Moving Beyond Weekly "Distance": Optimizing Quantification of Training Load in Runners

J Orthop Sports Phys Ther. 2020 Oct;50(10):564-569. doi: 10.2519/jospt.2020.9533. Epub 2020 Aug 1.


Background: Quantifying total running distance is valuable, as it comprises some aspects of the mechanical/neuromuscular, cardiovascular, and perceptual/psychological loads that contribute to training stress and is partially predictive of distance-running success. However, running distance is only one aspect contributing to training stress.

Clinical question: The purpose of this commentary is to highlight (1) problems with only using running distance to quantify running training and training stress, (2) the importance of alternative approaches to quantify and monitor training stress, (3) moderating factors (effect-measure modifiers) of training loads, and (4) the challenges of monitoring training stress to assess injury risks.

Key results: Training stress is influenced by external (ie, application of mechanical load) and internal (ie, physiological/psychological effort) training load factors. In running, some commonly used external load factors include volume and pace, while physiological internal load factors include session rating of perceived exertion, heart rate, or blood lactate level. Running distance alone might vastly obscure the cumulative training stress on different training days and, ultimately, misrepresent overall training stress. With emerging and novel wearable technology that quantifies external load metrics beyond volume or pace, the future of training monitoring should have an ever-increasing emphasis on biomechanical external load metrics, coupled with internal (ie, physiological/psychological) load metrics.

Clinical application: It may be difficult to change the running culture's obsession with weekly distance, but advanced and emerging methods to quantify running training discussed in this commentary will, with research confirmation, improve training monitoring and injury risk stratification. J Orthop Sports Phys Ther 2020;50(10):564-569. Epub 1 Aug 2020. doi:10.2519/jospt.2020.9533.

Keywords: adaptations; biomechanics; monitoring; physiology; runners.

MeSH terms

  • Fitness Trackers
  • Heart Rate
  • Humans
  • Lactic Acid / blood
  • Perception / physiology
  • Physical Conditioning, Human / adverse effects
  • Physical Conditioning, Human / methods*
  • Physical Exertion / physiology
  • Risk Factors
  • Running / injuries
  • Running / physiology*
  • Stress, Mechanical
  • Wearable Electronic Devices


  • Lactic Acid