Nobody knows what it means, but its provocative

I will start by saying that I feel that there could be books written on this topic and even this article does the topic no justice. For the sake of brevity, I have decided to explain a few key points and share a few of my thoughts on the subject. As a fitness professional it is important to have a fundamental understanding of what it means to increase ‘work capacity’.


Defining the Terms

Work capacity is a term we most often hear thrown around in the fitness industry but not always used correctly. It is necessary to understand that there are two fundamentally different types of work capacity and one should be able to discern between them in order to achieve the greatest training value. Many athletes and fitness enthusiast make the mistake of assuming that work capacity is an all-encompassing term. To keep things simple here, work capacity is broken down  into two types, general work capacity and specific work capacity.


What is General Work Capacity?

For the context of this article we will be referring to General Work Capacity as General Physical Preparedness. The most important thing to remember about General work capacity is that modality is irrelevant and describes an athlete”s ability to recover and adapt to training – energy stores, cardiac output, durability. For example, developing general cardiovascular fitness helps improve fat utilization for energy, spares glucose during recovery, and generally helps maintain athlete alertness/mitigate fatigue. This general ability to recover efficiently from hard training intervals can increase inter-event AND intra-event performance in competition.

Practicing sport specific skills can and should be done year round. There are, however, times of the year where an athlete puts a premium on focusing on GPP. This is mostly done in the Off-Season for a few reasons:

  1. Psychological benefits attained from a reduced training volume and intensity.
  2. Injury prevention due of the use of new and/or seldom used exercises.
  3. Prepares the body to be able to get the most out of specific training.

Regardless of their sport, every athlete can benefit from an increase in general work capacity as an off-season emphasis. It is often misunderstood and misused as an in-season activity. GPP at its core, however, is ideally an off-season activity that is intentionally as different as possible from the primary sport- GPP is an attempt to “round out” the athlete, not further tax recovery.


What is Sport Specific Capacity?

A sport wouldn’t be –well– a sport if it did not demand its own set of unique skills to be mastered. The sport of fitness is no different. There are movements, skills, and formats specific to the sport that must be practiced year round in order to maintain proficiency. Specific work capacity is the ability to perform sport specific tasks repetitively without losing too much performance. For example, an Olympic lifter might perform several sets of high quality snatches within a given amount of time and his specific work capacity is based on his ability to perform those sets effectively. In contrast, a fitness athlete might also do snatches but sport specificity may call for them to do it on a 3 min clock, or maybe in the form of a speed ladder. The fitness athletes ability to perform well under each sport specific format can be improved almost exclusively by practicing it exactly as it shows up in competition – improving transition time, optimizing motor unit recruitment for being able to handle several repetitions of heavy movements, refining form, working on strategy – these are adaptations that require the individual to perform the sport specific movement or format over and over again.  As the movement or format deviates further from the sport-specific variation, the carryover to specific work capacity is decreased, but is still retained to a certain extent. For example, to improve performance in workouts involving cleans at submaximal loads for moderate-high repetitions, actually performing cleans are at the top of the food chain. Performing sets of cleans from the high hang may be further down the line, with pause cleans and clean deadlifts even further down the line.  The latter movements may improve an athlete’s specific work capacity in certain muscle groups but have less translation to sport specific formats seen in competition.


You Can’t Do Everything All The Time.


Because of the bodies finite ability to recover and adapt mixed with the concurrent nature of training for the sport fitness, there is a resulting interference with progress in any one of the 3 main modalities. Too much GPP work can and will interfere with your sporting form if done too often during competitive season and an overapplication of specificity year round can also be detrimental. In sum, both general work capacity and specific work capacity are of use to the athlete – when constructing a routine or considering accessory movements, it is important to incorporate both.