Work Capacity: Your Exercise Bucket
January 3rd: You enter the gym with the motivation of 10,000 armies. This year’s resolution is in your crosshairs.
January 4th: You can barely roll out of bed. Muscles and joints are sore. You’ll take it easy today and skip.
February 4th: You’ve recovered, but now you’re too busy to get there and you chalk it up to not enough “motivation.”
Sound familiar? You didn't fall short from a lack of “motivation,” there was something missing from your approach. We all want to see change, quickly. That’s why we give 110% our first trip to the gym. The thing you didn’t consider was how much work you should do. That’s where work capacity comes into play.
Work capacity is a person’s exercise “bucket." When people first start training, they don’t have a “bucket” they have a “tea cup.” The soreness they feel after that first workout is because they poured a bucket's worth of liquid into their tea cup. 110% was 10% too much, maybe more.
So, how do you start, smarter? At RD, it all starts with the Functional Movement Screen. We want to rule out painful movement patterns, then asymmetrical patterns. Addressing pain or asymmetry by referring a client to a manual therapist, or with correct exercises, opens the doors for people to get strong and to see lasting changes.
Just like you, we’ve neglected the work capacity piece of the puzzle. When we did that, the corrective exercise strategies we prescribed were ineffective. We were exceeding a member's ability to do work. Instead of building them up, we were putting them in the hole, making it harder for them to recover and making it less likely that changes would stick.
Moral of the story is, start light and build up. Especially if you haven’t exercised in a while, take it easy the first month. Light walking, carrying, crawling, stretching will build the foundation for you to increase the amount of work you do. The more work you’re able to do, the more resilient your body will be to the stresses of life, leading to a more enjoyable one.