Work Capacity – Part Two

It is important to distinguish the development of a large work capacity from the development of an aerobic base. The development of an appropriate aerobic foundation is a component part of work capacity but in sprint sports, intermittent sprint sports and transition game sports it is not anywhere near as significant a portion of the work capacity as conventional wisdom would have us believe. Even in pure endurance sports I believe the means of development of an aerobic base needs to be revisited. It is important to remember that training is cumulative. Work capacity accumulates and builds upon itself from year to year. Therefore with the aerobic component, once the capacity is increased and the aerobic power is elevated that component cannot be significantly raised. The focus needs to shift to efficiency; how the aerobic component can best contribute to performance.

In the vast majority of the sports we know we need to develop an aerobic component. In the research and coaching literature we have been bombarded with the concept of the aerobic base. The fundamental dichotomy that exists is how to develop the aerobic power necessary to recover from the short intense burst of an activity that occurs in a game without compromising the explosive power necessary for optimal performance during the bursts. It is during the bursts that actual game performance is measured and decided. Here is where we need to think and act outside the box. Volumes of research literature and thousands of doctoral dissertations have been written on all the various factors of aerobic exercise. It is only recently that there has been significant work done to more specifically direct us in this area. Max VO2 is easy to measure; it is the gold standard lab test to give aerobic information. Because it is easy to measure and deeply embedded research literature do not make it correct. I maintain that it is an overrated measure. Time and effort could be better spent in other areas. For the intermittent sprint sport and transition sport athlete we do not need max VO2 tests to train the aerobic component.

To better guide us in the application of work capacity concept I recommend the following principles as a guide:

  • At younger training ages volume and general work will be the primary stimulus for adaptation. (Training age is how long an athlete has been in a formal training program.) Experience has shown us that with younger athletes virtually anything you do will make the athlete better. The more you do the better you get. This can become a trap that if this is continued as the athlete accumulates training age. Eventually it will yield diminishing returns.
  • At advanced training ages, intensity is the stimulus for development. As the athlete progresses it becomes self-defeating to continually try to do more. The shift needs to be made to more intense work, higher quality effort and technical refinement.
  • No component of fitness should be developed in isolation. Perhaps one of the biggest mistakes made in contemporary training is the inordinate placed on one component of fitness to the detriment of others. It is easy to fall into this, but ultimately this is unproductive. No one component is more important than another. There must be a careful blend. That is not to say that certain components would not be emphasized at certain phases of the year, but essentially all components of training should be trained during all phases, just in different proportions.
  • The role of general work (GPP) changes with increasing training age. At the younger training ages with the developing athlete general work assumes a great emphasis. It makes up the greatest proportion of the training. As we stated in our first principle, volume will be the initial stimulus to force adaptation. As the athlete matures, because training is cumulative, general work assumes less importance. There is less need for GPP and more need for specific work and technical refinement. For the athlete of more advanced training age general work is used for regeneration and a break from more intense training.
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