7 Tips for Finding the Correct Training Stress

Runners toe a delicate line of training gains and injuries. Unfortunately there is not a machine that can take a drop of blood and tell us exactly what our body can handle and what it needs to improve. So we must resort to trial and error methods.

One of my favorite graphics for depicting the effects of training is shown below. It shows us the “sweet spot” of training that we should stay in. If we don’t stress the body enough we either die or experience muscle atrophy (deterioration). If we stress the body too much, this also can result in injury and/or death. The sweet spot is in the middle with increased tolerance (hypertrophy) and maintenance.

Stress Adaptations

So How To Find the Sweet Spot?

1. Identify what is causing your injuries.

The amount of stress you’re placing on your body may not be the issue causing your injury. It might be how you are using your body instead. Work with local physical therapists to figure out what is the source of your injury.

2. Follow the Law of Too’s

When running you always want to follow the Law of Too’s: Never too much, too fast, or too soon. Any of these or a combination of these can lead to injury.

3. Heart Rate Training

Heart rate training can be a good way of tracking your effort as well as your recovery. I’m a fan of using morning resting heart rate to see how my training is affecting me. If my heart rate is elevated above normal levels when I wake, I know my body has yet to fully recover. Phil Maffetone’s Book: The Big Book of Endurance Training Racing has some great chapters on heart rate training.

heart rate strap

4. Work in Recovery Days

It took hiring a coach for the first time for me to understand the value of recovery days. It is important to dip down into the maintenance area of the spectrum so as to allow the body to adapt to the stresses you have placed on it and build up muscle. Active recovery such as walking can also be a nice way to get recovered while still being somewhat active.

5. Have a Training Goal

It is impossible to have the goal of every athletic achievement in the world. You can’t be the world’s strongest human and be the world’s best endurance runner. The training goals aren’t aligned. Same goes for being a top 100 mile ultra runner and top 400m runner. There is some crossover but attempting both at the same time can cause issues.

6. Practice Makes Perfect

You are an experiment of 1, treat yourself as such. Diligently track your progress, heart rate, perceived effort, times, etc to find out the most information about yourself. Identify trends and techniques that make you feel the best and work for you.

7. Avoid Long Periods of Complete Rest

As said before, not stressing the body enough can lead to tissue atrophy. Jay Dicharry sums it up in his book well: “Wolf’s Law states that tissues in the body adapt to the loads placed upon them. Training breaks down the body. If the rate of recovery matches the rate of breakdown, the body will maintain its current state.” Long periods of bed rest and inactivity will most certainly lead to atrophy. Stressing the body is good in correct doses!

Anatomy for Runners

I hope this helps your understanding of how your body responds to training stresses. I know the first graphic was huge for me in understanding how to train my body for my specific goals. Leave comments with your questions!

Always in Stride,


2 replies
  1. Kenny
    Kenny says:

    Well said. I would also add experimenting with different training stimuli. While “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” is a good rule of thumb, sometimes the same training regimen over several years might plateau your peak fitness quicker. You may be increasing your workload but the stimulus as a whole would remain stagnant.


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