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How to build your resistance to injury – The Bandwidth Theory

How to build your resistance to injury – The Bandwidth Theory

Why are some people injury prone and some people almost invincible?

To get to the bottom of this we must first understand the simplest rule of Biology; “Everything affects everything.”

To be more specific here is a list of just some of the factors that affect your readiness to exercise right now, as you sit there reading this blog: 

  • Sleep
  • Hydration level
  • Current injury
  • Previous injury
  • Mental health
  • Energy stores
  • Hormones
  • Biomechanics
  • Psychological stress
  • Genetic makeup
  • Current training load

There are probably hundreds more factors that affect how you’re feeling, and each of these factors all affect each other as well. Let’s dive into one of these factors; current training load. This is the amount of training/exercise that a person has done over a recent time period.

Research tells us that most people can safely increase their training load by approximately 10-20% per week (this will vary from person to person). This can be done by increasing the distance running, lifting more weights, increasing time on the bike or any other variable that relates to your activity. The rule that ‘steady and consistent increases in load are good, and large spikes are bad’ is almost always the case. 

This brings me to the Bandwidth theory. Large jumps in load causing injury theoretically makes a lot of sense, but at the same time we all know someone who does no running for a month and can then join you for a 10km run and be absolutely fine. This is because of your individual level of robustness. Think of robustness as your body’s ability to deal with variation in load. Let’s jump into an example to explain this concept.

Three (completely hypothetical) friends Damo, Jackson and Sam all like running, and over the last month have been running together 3x per week, each time running 6km. Therefore, they all have a what we call a chronic training load of 18km per week. After their 4 weeks of consistent running they decide to do 4x6km runs on the 5th week, making it 24km for the week.

The next day at work Sam comes to work with a tight hip and Damo has a really sore foot. Jackson though feels completely fine. Why is it that the three friends all have different responses to the same increase in load?

The reasons for this are because:

  • Jackson gets minimum 8 hours sleep a night, eats well, regularly does lower body resistance training and has been consistently running for years.
  • Sam has been running fairly consistently and generally does one lower body strength session per week but doesn’t always get enough sleep and is partial to a few beers on the weekend.
  • Damo, who’s the worst off, has battled chronic hamstring issues stemming from his glory days as a reserves back pocket for Old Xavs and for this reason his running is sporadic in the past. He also never lifts weights and runs in a pair of runners that are 4 years old.

As the graphic below illustrates, the increase of 6km a week put Damo into “the red” or in his case injured with a sore foot, whereas Jackson is in “the green” and felt fine. This is because Jackson has a wider Bandwidth in which he can safely exercise because of the numerous positive factors that impact his readiness to exercise. 

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So as we discussed at the beginning of this blog there are a long list of factors that affect your likelihood of getting injured. What we do know is that if you want to stay injury free there are many things you can do to “widen your bandwidth”. Here’s my top 5:

  1. Sleep – 8 hours per night.
  2. Nutrition & hydration – Eat well and drink water, at least 3 litres of water per day.
  3. Get stronger – complete some form of structured and individualised resistance training. (Strength training in the gym, clinical Pilates, ect.)
  4. Vary what you do – try new things; ride a bike, swim, play a new sport. Don’t do all of these in the same week but variation in what you do will teach your body to cope with more variability in the future.
  5. Recover well – a combination of active recovery (walking/ swimming/ bike riding) along with targeted release work and mobility.

There is so much more to staying injury free than doing your old rehab exercises mindlessly a few times a week! Cover all the bases and you’ll give yourself every chance of staying fit, healthy and doing what you love.

By Sam Batterton

Strength + Conditioning Coach

Sam is at K2 Monday – Friday. Over the remainder of lockdown Sam is running outdoor 1:1 and 1:2 S+C sessions.

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