3 strategies to develop work capacity

A crucial principle in your physical development is progressive overload. Mark Rippetoe shares this story on Starting Strength, where somebody went out at midday for 3 months to take the sun for 5 minutes. After 3 months, he would have just tanned what’s relative to the first day. The body gets accustomed to anything, and if you are not constantly increasing complexity, intensity or the volume of exercises, you will plateau.

According to Ido Portal, one characteristic that is shared by all of the great athletes that he has met is the ability to work frequently and recover rapidly. This is what’s called Work capacity, and it’s very important to develop it to follow another great cue which is, “if it’s important to you, do it everyday”.

How to apply it?

Well, don’t look for the time, make the time: you want to have the capacity to work harder today than you did before. One way to develop work capacity is the controlled overtraining method, also called superaccumulation. The idea here is that you train a lot and you reach a point where you are overtrained (not in the sick sense, but just general fatigue), followed by total rest. For example, you could do two weeks of accumulation (lots of volume), one of intensification (high weights) where you felt you can no longer continue, and a full week of rest. In this way, your body will understand that it needs to adapt to a new rhythm and you will give it the space to adjust to it.

Another way to increase our work capacity is through what Ido Portal calls Long Duration Element Practice (LDEP). Here you try to maintain an effort for a long time in the search for higher work capacities. Examples of this would be to do a handstand against the wall for 30 minutes, a Handstand wall run (to alternate touching your shoulders with your hands) for 10 minutes, 5 minutes in a Horse Stance, 15 minutes hanging from a bar or 3 continued minutes of tricking.

Finally, we can increase our work capacity by regulating our rest times between exercises. You may do what’s called Tabata protocols, where you work on the ratios between work and rest. This of course will depend on the purpose of the exercise, as you want to rest longer if you want to work on maximal strength. When training for work capacity, a good work/rest ratio is 1:1. You may apply this to strength endurance activities like working with kettlebells, floreio or climbing.

So controlled overtraining, long duration practices and tabata protocols. Apply this methods gradually to move yourself up in the work capacity ladder.

If you’d like to know more about these topics, I recommend the work of Ido Portal and Charles Poliquin

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