Friday, November 16, 2012

Work Capacity

The Legend of Milo illustrates increase in capacity
In my last blog, I talked about the one of the tenets of my training philosophy: consistency.  In it I explained that I believe while short regeneration breaks (1-2 weeks) are in order after goal races at the end of long training cycles (≈2 times a year), for the most of the year we want to adopt a consistent, sustainable training approach so that we can slowly build our fitness and capacity over time.   
In today’s blog, I want to talk to about another tenet in my training philosophy, and that is: capacity. Capacity refers to the amount of work we can handle in training on a sustainable basis.  By work I am referring to both the quantity of the mileage and the quality of the mileage we run.  We all know that running 80 miles a week by running 11-12 miles at an easy pace each day, is not the same as running 80 miles a week with 2 quality workouts and long run included.  So we cannot just look strictly at mileage when looking at capacity, but must consider the quality of that mileage as well.  In his book “Daniels’ Running Formula”, Dr. Jack Daniels attempts to address this issue of a mixture of quality and quantity in total training capacity, by developing a chart (Table 2-2 in his book)which assigns a point value for each minute spent running at different intensity levels.  While I don’t directly use Dr. Daniels’ charts, I like his approach in considering the value of each component in determining and equating total training capacity. 
My philosophy on capacity is simple: the greater our sustainable work capacity is, the more we can accomplish in training and thus the higher we can raise our fitness level.   As such, we should seek to increase our work capacity over time until our maximum effective capacity is reached. 
The human body has amazing adaptive abilities if the changes are made gradually and we are consistent in its execution.   Each of these points, gradual changes and consistent execution, are keys to success in increasing our work capacity.   Gradual changes mean that we need to keep the incremental increases small and we need to allow plenty of time for the body to fully adjust to the new work capacity level before another increase is made.  Consistent execution means that we keep our work load at roughly the same (new) level as consistently as possible in training, so that our body can adapt to it.  If we fluctuate our work capacity levels too much in training, our body struggles to adapt to the new level as it is constantly changing.   Thus I think of work capacity as the total sustainable work we can do, not just the highest one week total we have hit.
When I say we keep our capacity level consistent in a training cycle, please don’t mistake that with doing the same thing each week.  The types of workouts we do and our phases of training will change and progress as talked about in previous blogs, but the total amount of work performed (combo or quality and quantity) will remain consistent for the most part on a week to week basis.   But one week’s capacity total may include fast repeats and LT wave run while the next weeks capacity total may include groove repeats and an AT tempo run.  I’ll get more into that when I talk about the tenet of mixture in a later blog.
Useful Maximums
Each runner will find they have a useful maximum in terms of work capacity.  This is the maximum work capacity that they can sustain and that provides good results.  This maximum will be determined by numerous factors, including physical build and make-up, age, lifestyle and other life obligations.  These useful maximums can and will change with time, as the various factors change.  It often takes many years, decades even, for most runners to each their useful maximums.
My Approach
The way I like to approach building capacity, to make a small increase in each training cycle, and keep it consistent at the new level for the whole cycle, in order to allow the body to fully adjust to that new level.   As most of my training cycles are between 12 and 24 weeks in length, this allows several (3-6) months for the body to fully adjust to the new capacity level before another small change is made.  The size of the change will depend on the level and background of the runner, but changes are kept relatively small (example: an extra 5-7 miles per week on similar quality levels) and conservative, with the knowledge that future increases can be made but over-use injuries cannot be undone.
This approach takes great patience, planning and discipline in execution. But I have found that this approach greatly reduces the risk of over-use injury, and helps the runner work towards and eventually find their maximum useful capacity. 
Common Mistakes
The three most common mistakes I see with runners trying to build their work capacity are:  making their increases too big, making increases too frequently and lack of consistency.
Too big:  many runners are impatient.  Their passion for the sport and desire to improve cause them to bite off increases in their work capacity that is too big.  Their bodies struggle to adapt to the size of the increase and they end up coming down with an over-use injury or illness.
Too frequent:  again a sign of impatience.  In a desire to get better quickly, many runners increase their capacity level too frequently, not allowing enough time for their body to fully adapt to one capacity level before they change it again.  After a series of too frequent changes in capacity, their bodies eventually fail to keep up with the adaptations asked of them, and they come down with an over-use injury or illness.
Lack of consistency:  The body requires consistency in order to fully adapt to new work capacity level.  Many runners adopt training routines that do not provide for a consistent level of work to be performed.  The body then never fully adapts to a new level of capacity, or takes longer to adapt to it.  The lack of consistency compromises the adaptation process making it less likely for future increases to be possible or at least as successful.
Synergy of Tenets
Each of the 4 tenets of my training philosophy (consistency, capacity, frequency and mixture) are inter-related and provide a synergy when balanced together.  Consistency (as talked about in the last blog) and capacity are very closely related.  As I just talked about, the building of capacity is most efficiently and effectively accomplished in an environment of consistency.   Consistency enables work capacity to be built, and an increase in work capacity provides additional fruits from our consistency. 
Next Blog Topic:  The tenet of frequency

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