Non-Physical Load Tolerance And A Full Cup


A while back, I posted on load tolerance.

Load tolerance is the capacity our body has to handle a certain amount of force without breaking down or having pain. How much can you lift. How far can you run. How long can you go. How much stress a tissue can handle before it breaks in a trauma. No matter our fitness or pain situation we have a load tolerance, where if we go past it, we can have issues. This can be a maximum level of force on our body, or too much force for too long without enough time to recover. People with better conditioning and training will just be able to go longer, harder or heavier than someone who is less trained. Someone with pain sensitivity issues has to be more careful. We deal with load tolerance in preventing injury, recovering from pain and injury, and in safe training for performance.

One thing about load tolerance that sometimes gives people trouble, is when they have a pain reaction although they continued on a sensible plan. Especially during injury recovery. You thought you did everything right. You found out what a current safe limit is. You worked at that level. You steadily brought up your level of activity. Then, BAM!!! even though you didn’t increase that much you had a flare. You go over what you did in your training or rehab program and can’t find any mistakes. This can set people off. Wondering what you did wrong. Or what else is wrong with your body. Did somebody miss something? Will you be able to recover? This can spiral and cause people to give up on their program and go for more drastic measures which may not be warranted.

In this situation I like to use the full cup metaphor that I learned from Greg Lehman.


If we look at a cup that has liquid in it, when the liquid overflows we run into trouble. In our cup, the main thing we recognize is the health of the tissues we are dealing with. If we obviously go over our tissues’ load tolerance then the cup overflows. We can see this. But, we still don’t understand why when we exercised today the same as yesterday it hurts more today.

One reason, could be still physical. We could have stressed our tissues in ways that weren’t related to our exercise program. We used more stressful postures. We did more loading at home or work, just not in our exercise program. Our tissues register load all day, not just when doing formal exercise.

The other reason may not be physical. When the cup overflows, it may be a sign that our nervous system is becoming more protective. Lots of things can load our nervous system and sensitize it. Look at the cup picture above. Stress. Poor sleep. Nutrition. Worry. Fear. Anxiety all can play a role. Its different for everyone as we are all different in how we process things. But, if you do flare up, and you have sorted through all the physical things you can, check the other things. If life has been stressful. If you are not sleeping well. If you are more anxious about your injury, or other things. You may have an answer. Your tissues may not be worse or something else isn’t wrong. Your body may just be more sensitized that day. Knowing this can help. We can be more confident we are on the right path, and just having a harder day. If it continues to be an issue, it gives us a chance to figure out how to deal with some of the other issues that may be affecting our rehab or training.

Working with a physical therapist knowledgeable in pain can help. We can help sort through some of these things and help keep you on track in your training. If you have any questions post them in the comments, give us a ring at 970-949-9966 or go to

This entry was posted in Interesting things we can do in PT and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply