Increasing Work Capacity

If you read much literature about strength and conditioning for athletes, you will likely come across terminology such as “work capacity” and “GPP/general physical preparation”. If you Google these terms, you will find a litany of available articles and information regarding how to increase, improve, and train them. One thing that is almost universally missing from these articles is a sound, physiology-based working definition of the term.

Often the article jumps directly into training methodology and organization without first telling you exactly what it is that you’re training. One definition is published in one of my all time favorite books, Supertraining, “”Work capacity refers to 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.” While this is informative in some ways, it also is rather nebulous.

The next logical step for determining what “work capacity” means to a particular athlete or person is to understand the bioenergetic, biomechanical, and biomotor demands of the task that is being imposed upon that individual. With respect to a competitive athlete, a “needs assessment” should be performed to determine the demands of the particular sport and then paired with a functional assessment of the athlete to provide a profile of specifically which characteristics are in the greatest need of improving. To some degree, this concept takes us back to the most basic governing principles of exercise and sports science.

I believe that Specific and General Physical Preparation (SPP, GPP) are not wholly distinct entities, but rather different ends of a spectrum. Different exercises and protocols for the performance of said exercises fall at different spots on the spectrum with reference to the chosen activity (sport) and person (athlete).

For the sake of brevity, I’ll offer a working definition that I think makes sense for the purposes of planning our training and furthering the discussion of “work capacity/GPP”. I like to imagine the spectrum of SPP-GPP divided into thirds with GPP/Work Capacity occupying one of these. Below is an example that shows some items that might fall into each category for a typical soccer player:

I obviously have left out many useful training modalities and haven’t addressed execution protocols (more on variable manipulation here), but this gives you a general idea. It almost makes sense to think of it as a pyramid with GPP at the bottom, Hybrid in the middle, and SPP at the top. Each level feeding the level above and being built on the level below. You could almost add an even lower level that encompasses things like genetics, basic health, musculoskeletal integrity, psychological well-being, etc but that seems beyond the scope of this article.

To finish up, I’d like to very briefly discuss a few of my favorite ways of training for GPP for most team sport athletes.

Preferred Methods

Upper Body
Indian Club Swinging – Depending on exactly how you perform these, they can be great for both shoulder mobility and grip strength. I like to swing them with both goals in mind for a set time (5-10 mins)
Sledge Hammer Work РHitting a tractor  tire with a sledge hammer can be very taxing to the entire upper body and mid-section. We usually combo these with another activity and do rounds of 10-20 swings.
Prowler Rowing – I like adding these into the middle of prowler sprinting as they allow you to keep working but give your legs a break. It’s a great way to add more upper back work without overtaxing the muscles in a way that is hard to recover from.
Band Pull Aparts – This works great at improving shoulder stability for our overhead athletes as well as for people who bench press a lot. I usually just shoot for a total number of reps (100-1000) and break it into as many sets as needed.

Lower Body
Prowler Pushing – There are as many ways to push this as you can imagine. Depending on the specific goal, I typically have athletes push for a certain distance at various velocities.
Prowler Drive/Drag – A great way to mix up anterior and posterior chain oriented sled work.
Tempo Runs – This is an old standby. A field, a stopwatch, and a whistle. Mainly running at 80% for distances 80-120yds.
Resisted Sprint Repeats – Two light bands tied together and put around two athletes’ waists. One person running against, one offering resistance. Just try not to vomit.
Jumping Rope – I’m not going to explain this.
Light Reverse Hyper Extensions/Timed Iso Holds – Using a reverse hyper we do these like planks but for your lower back. Times usually range 30-120secs
Sled Dragging – I perform these with a weight belt on and chained to a small sled I made out of sheet metal. Loaded up to about 100lbs, I typically just drag it around for 20-30 mins. The work rate feels similar to jogging but without the impacts on my broken old body.
Band Stomps – I stole these from Laura Phelps-Sweatt. I can’t find the video where I first saw them but they’re pretty awesome for lighting your hips on fire. I try to go 10 mins typically.

Full Body
Loaded Carries – These are maybe the best of all. There are a million ways to do them but curently the one I’m using most is unilaterally weighted kettlebell carries for time, usually 10-15 mins. Really hits the grip, traps, obliques, and low back in a way I think is very relevant for sports.
Tire Flips – Most people really love these. I think they make them feel badass or something. Get a big tire and flip away. Make sure you have decent form because there is a moderate risk of injury with these.
Prowler Pull/Push – This combines rowing and pushing which gives both your upper and lower body a break and allows more overall work to be completed.
Ruck Walking – I do these with either a weight vest or a lifting chain around my neck. Often I combine them with other modalities because they’re not as much fun.
Airdyne Sprints – Interval sprinting on a stationary bike. I guess if I have to.
Kettlebell Swings – Most people butcher the form on these so I tend not to have a lot of my athletes perform them. If I have time to properly coach someone, they can be an excellent tool to help accomplish the goal.