“Education is a progressive discovery of our own ignorance.” – Will Durant

 

 

The last stop in our walk along the circular Five T path is Trademark (or, if you prefer, basecamp).  Essentially, this is knowing who you are, how you’re wired, and what you’re good at.  Endomorph?  Ectomorph?  Mesomorph?  Or (more likely) some combination thereof?  Power athlete or Ever Ready endurance bunny?  We all tend toward some direction here.  The key is to find that direction and exploit it.  But we also need to be mindful to know what we suck at, so that we can armor that weak underbelly.  Because in doing so, we’ll become even better at our natural inclination.  It’s a hackneyed phrase, but all to true — we’re only as good as our weakest link.

But I think it’s pretty safe to say that, across the board, everyone — no matter how they’re wired — could better themselves in a physical sense by becoming stronger.  And, too, work capacity is something you could never have too much of.  

A quick aside: from what I’ve seen, work capacity (or lack thereof) is where the HIT Jedis really miss the boat.  Workout frequency is a function of recuperative ability (and intensity, of course), which is positively effected by increasing levels of work capacity.  The problem is that building serious work capacity takes time, and time is something that these folks are either unwilling or unable to part with.  I get that, and I’m not here to cast judgement on anyone’s priorities.  But to claim that everyone needs 7 to 10 days off between workouts to fully recover, or that more frequent workout are either unhealthy or unproductive, is simply not true.  This is no more than an indication that one’s work capacity is lacking.  Louie Simmons likes to say that the base of the performance pyramid is made of strength and work capacity, and on this note he is exactly right.  And in my mind (but to a lesser degree), strength and work capacity also form the base of the health pyramid.

But again, and as covered in the Time portion of the Five T’s, you’ll have to pick your battles wisely.  Being a professional athlete is one thing.  Your job 24/7 is to be just that — an athlete.  And this is something that I still struggle with.  Prioritization is tough for me, even now, because I do remember oh so fondly when it was my job (for sure in college, and to a slightly lesser extent, in the military) to be the best athlete possible.  Ok, so I was supposed to be a good student as well, but let’s face it — the priority was on being the best athlete possible.  Most of us are slaves to another grind, though, and don’t have unlimited time to spare (hence our Efficient Exercise HIIRT protocol).  Nor do we have unlimited recuperative ability or a sky-high work capacity.  Just as in coaching exercise technique, we have to pick the most glaring error and concentrate on mixing that — while not letting the “corrected” stuff degrade.  

Toward that end, I don’t mind stealing a few riffs from Louie Simmons and the boys at Westside, and conjugate my own training, and that of my clients.  And no matter what your particular trademark is, you should too.  Just my opinion — but hey, it is my blog, right?  😉

So we need to mix things up.  Max effort and dynamic stuff.  Bodybuilding, conditioning and, if need be, skill work.  Exercises and modalities we don’t particularly care for.  Because the real danger is doing, over-and-over again, the things you are good at.  What’s the danger in that, you ask?  Biological accommodation, kids.  Which means you’ll eventually stall, and even backslide.  You have to learn to train around your strong suit and through your weaknesses.

I’ll use myself as an example.  My trump card has always been work capacity, recuperative ability, and strength and power endurance.  I’ve said before that I’m never the strongest in the group, nor the fastest, but that I can maintain at a pretty high level of both qualities, without dropping off the map, for a long period time.  This, together with “nose for the ball”, made me a fairly respectable strong safety.  If I were a fighter, I’d just wear-out the strong/explosive types, and over-power the endurance guy in the later rounds.  Work capacity is something that I love to train.  Prowler pushing, farmers walks, repeat sprints, repeat strength and/or power bursts at 75 – 85% 1RM?  Yeah, all friggin’ day long.  That’s right smack-dab in my wheelhouse.  But what I lack is (primarily) absolute strength, and (secondarily) instantaneous, explosiveness.   These are the two areas I need to train through.  And I don’t always do it because I don’t have a coach forcing me to do the things I don’t particularly like doing because I’m not good at them.  And, I can use the excuse that I’m no longer competing, so WTF?  Why not do what I enjoy doing now?  Things that I’m good at?

But because it’s not my trademark is all the more reason why I ought to put an emphasis on training those qualities. 

Something to think about.

In health, fitness, and ancestral wellness –

Keith

 

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Keith Norris is a former standout athlete, a military vet, and an elite strength and conditioning expert with over 35 years of in-the-trenches experience. As a serial entrepreneur in the health and wellness space, he is an owner, co-founder and Chief Development Officer of the largest Paleo conference in the world, Paleo f(x) . As well, Keith is a partner in one of the most innovative lines of boutique training studios in the nation, Efficient Exercise. He’s also a partner in ARXFit training equipment, and a founding member of ID Life. In his spare time, he authors one of the top fitness blogs in the health and wellness sphere, Theory To Practice.

12 COMMENTS

  1. “Work capacity (or lack thereof) is where the HIT Jedis really miss the boat.”
    What would be the preferred way for a HIT Jedi to improve work capacity?
    I personally train twice a week in HIT fashion, as I got over that linear recovery thinking. I implemented 30 minute daily walks to increase general activity. I read through the blog and considered sprints. This is very appealing option. It’s fun, it would improve cardiovascular fitness, it’s short, it’s different and takes place in nature, no equipment needed. That said, the injury risk is there, and the benefits may be almost none, as CV fitness is already trained through HIT and fat loss effect is unimportant, plus EPOC is achieved through HIT as well. Brad Schoenfeld recommends to avoid HIIT if his hypetrophy programme is used, because it may compromise lifting intensity, but this is probably a bit different as the overall volume here, even with training to failure, is lower, so I don’t really push the limits with twice a week HIT if the recovery is good. I am not sure though if an all out “Tabata” sprint workout on top of that is a good idea, or if it’s better to try something like GXP. http://www.cbass.com/Tabata_GXP.htm
    I believe the ideal option is to improve work capacity like Clarence Bass does, through low-impact intervals on Concept 2 and Ski Erg or a bicycle. However this is not an option at the moment. Another option that crossed my mind is something like Tabata Burpees, or quick push-ups.
    I noticed the options you propose are generally, and logically ,of different modality than HIT, either speed – sprints, or strength-speed/speed-strength lifting. This area of lifting is very unknown to me and I am afraid without a coach a pretty risky one to explore.
    What do you think?

    • So work capacity, just like any other aspect of fitness, is built over time. And just as strength is improved via the use of max effort *and* dynamic work, solid work capacity is built with a combination of heavy loading (think sled drags, farmers walks, car pushing, etc) and more “ballistic” work (sprints, tire flips…more “met-con-ish” things). Also, just the fact that I spend *a lot* more time in the gym and on the field than most enhances my overall work capacity. But two things are important here — I have both the time and the want to do so. I have no delusions that I’m any *healthier* for having a high work capacity, however, my chances for surviving the zombie apocalypse are much enhanced 😉

      And, like Clarence Bass, I too cycle my workout intensities appropriately. One — even a “Wolverine” like myself — simply cannot slam back-to-back-to-back high intensity *and* high volume workouts for long without a serious crash and burn. Periodic intentional over-reaching is something I do time-to-time, but this must be done intelligently.

      One thing to keep in mind: I structure my workouts so that I spend about 40% of my time working 7 “big lifts” (rotating choices of an overhead press, overhead pull, horizontal press, horizontal pull, hinge, squat and sprint) and 60% of the time doing auxiliary work (think bodybuilding) to enhance those lifts.

  2. By the way, Clarence Bass trains 3x a week, pure lifting, pure intervals and a mixed workout + walking. But his workouts are periodised, it’s either 2 easy and 1 hard or 2 hard and 1 easy workout a week.

  3. Do you consider “work capacity” to be the same as “metabolic condition” (as in CrossFit metcon’s), or something different?

    As I age, I seem to be able to hold onto strength much more easily than work capacity. Back in the day, I’d think nothing of hopping on a bike and going for a long ride without much in the way of advanced training. Or putting on a decently heavy back pack, and going out for an overnight into the woods. Oh, I might be sore afterward from the muscles getting worked differently. But I could finish, and wouldn’t be totally wiped out. 35 years on, I don’t try this kind of stuff anymore.

    Some of my reduced work capacity is probably related to endurance and cardiovascular conditioning – I used to run a lot, but had to give that up because of injuries. Now I do HIT workouts mixed with HIIT intervals, and a bit of walking thrown in. However, the HIT and HIIT people seem to believe that those short intervals are all that you need for cardiovascular conditioning. I wish that were true, but my body seems to say differently. Hence my question about work capacity versus metabolic condition. I think there is some combination of things here – endurance, CV capacity, strength, metabolic resiliance that young people can have in greater abundance than old farts, regardless of how you train.

    Perhaps the appeal of HIT training is that it doesn’t take that much time, while letting you hang on to at least one important element of your youth – strength. Work capacity, maybe not so easy to retain into old age?

    • I think work capacity and metabolic conditioning are two aspects of the same quality. To me, work capacity implies more of a strength-endurance bias, where metabolic conditioning implies more of a sprint-endurance quality. So HIIT (sprint-based) or my/Efficient Exercise’s HIIRT (High Intensity Interval Resistance Training) are superior for health aspects and for fat-burning while maintaining (or, in the case of HIIRT) muscle-building, but won’t do much for enhanced work capacity. The only way to build a high level of work capacity is to put in the requisite higher-volume, lower-intensity time. And it does take time. HIIT/Tabata-like training is important, but the simple fact of the matter is that you have to have a solid aerobic base to delay slipping into the anaerobic reserves early, and gassing out. Joel Jamieson (8 weeks out) does a fantastic job of explaining this in his book, Ultimate MMA Conditioning.

      But, as far as maintaining work capacity as we age? I think we can maintain a very high level well into advanced age — *if* it’s made a priority. Again, work capacity *takes time*. But at 48, I still have a very high work capacity, and I look to people like Louie Simmons, who at 65 still maintains a work capacity that could cripple folks decades younger.

      • *takes time* is the big issue for most I suppose. I no longer worry about the zombie apocalypse, so I’m not willing to devote a lot of time prepping for that. I’ll bet joint health factors in too! Once you have some arthritic joints, probably wise not to subject them to too much volume of work, even at lower intensity.

        • Most definitely. This game is all about assessing where you’re at, where you want to go and correlating that to the cost of admission 😉

  4. Interesting discussion. I noticed J-reps/Zone training was mentioned several times in previous discussions. I’d like to stay with low-force low volume high intensity exercise, but with more focus on hypertrophy and working around basic equipment defficiencies (dumbbells). It looks like Zone training could be where HIT meets brad Schoenfeld, is that correct? Less focus on “painting by numbers”, more on variety and hypertrophy. How useful this technique is on it’s own? It’s hard to find info about this training, but I found a 30 dollar ebook by Andrew Shortt. There also seems to be a book 1 by Johnston himself at Amazon again.

    • Or you could roll with what I like to call a “flow” or “freelance” approach, similar to what Dave Tate talks about here:
      http://www.t-nation.com/free_online_article/sports_body_training_performance/my_greatest_gains_ever_dave_tate

      And Dave is right — 30 – 45 seconds *is* the sweet spot…with a caveat, though: a slow tempo won’t work nearly as well as quicker reps. Why? Hell if I know — I just know that it is (fluid occlusion, possibly?). The idea is to begin with straight reps and then freelance with whatever it takes to reach the allotted time. This means you’ll instinctively roll into partials, J-reps, cheat negatives…whatever it takes to keep the weight moving for 30 to 45 secs. I not only use this myself, but with clients. Just “follow my lead”, I’ll tell them, and we’re off to the races. Hypertrophy definitely has more of an “art” element as compared to strength acquisition. To be well-rounded, you have to be comfortable operating in both arenas.

  5. Sweet stuff on trademark, I always like to work on one thing until I get it, then I move on to improve other areas…Ive never really given thought to work capacity, Im used to just going at one thing til im satsified, I mean I do work periodically but only depending on the time I have to workout, I squeeze as much work as I can into my sessions.

  6. Hey Keith. Thanks for the post and the insight into trademark. I think there’s definitely merit to wanting to improve the areas we’re week in, as well as maximizing what we naturally excel at. I know I was educated with more of a “strengths based” psychology, and I wonder how much that psychology would apply to “strengths based” physiology. Anyway, something to think about too. Thanks again.

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