I’ve been very fortunate in my career to have trained a variety of different athletes. When it comes to being able to compete and to get to the next level the only thing that separates the good from the great is doing just a little bit more. Of course in terms of training, fitness, and physical competition this is a challenge when you think your heart is going to beat out of your chest. It is without question the proverbial kick to the balls and it is what us strength coaches refer to as Physical Work Capacity.
“If you train hard, you’ll not only be hard, you’ll be hard to beat.”–Herschel Walker
Physical Work Capacity to me is defined as one being able to perform a high level of work output for a certain task within a given amount of time. If we’re talking about a sport or competition then the desired amount of time is whatever digital display is shining on the big scoreboard, as well as the demand of time associated with a given task. So why am I bringing up the concept of work capacity today?
Well when looking closely at a sport environment as a strength coach all I see are athletes trying to create stability in an unstable environment. Think about this for a second. This is what sport is all about. It’s about an athlete trying to overcome the opposition by outworking the opposition through being better able to control their physical movement and physical execution better than their opposition. The point of this is that this all takes effort and effort means work… and work equates to stress and fatigue.
As far as a developing and structuring a physical environment to create or simulate this much needed characteristic of “control” I feel that a smart strength and conditioning program is the best way to provide this need for you, me, or anybody. By being creative and introducing different ways to stress the cardiovascular and muscular system we better prepare ourselves for most any physical task. In essence our goal should be to enhance our ability to produce a greater work output.
When looking for a solid “go to” it’s pretty obvious that kettlebells and medicine balls offer a very dynamic quality of strength to foster this much needed characteristic of “control.” I mean at the end of the day it’s all about movement and being able to perform movements efficiently and repeatedly. When looking at implementing a kettlebell for this purpose this is apparent because of the amount of stability that is required to control the kettlebell during dynamic strength movements.
If you’re a coach or trainer you understand this, but I think most average folks don’t think about the fact that nerves innervate muscles. Nerves fire and direct muscles to contract and how to function.
I tell my students all the time that being able to squat 500 or 600 lbs. is impressive, but if the only movement you’re capable of is a 500 or 600 lb. squat then you’ll be suited just fine for a powerlifting meet, but what about the need to run, jump, and maneuver around obstacles? After all, life is all about overcoming obstacles both physically and mentally. The nerves must be conditioned for these tasks as well.
Stimulating the nervous system is the key to increasing your level of physical preparedness and this is why the dynamic nature of kettlebells, medicine balls, and the usual battery of body weight calisthenics can be so effective if properly applied. Don’t get me wrong I love lifting heavy weight, but I am also comforted in knowing that if a sprint is necessary for both myself and my students then it is a skill that is a regular part of our training. Both acts of lifting and running should be instinctual.
Sprinting and sprinting variations are fantastic for tapping into the various energy systems in order to make us better conditioned athletes and to enhance our physical work capacity.
Standard 30 yard Sprint:
High Knees Run In Place (Sprint Variation):
Addressing Your Energy Systems
To tie all of this together we have 3 basic energy systems that we function out of with our bodies when it comes down to doing work. Each of these energy systems are tapped based on what we are training and what tasks we are performing at a given moment.
The Anaerobic ATP-CP Energy System
This energy system consists of tasks that last from 0-10 seconds. Basically all physical tasks begin with the ATP-CP energy system. Just to give a few examples weightlifters, football, and sprint distance speed skaters heavily utilize the ATP-CP energy system. They have to be trained for short burst high output effort.
The Anaerobic Lactic (Glycolytic) Energy System
The Glycolytic system provides energy for medium to high intensity and consists of activity that lasts from 10 seconds up to 2 minutes. Activities such as soccer, baseball, middle distance runners, and sprinters would fall under the umbrella of the Glycolytic energy system.
The Aerobic Energy System
The Aerobic energy system is the largest and most common energy system and involves physical activity that last from 2 minutes and beyond. Unlike the previous two energy systems the aerobic energy system requires oxygen and involves tasks such as rowing, distance running, and long distance swimming.
The point of all of this is that most activities draw from all 3 of these energy systems minus a few exceptions. Because of this the programming needs of an individual trainee should be built to emphasize which one of these systems needs the most work based on the needs of an individual and their relative sport and life demands. Understanding these elements allows for me to program the needs of a trainee in order to enhance their physical work capacity.
Training the nervous system to react and to adapt to a stressful environment should be the ingredient of any program. I know a great deal of trainers and coaches like doing “finishers.” I think finishers are great, but the element of Physical Work Capacity can readily be built into the fabric of any strength program with the right planning and programming approach. Manipulating time intervals, movements, and the particular training tools of choice all play a part in building work capacity.
The key here is that no matter the sport, or life situation effective programming can be a game changer in terms of striving for physical readiness. If you’re looking for a true game changer then make sure you check out my brand new 90 day strength and conditioning program for MMA. It’s a top notch program that I designed for MMA and martial arts, but it’s highly beneficial whether you’re into martial arts, or not.
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