*By Rob Shaul*

Vern Gambetta, and his book, Athletic Development, opened my eyes to the concept and potential of progressing work capacity efforts.

First – what is “work capacity”?

MTI defines Work Capacity as “Extended bouts of cardiorespiratory and muscular stress at high, but submaximal levels.” In terms of duration, we program work capacity efforts to be 30 minutes or less.

Greg Glassman and Crossfit popularized multi-modal, gym-based work capacity efforts, often combining a loaded lift, with a calisthenic exercise, and a run or similar. These gym-based, multi-modal, intense events combine Aerobic Base + Aerobic Power + Muscular Strength + Muscular Endurance – or the ability to perform at a high percentage of VO2 max, with a high percentage of muscular strength.

MTI’s work capacity efforts can include multi-modal gym-based efforts, but also single mode efforts like shuttle sprint repeats. Indeed, my favorite work capacity “mode” is sprinting and shuttle sprints. The longer I coach, the more simple my work capacity event design evolves.

#### Progression & Work Capacity

“Progression” applied to work capacity programming has the same goal as progression applied to strength programming – progressive overload – or continually increasing the intensity/difficulty of the effort over time, so the athlete “adapts” and in the process, improves his or her fitness.

Three simple ways to program work capacity progression are:

(1) Keep the Work the Same, and Decrease the Rest

(2) Keep the Rest the same, and increase the work

(3) Density efforts – which keep the overall interval the same, but simultaneously increase the work and decrease the rest

I’ll use 25m shuttles, and provide examples of how each of these work.

**First – keeping the work the same, but decreasing the rest: **

Progression 1

8 Rounds

1 minute 25m Shuttles

Rest 40 Seconds

Progression 2

8 Rounds

1 minute 25m Shuttles

Rest 30 Seconds

Progression 3

8 Rounds

1 minute 25m Shuttles

Rest 20 Seconds

**Note the decrease in rest interval between rounds as we move from Progression 1 to 3

**Second – Keeping the rest the same, but increasing the work**

Progression 1

8 Rounds

8x 25m Shuttles

Rest 30 Seconds

Progression 2

8 Rounds

9x 25m Shuttles

Rest 30 Seconds

Progression 3

8 Rounds

10x 25m Shuttles

Rest 30 Seconds

**Note the increase in shuttles per round as we move from Progression 1 to 3

**Third – Density Effort**

Progression 1

8 Rounds

8x 25m Shuttles every 1:20

Progression 2

8 Rounds

9x 25m Shuttles every 1:20

Progression 3

8 Rounds

10x 25m Shuttles every 1:20

**Note the increase in shuttles per round as we move from Progression 1 to 3 … but because the interval is set for each progression at 1:20, the rest also decreases. In Progression 1, the athlete has 1:20 to complete 8x 25m shuttles. The faster he finishes, the more rest he gets before round 2 starts. In Progression 2, the athlete now has 1:20 to complete 9x 25m shuttles. Again, the faster he finishes, the more rest he gets before round 2 starts. It’s safe to assume this will take him longer to complete 9x 25m shuttles than it did to complete 8x 25m shuttles (Progression 1), so not only does he do more work in Progression 2, but he gets less rest between rounds. Density efforts are brutal!

Below are the same progressions using a multi-modal, gym-based work capacity event instead of 25m shuttles.

**First – keeping the work the same, but decreasing the rest: **

Progression 1

8 Rounds

8x Hinge Lift @ 135/185#

10x Box Jumps @ 24″

Rest 30 Seconds

Progression 2

8 Rounds

8x Hinge Lift @ 135/185#

10x Box Jumps @ 24″

Rest 20 Seconds

Progression 3

8 Rounds

8x Hinge Lift @ 135/185#

10x Box Jumps @ 24″

Rest 10 Seconds

**Note the decrease in rest interval between rounds as we move from Progression 1 to 3

**Second – Keeping the rest the same, but increasing the work**

Progression 1

8 Rounds

8x Hinge Lift @ 135/185#

10x Box Jumps @ 24″

Rest 30 Seconds

Progression 2

8 Rounds

9x Hinge Lift @ 135/185#

11x Box Jumps @ 24″

Rest 30 Seconds

Progression 3

8 Rounds

10x Hinge Lift @ 135/185#

12x Box Jumps @ 24″

Rest 30 Seconds

**Note the increase in shuttles per round as we move from Progression 1 to 3

**Third – Density Effort**

Progression 1

8 Rounds, Every 2 Minutes ….

8x Hinge Lift @ 135/185#

10x Box Jumps @ 24″

Progression 2

8 Rounds, Every 2 Minutes ….

9x Hinge Lift @ 135/185#

11x Box Jumps @ 24″

Progression 3

8 Rounds, Every 2 Minutes ….

10x Hinge Lift @ 135/185#

12x Box Jumps @ 24″

**Note the increase in reps per round for both the hinge lift and box jumps as we move from Progression 1 to 3 … but because the interval is set for each progression at 2 minutes, the rest also decreases.

**Careful Not To Progress More than One Element at a Time**

One of the mistakes I sometimes make in designing work capacity progressions is progressing more than one element at a time. Most often, this means increasing the work and decreasing the rest at the same time.

Below is what this would look like from the multi-modal event above:

Progression 1

8 Rounds, Every 2 Minutes ….

8x Hinge Lift @ 135/185#

10x Box Jumps @ 24″

Progression 2

8 Rounds, Every 1:50 Minutes ….

9x Hinge Lift @ 135/185#

11x Box Jumps @ 24″

Progression 3

8 Rounds, Every 1:40 Minutes ….

10x Hinge Lift @ 135/185#

12x Box Jumps @ 24″

Note above how not only is the work increased each progression, but the density interval is also decreased? Increasing the work while also decreasing the work interval – thus accelerating the decrease in rest – compounds the difficulty and the efforts quickly move beyond “progressive overload” to “impossible to complete.” As in all programming, simple is better and generally, most effective.

**Nut Still To Crack – Work Capacity Progression Between Modes using Power**

The examples above demonstrate how to easily deploy progression for the same work capacity event. What I haven’t figured out yet is how to progress work capacity efforts between events.

For example, in terms of basic work capacity fitness, how many 25m shuttles equal one round of 8x Hinge Lift @ 185# plus 10x Box Jumps @ 24″?

The want to do this comes from the unpredictable mission demands of the mountain and tactical athletes we work with.

For example, one of the work capacity modes we train mountain guides for is hard, short, rapid uphill efforts under load … think ski mountaineering guide bootpacking up 1,000 vertical feet with a 40 pound pack, in 30 minutes. This is something relatively predictable for a ski mountaineering guide.

However, let’s say on the ski down three of the ski guide’s clients were buried in an avalanche, and she had to rapidly fine, and dig out each client in 5 minutes. This is a full on, stressful, multi-modal sprint effort including sprinting through deep snow, and shoveling.

In a pre-season ski guide program I could possibly design specific gym-based work capacity efforts for each event, but what if the ski guide also had to carry one of the clients out? Or skin / sprint up to a nearby ridge to call for help?

At some point, I can’t predict and prepare the athlete for every possible scenario. This, having one standard measure of work capacity to program and progress would be very useful. So, instead of cutting rest periods for the same event, I could use multiple events, and progress using power. Progression 1 could be 200 Watts. Progression 2 could be 250 watts. Progression 3 could be 300 watts.

Rowers and cyclists use power now to progress endurance training to great effect, and recent smartphone applications and fitness monitors have begun to do the same for running.

But, for multi-modal events calculating power output is much more complicated. Take just one exercise – a power clean + push press at 135#. To calculate power not only would I need to know the weight of the barbell, but also the travel of the barbell and the speed of travel. The travel of the barbell would not be the same for each athlete – the barbell would travel farther for a taller athlete. So I would also have to know the athlete’s height, with arms outstretched.

This can also be complicated for events or exercises which don’t include equipment. The power calculation for a simple down-back 50m shuttle, for example, must not only take into account the distance and time, but also the individual athlete’s bodyweight. If a heavy athlete and a light athlete complete the shuttle in the same time, the heavy athlete would have done more work.

On the plus side, this type of progression is by definition, personalized to the athlete. On the minus side, this can get really complicated, and almost impossible to program for any type of group training.

As you can see, I’m still working on this…

**Comments/Feedback?**

Email rob@mtntactical.com