Aside from my love of running, I have continually grown to love soccer over the past several years. Currently, the Copa America Centenario is going on in the United States, and I have found myself watching as much of it as possible (yes, the Euros are also going on … but I’ve got to pick and choose my soccer watching these days). As I’ve watched multiple games, I’ve been struck at how much soccer requires a tremendous balance of the athletic components discussed in the last blog post.
As was discussed in the last post, I find that many runners do not consider themselves “athletes” and how this can be a great disservice to runners’ performance and health. In large part, I believe runners do not consider themselves athletes due to the balance that multiple other sports have when it comes to athletic components. One of the first things any PT, coach, strength and conditioning specialist, etc. needs to do when it comes to working with an athlete is to determine the specific demands of that athlete’s sport and specific position/event. Below, let’s consider a potential way you could break down a soccer midfielder’s athletic components and a 10k runner’s athletic components. Arbitrarily, we’ll just assume we have 100% of focus we can spread around.
- Work Capacity – ability to handle workload & recover from that workload
- Midfielder 45% focus
- Runner 80% focus
- Speed – ability to rapidly perform motor skill
- Midfielder 15% focus
- Runner 8% focus
- Strength – ability to exert force
- Midfielder 10% focus
- Runner 8% focus
- Power – ability to express force in athletic movements
- Midfielder 10% focus
- Runner 2% focus
- Agility/Balance/Coordination – ability to start, stop, change direction & control the body
- Midfielder 20% focus
- Runner 2% focus
Arguments could be made about changing the percentages above, but what is clear to all of us is that the soccer midfielder has a more balanced spread of athletic component focus areas. This, of course, leads to a lot of variability in soccer training – some days capacity might be the focus, some days strength and power are the primary areas of concern, and still other days agility and balance and speed are the focus. And most of the time a soccer player will be touching on all of these areas in most of their training sessions.
What about runners?
Other than at the top levels, runners tend to spend most of their time only in work capacity and/or speed development. Sometimes, strength will play a role. Rarely will power or agility be incorporated into most runners’ training structure.
So, am I arguing that our training should mimic soccer players? Not at all!
Instead, what I am arguing is that our training (based on our sport’s demands) should reflect a balance of all the areas of athletic components that match our sport … not just work capacity and speed. While we might not be as balanced in the athletic components as soccer midfielders, we are indeed athletes; therefore, we need to develop ourselves as athletes, not “just runners”.
Today’s focus area is work capacity. Now this might seem like a no-brainer, and it is to some extent. Clearly, we need to develop our ability to run far as a runner. Primarily this development comes from “aerobic” training – the bread and butter, base training, long slow distance, etc. This is the area of athletic development that deals with endurance, but it is also far more than that. Let’s explore it from both angles.
Work Capacity = ability to handle workload & recover from that workload
From the basic concept of running endurance, this is, again, relatively straight forward. How long can you run and still recover well from that run? How many times can you do that in a week? How can you progress this time/distance in a safe way? There are many different approaches and theories to developing this endurance ability as a runner; however, the differences are minimal. Everyone agrees that you have to run easy and long in order to develop your overall aerobic ability as a runner. And we have to have a good aerobic ability/base in order to be as fast of a runner as we could be. Nearly every coach now at least somewhat subscribes to the idea that 80% of your running should be in “aerobic development” working on your general ability to handle running longer. This changes somewhat with really strongly developed runners, but most of us do not fit that category. One key to remember with this basic concept of building endurance is that it is not just the ability to handle workload but also the ability to recover from that workload. Too many times, runners work too hard on these runs and end up not being able to recover (prior post about running the same pace all the time here). Building up your aerobic endurance is a gradual and slow process that simply cannot be rushed.
So, now onto the other aspect of work capacity that I feel most runners miss out on!
Work capacity truly encompasses all of the other aspects of athletic development. At its base, it is general endurance as was just discussed above. But in the realm of true athletic development, it is the ability to handle workloads in each of the other areas of being an athlete. For example, you can have as much endurance built up as you would like as a runner, but the first time you do some short sprints, your body is going to let you know about it (whether you are running 100 miles/week or 10 miles/week). So, really work capacity is about “handling workloads” and “recovering from workloads” in all of the following areas:
- General endurance (discussed above, and absorbed in the term “work capacity”)
As an athlete (and therefore, as a runner), it is important to view work capacity as the ability to work in all of the different athletic component systems. If we leave out certain components of athletic development, it will eventually catch up to us. As a Physical Therapist, I see this often in the form of runners coming in injured after relatively large changes in training workload … with no development of that component’s work capacity. This might be related to large increases in time/mileage (endurance component) or the addition of 800s at the track with no build up to that (speed component) or much more rarely seen in individuals adding in plyometric box jumps or lots of side to side movements (power and agility components). Perhaps the only one I won’t see at all is individuals adding in the strength component – our natural inability to lift too much when starting strength training tends to be self-protective.
Our “base training” should encompass all of these components because the goal is to fully develop as an athlete. Granted, 80% or so of our focus is going to be on that general aerobic development; however, that other 20% needs to be included in our work capacity training. So, what can we do to build our work capacity for speed, strength, power, and agility? Lots of things! The main point is to try to be including something in those realms most of the time! Later posts will explore these areas for runners in more detail, but here are a few recommendations to get you going:
Work Capacity Development
- General endurance – Spend most of your time in this area slowly building up time/mileage over the course of weeks, months, and years. Somewhere around 80% of your runs should be slow and “easy”. (A future post will be addressing a new way I am using to monitor increases in workload … look up Tim Gabbett to get a jump start on that if you’d like).
- Speed – Incorporate some speed work at all times, even if you aren’t needing to get fast right now. Short bursts (<30 secs), strides (~10 secs), uphill short sprints (~8-15 secs), 100-150m are all good ways to do this. If it is your first time working on speed for a while, don’t go at 100% effort, but the goal would be to feel physically able to do that pretty soon. When you are at a point in training where you want to focus on getting faster, you will have some work capacity built up to start that process.
- Strength – Multiple studies are starting to show that strength training is a protective factor for runners while also improving performance. It’s time for us to make strength training part of what being a “runner” means. There are all kinds of directions you can go. Of course, I’ll offer up a few old blog posts from me to get you started (video blog for 5 single leg exercises that are great for intro, strength training explanation and weight room recommendations here). I recommend making strength work happen 2-4 times/week for any runner with goals of improved time. For work capacity development as the topic at hand, keep some type of strength training going year round.
- Power/Agility – For the sake of a runner’s workload capacity development, combining these two makes sense. In my mock breakdown, I gave each of these areas about 2% focus. This does not mean they are not important. It just means that the amount of time spent here can be less than the other areas. A great way to work on both of these areas is to have a good dynamic warm up routine involved in your runs at least 2x/week. Here’s a list to consider: lunge matrix, chair squats, leg swings, a skips, b skips, power skips, side shuffles, defensive slides, carioca, ankle pops, squat jumps, split lunge jumps, etc. Pick and choose from these and many other possibilities to have a good warm up routine that will work on your capacity for power and agility along with preparing you for harder speed work.
For all of the above, it is important to remember to develop them as slowly as needed. Take note of not only how you perform but also how you recover. Future posts will look at more detail of how to develop these areas when it is time to make them a bigger focus of training, but this honestly is about all that most of us need when it comes to general athletic development. If you are able to do the above, you will always be “ready to go” when it comes to upping your training.
I am convinced that if most runners focused on their work capacity in the above way that injuries would sharply decline and performances would be boosted. The bread and butter of running is work capacity … if we can improve that area as noted above, the dividends will be huge. The rest of our athletic development would just be icing on the cake.
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