What Is Your Work Capacity?

944th Fighter Wing members run laps at the base track. (Air Force photo)
944th Fighter Wing members run laps at the base track. (Air Force photo)

If you look at the term work capacity, you may define it as the ability to keep moving (and lifting / carrying objects) at a steady pace for a long period of time. If you are discussing work capacity in the fitness arena, you may define it as the ability to recover quickly and use multiple muscle groups requiring your cardiovascular, musculoskeletal, and central nervous system to work together efficiently for a particular time. In physics, Work is defined as Force times Distance (W = F x d) and is measured in Newton-Meters (Nm).

So why is work capacity important in preparation for challenging military training — everything from basic training to special ops selection programs?

When you think of preparing yourself physically for any military training program, it will require long days of not just being awake and alert, but actually being in constant movement all day long. One thing is certain: a 30-45 minute workout in a gym will not fully prepare you for a day of military training. You have to put in your time moving as there are no naps at boot camp — unless you count falling asleep standing up waiting in line a nap.

After noticing recent successful trends as well as recalling similar special ops success stories, a common denominator becomes glaringly apparent. You need to work — all day — plus work out before, during, and/or after a work day — to be prepared for long, arduous training programs.

For instance, the construction worker who trains an hour or so before work, then works all day lifting, moving, and thinking through problems, statistically does well in elite selection programs. Adding a workout during lunch or after work requires a perfect never-quit mindset as well as fuel to burn that many calories a day. “Putting in your time” and getting accustomed to hard work throughout the day prepares you for military selection training, which will consist of long days (and nights) of hard work. Acclimating to these demands will build the type of endurance you need.

When I recall my own journey, I credit my days in high school when I worked the summer in the watermelon fields in North Florida from 6am to 6pm, loading melons from the field into a semi-truck. That was followed by joining my football team at the weight room for a lifting and sprinting workout to prepare for the upcoming fall sports season. Considering those experiences, I think the combination of a long day’s work and vigorous exercise striving to reach a goal of competing on the field has contributed to my successful endeavors. These days required a strong work ethic and created a never-quit attitude I would require for future challenges. The student who works out before school, maybe swims in between classes at lunch, and gets a run or ruck in before studying late in the evening is preparing his body for the type of long-day training the military provides.

The Work Capacity Test

There is actually a Work Capacity Test. Obviously, the definition of work is relative and measuring someone’s ability depends upon that person’s future goals. Here is an example of the Wildland Firefighter Work Capacity Test:

The Work Capacity Test (WCT), known informally as the “Pack Test”, is a U.S. Forest Service physical test for wildland firefighters.

The information below provides test criteria for arduous, moderate, and light duty performance of the Work Capacity Test:

Arduous Pack Test - 3-mile hike with 45-pound pack in 45 min.

Moderate Field Test - 2-mile hike with 25-pound pack in 30 min.

Light Walk Test - 1-mile hike in 16 min.

This is a decent measure of work performance for someone seeking future training in the wildland fire service, but the actual job will require a wide range of movements over rugged terrain, lifting and carrying heavy equipment, and other environmental challenges. Adding a CPAT test to the Pack Test might help fully measure the pre-training abilities of the Wildland Firefighter.

Personally, the Dirty Dozen Tactical Fitness Test may be a better method to test your ability to perform multiple physical tasks that you will likely see again in your military, police, or fire fighter profession. The Tactical Fitness Dirty Dozen Test is a twelve-event test and takes a few hours to complete if done in a single session.

Concluding Remarks

Do your workouts matter? Obviously. When you are lifting weights, PTing, running, swimming, rucking and putting in the time, you can simulate hard work and build a solid work ethic. But continued movement, thinking through problems, and “working” throughout the remainder of your day can enhance your abilities to become a productive member of society. Whether your goals are military, special ops, continuing your education, or working for a living, building a strong work ethic and maintaining your work capacity is critical to your success.

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