Running a Marathon Pulling a 1.4 Tonne Car
Covering 1,000 Miles With a 50kg Marine Backpack
Completing an Olympic-Distance Triathlon Carrying a 100-lbs Tree
This year I developed a strange sporting skill set. I became quite good at carrying very heavy things for very long distances, all to raise money for some truly deserving charities and causes. This all began in January when I ran a marathon (26.2 miles) around Silverstone race circuit whilst pulling a 1,400kg car. Next — with the help of the Royal Marines — I covered 1,000 miles in a month carrying a 50kg marine backpack. Then to finish the year I ran an Olympic-distance triathlon whilst carrying a 100lbs tree (in what the media called, “The World’s First Tree-athlon).
But a common theme among all of the above was this concept of Work Capacity. An often under appreciated aspect of strength and conditioning, it’s a fusion of strength and stamina and was forged on the fields of the Bear Grylls Survival Races (notably the 30km race in London). Allow me to explain why…
Survival Race & Work Capacity
Quite possibly the most underrated aspect of fitness. For all the advancements in sports nutrition (from protein shakes to creatine), work capacity is essentially the total amount of training (“stimuli” and “stress”) you can perform, recover from and adapt positively to. If you have a high work capacity, pulling a car 10 miles a day, 5 days a week becomes possible. With a low work capacity that weekly training regime would leave you over-trained and under the quilt recovering in bed.
Basically, a higher work capacity means you can tolerate higher training “stimuli” and “stress”.
But here lies the problem. Too often the world of fitness places too much emphasis on minimalism, specificity and recovery. We seem to forget that eventually you just have to do more work. It’s that simple. People shouldn’t be surprised when they plateau doing the same training routine. When this happens, what you need to do is work, work and work some more.
Why? Because it increases the amount your body is used to recovering from. See, the whole point of increasing work capacity is for the stress of our training to ever so slightly outpace the rate of our recovery, until the rate of our recovery catches up to the stress of our training.
Once you’ve increased your work capacity and allowed your rate of recovery to catch up, you’re in a position where you’re able to tolerate much more volume. Which means a greater training stimulus, which in turn means an increased potential to become stronger, quicker and fitter.
Basically, don’t be fooled. For all the “quick fixes” in the fitness industry, increasing your work capacity is the only way to consistently and continually improve. Athletes can only ever claim they’ve reached the “genetic ceiling” of their physical awesomeness when they no longer have the ability to increase their work capacity.
How To Increase Work Capacity?
So, what’s the best way of increasing your work capacity? The honest answer is complex. When you take “biological individuality” into consideration, the right training program will vary from person to person. But generally speaking a lot of coaches recommend:
– Decreasing training intensity 5-15% and increasing training volume 20-50% over 2 to 4 months.
– Adding additional cardiovascular training.
Which is exactly what each Bear Grylls Survival Race achieves as running endurance (“additional cardiovascular training”) is fused with sandbag carries, rope climbs and weight that’s considered heavy but below your 1 repetition maximum. This is why looking ahead to 2017 my charity events are set to be bigger and even more ambitious, but one thing that will not change are the lessons, training, tips and tricks I learnt at the Bear Grylls Survival Race. Which is why my tickets are already planned for next year.
Ross Edgley is an athlete adventurer, chief sports scientist at THE PROTEIN WORKS™ and considered one of the world’s most travelled fitness experts. For more fitness inspiration from Ross, check out his website and sign up to his (free) training and diet newsletter.