptation and overtraining in horses subjected to increasing training loads. / Adaptation et surentrainement de chevaux soumis a des charges d'entrainement croissantes. Journal of Applied Physiology. 1994;76(5):1908-13.



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