HEALTHAllostatic Load vs. Total Training Load: What’s the Difference and Why Should You Care?

Allostatic Load vs. Total Training Load: What’s the Difference and Why Should You Care?

By: Ryan Provencher, Firefighter Peak Performance Founder and Executive Fitness Advisor for CRACKYL Magazine

The physical, mental, and emotional demands of firefighters are often high. To maintain health and well-being throughout our careers, it is important that we are mindful of the stress we experience day to day. 

There are two types of “stress loads” that we might consider at different stages of our firefighting career. We will define and discuss stress related to “Allostatic Load” and “Total Training Load” and the impacts of these stressors in Recruit Academy, Operations, and Administration.

Allostatic Load

Wikipedia defines “Allostatic Load” as the wear and tear on the body that accumulates as an individual is exposed to repeated or chronic stress. High allostatic load is associated with an increased risk of various physical and mental health problems.

In Recruit Academy, allostatic load is mostly related to the physical demands of occupational training and mental demands of academics. In Operations, the primary allostatic load often results from sleep deprivation and trauma experienced through tragedy in emergency response. In Administration, allostatic load may be due to budget constraints, resource limitations, and long hours. Keep in mind that life stress away from work also contributes to allostatic load. 

There are many strategies that you may utilize to reduce allostatic load to include stress management techniques, adequate sleep, balanced nutrition, proper hydration, physical activity, social support, proactive mental health, and work-life balance.

Total Training Load

Total Training Load is a concept used in sports and exercise science to quantify the stress of physical activity more specifically. This contributes to allostatic load but warrants specific attention due to its impact on performance and injury prevention. A simple way to estimate training load is to consider the intensity of any activity using a rating of perceived exertion on a scale of 1 to 10 and duration of the activity in hours.

In Recruit Academy, the total training load will be high due to the physical demands of occupational training. It is very important to keep this in mind when designing Recruit Academy fitness programs. In Operations, the total training load varies depending on call volume and the demands of each incident. Ideally, physical training will be structured to ensure progress with flexibility to account for the demands of firefighting and shift work. In Administration, the total training load is low due to the sedentary nature of the work. It is important to participate in a comprehensive physical training program with frequent standing and movement throughout the day. By carefully monitoring and adjusting training programs, firefighters can better meet the physical challenges of the job while minimizing the risk of training-related injuries.

Evaluate the specific stressors that may be contributing to your allostatic load and consider some of the strategies listed above to help you manage them. Look at your total training load to determine if you may be doing too much or too little physical activity. It is important to acknowledge that while firefighting is a highly stressful occupation, there is a lot we can do to manage the physical, mental, and emotional demands of the job through mindful lifestyle choices and intentional physical training.

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