Work Capacity – Part One

To better understand work capacity it helps to think of it this way. In order for an athlete to improve they must be able to do a certain amount of work. They must be able to work at a level that will ensure enough stress to achieve a positive training adaptation. For example, a sprinter whose general fitness limits their ability to sprint, that would significantly limit their ability to improve. Therefore our goal is to build an extensive work capacity base that fits the specific demands of the athlete’s sport and meets the athlete’s individual needs. Too often this is confused with building an aerobic base. It is much more than an aerobic base; in fact in speed/power/skill sports it is best to forget the concept of aerobic as it has traditionally has been thought of. In the language of training theory work capacity falls into the category of general physical preparation (GPP).

There are three components of work capacity:

  • The ability to tolerate a high workload – the key word here is to tolerate. Many athletes are capable of doing an occasional high workload, but cannot adapt to this workload on any kind of consistent basis.
  • The ability to recover from the workload sufficiently for the next workout or competition. This is closely tied to the first concept. If the athlete cannot recover then they are risking overuse injuries or overtraining. They will not be able to adapt to the training stress.
  • The capacity to resist fatigue whatever the source. It is more than aerobic, it is the ability to resist neural fatigue and mental fatigue.
  • Refinement of the efficiency and coordination of the cardiovascular, metabolic and nervous systems. It is more than cardiovascular efficiency. It is preparing the whole athlete to be as efficient as possible.

To better understand the concept of work capacity I have found it useful to think of it as those qualities that are limiting factors to the development of other qualities. It consists of those capacities and components of athletic fitness that, if deficient, would limit the ability to do more training. Those would be body composition, too fat or too lean, limited flexibility, inadequate aerobic capacity, aerobic power, anaerobic capacity, strength endurance, or anaerobic power. All of these are prerequisites for being able to handle a level of work. A limitation in any of these components would have serious implications and severely limit an athlete’s work capacity.

To help better understand the concept of work capacity there are three conceptual terms. The first is capacity, which is the total amount of energy available to perform work. In simple terms it is the size of the tank. The second term is power, the amount of energy that can be produced per unit of time. The third term is efficiency, which is the optimal use of the energy available. It is efficiency that I focus on in training.

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