The Secret to Increasing Strength & Conditioning

Work Capacity

Many years ago during a conversation with the late Mel Siff, the topic of periodization training came up. Mel made a statement that I’ll never forget. He told me about something Medvedyev, one of the originators of the periodization concept, said years before, “Periodization training in the United States has been set back 40 years by some of the current books written on the topic.”

This is a statement I've been writing about for years. Not only will this Western style of training lead to overtraining and stagnation, it also ignores one basic concept of training – increasing work capacity. Yet, when you mention this, lifters want to start adding as many extra workouts to their training as they can, thinking it will yield some miracle results.

Work capacity is the underlying component of any training program. It’s the ability to perform work, which determines your level of fitness that will, in turn, determine your level of preparedness. If you raise your work capacity too fast, you’ll overtrain; if you reduce it under your current level, you’ll regress. If your work capacity is still at the same level it was two years ago, then I’ll bet you’re at the same strength and hypertrophy level you were two years ago!

So how do you increase work capacity?

You can increase your work capacity by several means; ONE of the best ways is to incorporate extra training sessions. In other countries, it’s not uncommon to see athletes performing up to three or four workouts per day! There are several types of extra workouts that can make a tremendous difference in your training. Each type of workout is designed to illicit a certain outcome.

Here are some examples:

1.) Recovery Workouts: These training sessions may also be known as “feeder” workouts and are designed to aid in the recovery process. For example, if you performed a heavy bench press workout on day one with 400 pounds, then on day two you’d use the same exercise with very light weight for higher repetitions, such as 135 pounds for two sets of 20. The idea is to induce blood into the muscle to speed the recovery process.

Another type of feeder or recovery workout is sled dragging. This has helped lifters with a multitude of training situations. I’ve seen the use of the sled add 30 to 60 pounds to the deadlift, aid in the recovery process, add lean body mass and bring up weak points.

The sled can be used for a number of different exercises for both the upper and lower body. Some of these include standard around-the-waist dragging, ankle dragging (where you drag the sled with the use of your legs), and pull-through dragging (where you drag the sled by holding the sled strap between your legs). You can also perform upper body dragging where you drag the sled by performing front raises, rear raises, side raises, presses and extensions.

A great benefit of the sled is that there’s no eccentric (negative) motion for many of the exercises. It’s believed that the eccentric is responsible for DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) and when the eccentric is taken away from the exercise, you’re left with a concentric motion that induces blood flow to the muscle without causing soreness.

2.) Work Capacity Workouts: The sled and Prowler® can be used for increasing work capacity, by dragging heavy twice a week. In this case, the athlete would start with one 45-pound plate on the sled and drag it for 200 feet, then rest for 30 to 45 seconds, put another plate on the sled and drag it for another 200 feet. This is repeated until the weight can’t be pulled the desired distance.

3.) Targeting Weak Points: These workouts are extra training sessions devoted to your weak points. For most athletes, the abdominals are a great example of where extra training sessions can make a real difference. This workout would be preformed separate from the main training workout and would be specialized for that one area.

This is the one most people get into trouble with. If you decide to do this, then you begin with one light movement and keep it that way until you see how it affects your program. It’s usually better to just add this extra movement at the beginning or end of your other training sessions per week first and see how that works.

This type of training takes years to build up to, of course, but I wanted to show you that increasing your work capacity is needed to reach the next level. PLEASE read that last sentence again. NOW, go read it one more time.

Work Capacity will automatically increase as you get stronger (this is another way to increase it). You can also build phases into your training with only this intention in mind (using more of a block model). There are other ways to increase work capacity, but they all need to be well thought out and introduced slowly over time.

Years ago the extra workout thing was very misunderstood and got way out of hand. Unless it’s for recovery, I wouldn’t toss in extra workouts from the start. I would rather focus on your training density and go from there.

Dragging Sled

What are you looking at?

If you are going to go back and look at your training from an analytic standpoint, you need to look at things like work capacity because it is a component that effects all others. If you want to analyze your program to see what is really going on, you need to look past just sets and reps. You need to look at workload and volume in regards to the type of load lifted. How many lifts are down with maximal weights and what is the total workload in the 90% and above range? What is it with sub maximal weights? What is the break down with core movements, max effort movements and speed work? What correlations exist? What is the desired dynamic effort workload needed to squat 700 pounds and for how long? What is the ratio required between vertical pushing and vertical pulling? If you get out of this ratio, do you get hurt or do your lifts go up? What is the optimal volume of accessory work that is needed and should it ramp up or down before a meet?

If you want to overcomplicate things, there are far better ways to do it then by adding in extra training sessions that you “think” might help. The point is to use your head. If you want to add in extra things, do it slow or as recover first. From there, you can begin to ramp it up (or cycle it) if it’s helping.

The Turning Point

The real turning point in the training process is when you begin to “know” what you need to do, how to do it, and when to do it. I discovered this years ago when speaking to very successful bodybuilders, powerlifters and strongman. They all agreed that there was a time when they became accountable for their own results. They took it upon themselves to discover what worked for them, created their own basic training template, and built the program from week to week, and day to day.

The trick is, how do you take the average guy and get him to this level of thinking?

Two ways:

  1. Get your ass in the gym.
  2. Study the training process