The “Envelope of Function” is a great and simple analogy that can help you understand not only what could be causing you to experience injury but also what you can do to avoid it. The “envelope” is representative of your functional capacity or the highest level you can perform at without a breakdown in your system.
For the purposes of this blog, we are going to consider this analogy as it pertains to musculoskeletal injuries, however, it could be applied to many other body systems. When we are doing any activity, from sitting to walking to exercise, we are placing a load on our tissues. If that load is within our “envelope of function”, our body tissues will respond and adapt without injury. However, when the load does not fit within the envelope, our body isn’t able to accomodate the load and injury can occur.
Everyone’s envelope is different and dependent on many factors, some of which we will discuss later. There are 2 common ways someone can exceed their “envelope of function”.
The load exceeds your envelope.
Person A has been CrossFitting for 1 year at 4 days/week. They decide to add an extra session/week bumping them up to 5 days/week. Their body will likely adapt quickly and be able to tolerate this extra load. The extra load was within their “envelope of function”.
Person B just started CrossFit last month with no prior exercise history for the last year. They start out training at 3 days/week as their coach suggested with their exercise history. It’s month 2 and Person B decides they like results they are seeing and want more. Person B decides to start coming in 5 days/week. Person B is much less likely to adapt to this increased load and much more likely to experience an injury. The load they placed on their body exceeded their envelope of function.
2) The load is the same, however, the size of your envelope has decreased.
So, I stated above that there were many factors influencing the “size” of your envelope. Training experience is just one of these factors. Other include: inadequate nutrition, poor or lack of sleep, stress, physical or emotional pain, insufficient recovery, and lack of social connection.
These factors can explain why you may experience an injury even when your training volume has not changed. The good news is, you can also manipulate these factors to make your envelope bigger! By optimizing these factors and training at a smart volume you can keep yourself at a much lower likelihood for injury. More on this to come!
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