Sets andReps #5: Where to place WORK CAPACITY

Work capacity might just be the most important physical quality we need to develop as coaches. Bold statement as we are STRENGTH and conditioning coaches but hear me out here!

What is it?

Siff defines it as the ability of the as a machine to produce work of different intensity and duration using the appropriate systems of the body.

Essentially it is the measurement of work over a period of time.

In an applied sense, it is the ability to train, the ability to continue working. This relates to our physical sessions, technical practice, competitions, in fact all training units all require an element of work capacity.

Reading Louis Simmons west side book of methods, it’s clear that those guys prioritise development of work capacity in their training.

From my perspective, it carries a high priority no question.

I want my athletes to have the ability to work hard. Then we can get more from the limited time we have. So I drop back into prioritising this frequently at different times of year.

I do a lot of work capacity circuits to build general fitness in my athletes. I think many of us do.

If you don’t have the fitness to train for strength how the hell can you actually get strong? Or powerful? Or build a high level of endurance?

But fitness is a vague word, it’s not about endurance capabilities built through treadmill running or rowing. We know sports need much more than this.

So multi-directional, multi-muscle, mindful movements would be well suited.

So for my clients, it might be the Vern Gambetta mini leg circuits, or it might be my own versions of these including the upper body series, trunk work, postural work, special conditioning for specific areas required.

I also like using overhead walking lunges, sled work, barbell complexes, upper/lower body circuits for time and reps.

What it is not is bodybuilding volume style work. We still need to improve movement quality and general preparation levels.

The question is where do you place these in your sessions?

I’ve tried them pretty much everywhere.

At the end of the strength/power work, this is generally the place you find this work in most peoples programmes.

As a separate unit, this works well with some groups but you need to contact time with them.

What about young athletes? Work capacity is surely the priority with these athletes isn’t it?

So where does it go?

For me, it becomes a question of priorities.

Truth be told it goes where it needs to go.

If its a priority then it might need to be at the start of the session?

I’m going through this at the moment with a number of my groups and seeing some great results.

The sessions are going something like this:

Dynamic warm-up (for some this is work capacity training)

Work capacity circuit or complex


Potential special conditioning exercises

The work capacity development is the priority in these sessions so it goes at the beginning.

You can then demand good technical execution of these movements and get a nice carry over into the strength work.

As I hear you gasping and exclaiming that the strength and power work will be negatively affected by this approach I offer two statements.

  1. It’s not about that session, it’s not about that week. It’s about quality and consistency over time that builds strength and transfers to sport. Build work capacity and you’ll see increases in this area.
  2. Who the hell cares if strength drops by a few percent in return for development that will allow us to build further in future weeks and sessions think medium and long term.

Will we always do this kind of work at the start of the session? Of course not. But now it’s a priority for some. 2-3 weeks we’ll go for on this.

Here’s a couple of work capacity units I’ve used this last week. Both of which take about 10-15 minutes maximum:

#1: Barbell complex: (used with 2 junior tennis players, badminton players, football players and golfers, so pretty general!)

6 reps of the following done 3-5 times with 30-60 seconds between sets.

Stiff legged deadlift

Bent Over Row

Hang clean shrugs

Front squat

Hang cleans or pull to catch

Push press


#2: Circuit done 40 seconds of work 20 seconds of rest done 3 times through with my elite badminton players:

Hand Step-Ups

Overhead walking lunges

Theraband Letter T’s

Goblet Lateral Lunges


Give them a go and let me know your thoughts,

Be great to get your feedback on this,