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Load, capacity and health: critical pieces of the holistic performance puzzle
  1. Evert Verhagen1,2,
  2. Tim Gabbett3,4
  1. 1 Department of Public and Occupational Health, Amsterdam Collaboration for Health and Safety in Sports, Amsterdam UMC, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, Amsterdam Movement Sciences, Amsterdam, The Netherlands
  2. 2 Department of Human Biology, Faculty of Health Sciences, UCT/MRC Research Unit for Exercise Science and Sports Medicine (ESSM), University of Cape Town, Cape Town, South Africa
  3. 3 Gabbett Performance Solutions, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia
  4. 4 Institute for Resilient Regions, University of Southern Queensland, Ipswich, Queensland, Australia
  1. Correspondence to Dr Evert Verhagen, Department of Public and Occupational Health, Amsterdam Collaboration for Health and Safety in Sports, VU University Medical Center, Amsterdam 1081 BT, The Netherlands; e.verhagen{at}

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Relationships between load, load capacity, performance and health are topics of contemporary interest. At what intensity should an athlete train to achieve the best physiological response? How much (or little) can an athlete train without detrimentally affecting health? Most studies addressing such questions have used a reductionist approach wherein factors were studied in isolation, thereby ignoring the complex inter-relationships and balance between factors. This editorial discusses the association between load and load capacity, and their relationship with athlete performance and health. We illustrate the practical use of a model for the management of athlete performance and health, and provide directions for future practice and research.

A balancing act

Figure 1 shows the intertwined relationships between load, load capacity, performance and health. To stimulate adaptation the basic principle of any training programme is to apply a load (ie, the amount of mechanical, physiological or mental stress) through training or competition that is greater than an athlete’s current load capacity (ie, the ability to tolerate load).1 With the optimal balance between both constructs, an appropriate training stimulus will …

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