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Monitoring Load: External & Internal

As a strength and conditioning coach or personal trainer, it is important to understand the fundamentals of monitoring and tracking. In a training session, practice, or competition, coaches can collect a variety of information but it is ideal to record the essentials. Athletes who participate in elite sports are known to experience high training loads and complex competitions (Soligard et al., 2016). Soligard et al. (2016) state that insufficient balance between loading and recovery can lead to unwanted fatigue and unpleasant training responses. Overall the result of insufficient training balance between load and recoverability can increase the risk of illness or injury among the athlete or client.

An insufficient balance between load and recovery can relate to the health and wellbeing of an individual (Soligard et al., 2016). If individuals compromise the values of their mindset and nutrition, while neglecting the regulation of their programming through optimal patterns of periodization, they breach the path of homeostasis. A variety of studies have investigated the concepts of overreaching on a variety of variables from physiological concerns, biochemical, psychological, immunity, and hormonal, thus still little is known (Halson & Jeukendrup, 2004). At this point, further research is needed to understand the processes of acute fatigue, functional and non-functional overreaching, and overtraining syndrome (Halson & Jeukendrup, 2004; Soligard et al., 2016).

The focus of this article is to educate current professionals and fitness enthusiasts on what can be utilized in training to develop sufficient balance and produce optimal recoverability. In recent years, technology has been a growing industry that can help optimize training load by use of wearable technology by monitoring various parameters (Düking, Hotho, Holmberg, Fuss, & Sperlich, 2016). In 2006, the wearable technology market approached an astonishing $6 billion dollars (Düking et al., 2016)! As you continue to read this article, you will learn about different monitoring tools via internal and external load types.

Monitoring Load

The use of monitoring load can benefit the changes in performance while reducing the risk of injury (Soligard et al., 2016). As all athletes or clients will respond differently among training, training programs may need to be modified to ensure that the individual accompanies appropriate recovery. When fatigue approaches individuals because of training, daily stressors, nutrition, or whatever life throws at them, a program may need to be addressed so the risk of non-functional overreaching, injury, and illness can be reduced (Soligard et al., 2016). Although there is a variety of variables that can be used but no single training response to load can predict maladaptation or injury (Soligard et al., 2016). Therefore, utilizing the two types of load monitoring may be useful to quantify the expressions from training.

External Load

The use of external load monitoring contains the expression of an athlete's or client's training or competition load by hours of training, distance ran, watts produced, movement repetitions, and other external factors (Soligard et al., 2016). Halson (2014) provides a definition of external load as the work completed by an athlete or client, which is measured independently of their internal characteristics. The stress placed on the body during activity results in fatigue and stress, which reduces performance characteristics following the actions. The information supplied by the external load can describe the quantifications of workload completed by the athlete or client (Jones, Griffiths, & Mellalieu, 2017).

The use of technology has authorized the availability of external load monitoring. The opportunities of continuous data recording can help provide data on a variety of parameters from average power, velocities, acceleration, jump height, contact time, and rate of force development (Halson, 2014). Although technology can help provide many parameters from training and competitions, the operations from many external load monitoring tools come with a hefty price. Thus, selecting the appropriate tools that will meet the budget but will collect data on the exact measures you are looking for. Although technology can be integrated for external load monitoring, it can simply be done by recording weights and repetitions from the training sessions.

External Load Examples

  • Training or Competition Time (seconds, minutes, or hours)

  • Training or Competition Frequency (sessions or competitions per day, week, month)

  • Type of Training or Competition

  • Time-Motion Analysis (global positioning system analysis)

  • Power Output, Speed, Acceleration

  • Neuromuscular Function (jump test, isokinetic dynamometry, and plyometric push-up)

  • Movement Repetitions (bench press, squats, pitches, throws, serves, and jumps)

  • Distance (ran, cycled, or swam)

  • Acute:Chronic Load Ratio

Internal Load

Internal load monitoring measures the internal physiological and psychological responses from external loads (Soligard et al., 2016). In response to training or competition stimulus, measuring the internal load can be critical in determining biological adaptations (Soligard et al., 2016). As the athlete or client experiences the rigors from training, practice, or competitions, the individual’s efforts and responses need to be analyzed appropriately to segment the associations with fatigue, stress, injury, illness, and performance.

In weightlifting, Barakat and Hatrick (2019) report that many injuries are associated with overuse. The use of internal load monitoring tools is effective and a valid indicator of the recovery status of athletes/clients and providing a readiness of the individual following the fatigue and previous load (Jones et al., 2017). The information recorded can guide and support the coach's decisions in regards to sufficient balance between training (practices and competitions) and recovery (rest) so that performance is enhanced and injury/illness is reduced (Jones et al., 2017).

Internal Load Examples

  • Perception of Efforts (rating of perceived exertion (RPE))

  • Session Rate of Perceived Effort (session duration (minutes) x RPE)

  • Psychological Questionnaires (profile of mood states (POMS), recovery-stress questionnaire for athletes (REST-Q-Sport), total recovery scale (TQR), sports anxiety scale (SAS), sleep (quality and quantity))

  • Heart Rate

  • Heart Rate Recovery

  • Heart Rate Variability

  • Training Impulse (TRIMP)

  • Biochemical, Hormonal, Immunological Assessments


Each load monitoring tool is unique and can provide positive insight on reviewing the athlete's or client’s response to training. The external load is ideal for understanding the work completed, capabilities, and capacities of the individual, while internal load can help explain the relations of physiological and psychological stressors experienced by the individual (Halson, 2014). Understanding the relationships between external and internal load can merit the regulations of training and overall stress (Halson, 2014). As a coach regulates the athletes/client's training programs and/or competition time, this can help aid the processes towards a fully recovered athlete or client.

There are many ways to monitor an athlete or client’s response from training or competition. As the expressed external load or internal load is manipulated, it is important for coaches to keep records of these parameters. The records will help address upcoming adaptations and provide useful information towards procedures of program modifications. Does the athlete or client need to take a step back? Maybe the training session should focus on mobility and meditation to reduce stress. A variety of actions can be done to modify training programs but what is the data telling us?


Barakat, A., & Hatrick, N. C. (2019). Case report of a surgical neck humerus fracture due to strength training. Trauma case reports, 21, 100205-100205. Retrieved from

Düking, P., Hotho, A., Holmberg, H.-C., Fuss, F. K., & Sperlich, B. (2016). Comparison of Non-Invasive Individual Monitoring of the Training and Health of Athletes with Commercially Available Wearable Technologies. Frontiers in physiology, 7, 71. Retrieved from

Halson, S. L. (2014). Monitoring training load to understand fatigue in athletes. Sports medicine (Auckland, N.Z.), 44 Suppl 2(Suppl 2), S139-S147. Retrieved from

Halson, S. L., & Jeukendrup, A. E. (2004). Does Overtraining Exist? Sports Medicine, 34(14), 967-981. Retrieved from doi:10.2165/00007256-200434140-00003

Jones, C. M., Griffiths, P. C., & Mellalieu, S. D. (2017). Training Load and Fatigue Marker Associations with Injury and Illness: A Systematic Review of Longitudinal Studies. Sports Medicine, 47(5), 943-974. Retrieved from doi:10.1007/s40279-016-0619-5

Soligard, T., Schwellnus, M., Alonso, J.-M., Bahr, R., Clarsen, B., Dijkstra, H. P., . . . Engebretsen, L. (2016). How much is too much? (Part 1) International Olympic Committee consensus statement on load in sport and risk of injury. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 50(17), 1030. Retrieved from doi:10.1136/bjsports-2016-096581



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