Work capacity, the ability to do work. The author of the book Supertraining the late Dr Mel Siff defined work capacity as follows, "the general ability of the body as a machine to produce work of different intensity and duration using the appropriate energy systems of the body." It is essentially the total amount an individual can do which they are able to recover from.
It’s not game day that you have to worry about it’s the training field. Let me explain my random statement. More injuries happen in training. Not all, but a lot of injuries are related to fatigue. The ability to learn new skills, strategies and executing them are also influenced by fatigue. If you can’t handle and recover from the intensity of your weekly training then you won’t make it to game day and if you do you will most probably not perform as well as you can.
The ability to tolerate high work load and to recover from the workload and repeat.
Work capacity is your ability to do work. It is your ability to handle and recover from the volume and intensity of the training that you are subjected to. This is where having a training base comes in. it’s about building a foundation to handle the workload. Let me give you an example of two athletes.
Athlete A let’s call him Steve and athlete B let’s call him Jim are both rugby players.
Steve is very strong and powerful. Steve can squat 220kg for 3 reps but he can only do one set of this. After a training session where he gets this squat he is fatigued and sluggish for the rest of the week Jim on the other hand can only squat 195kg for 3 reps but he can do 3 sets at this weight and he recovers fully around 2 days after the session.
Set 3 120 x 3 120 x 3
Set 4 140 x 3 140 x 3
Set 5 160 x 3 160 x 3
Set 6 180 x 3 180 x 3
Set 7 200 x 3 195 x 3
Set 8 220 x 3 195 x 3
Set 9 220 x 1 195 x3
Total Tonnage: 3280kg 3555kg
Jim has done 275kg more work than Steve. The key is that Jim did more work at a higher percentage of his max capacity which will lead to the greater improvement in performance. Jim also recovers from this session better than Steve does and therefore he is more effective in his on field practice sessions. Steve might be stronger, but is he stronger in the game when it counts when there are many other factors at play? No.
How do we develop work capacity?
To develop work capacity we need to develop the energy systems in the body. We have different energy systems that power our movement we have to train to develop the “machinery” and capacity of these systems to do what they need to do more effectively.
Energy systems 101
The combinations of the efforts that the various energy systems in the body exert powers the movements we need to do in our sports. The contributions of these energy systems vary between sports and by positional demands within the sport. If one energy system is lacking it affects your ability to perform.
The Image above gives a simple breakdown of which activities the various energy systems power. One important point I want to add though is: The aerobic system powers your recovery. While you are training and competing your aerobic system is helping you to recover from those repeat bursts of exertion. If the Aerobic system is not function optimally recovery is not happening optimally and therefore you can’t put out the same amounts and level of efforts repeatedly.
The energy systems need to do their work but in the right movements. Yes we will have carry over between different training modes, but we also need to develop work capacity in the patterns we operate in. It’s pointless to spend all your time cycling to develop your aerobic capacity when you need it when you are running.
What do I do with all this info?
Here is the very simple answer, because I can’t give you a detailed one unless I’m actually training you.
Develop an aerobic work capacity. Long duration (40-60min) low intensity sessions are good for you. Bike, run, walk (hike), row. Get your heart rate up and do work for time.
In your off season spend time building a base. We can’t chase strength and power year round. Work submax but aim to do more.
Analyse your game, find your strengths and your weaknesses and make them better. Seek out people who can help you improve.
If you have more questions than answers after this post. Contact us and I can give you a more detailed answer.
Stay fast, stay loose, work hard!