Login | September 23, 2020

Understanding energy system training

Pete’s World

Published: August 31, 2020

Ever heard of the term “energy systems?” It’s a fancy name for the three separate energy production systems that extract the energy from foods and turn it into chemical energy that the body can use as fuel.
And when we move this energy systems thing into the theater of sports, we’re talking about “energy systems training”––understanding how these three different metabolic energy systems can power you through your workouts and your sport.
Now at this point you might be wondering what the big deal is behind comprehending this energy systems stuff?
Well grasshopper, let me give you a very brief primer on energy systems training because it’s a mighty powerful concept to understand if you’re serious about your sport or recreational activity.
What’s more, when it comes to the design and implementation of training regimes in general, and sports specific training protocols in particular, knowing a bit about energy systems training gives you a leg up on the competition.
So first let’s look at the three energy systems.
The ATP-CP system: Supports very high-intensity/very short duration activities like sprints, heavy lifts, jumps, etc. This system provides immediate energy through the breakdown of stored high-energy phosphates.  Fully loaded, this system can provide energy for between 10 and 15 seconds before it fatigues. 
The Glycolytic System: Facilitates slightly longer duration/lower intensity exercises like the 200-, 400-, and 800-meter dash, slaloms, football and soccer. As energy demands continue past that 15-second window, the body switches fuel sources to sugars. The glycolytic system is the predominant system used for all-out exercise that last from 30 to 120 seconds.
The Oxidative System - Supports long duration/low intensity activities such as yoga, long cycling, running and swimming events, etc. The oxidative energy system is the primary source at rest and during low intensity exercise. Fats and carbs are the primary substrates used to provide energy. After about two minutes of continuous exercise this system will kick in as the primary system.
Now understand that most types of exercise involve the body using varying mixes of all three energy systems simultaneously. But remember, based on the type of exercise/sport that’s being performed, the body may emphasize one system over another.
Okay, so the first thing to understand about energy systems training is that it’s like building a house. You need a strong foundation, the oxidative (aerobic) system, to support the first floor, the glycolytic system, and the second floor, the ATP-PC system.
And as you’ve probably heard a gazillion times houses built on weak foundations usually crumble. So to is the case with energy systems training––without a good aerobic foundation, fitness programs relying on those first and second floor energy systems will eventually crumble.
For instance, if all you do are the higher-intensity glycolytic or ATP-PC workouts––like heavy weight training, power lifting, short sprinting, you’re going to eventually find yourself continually running out of gas despite the fact that you’re primarily working those short term, higher intensity energy systems.
That’s where developing a really solid aerobic foundation helps. How? Because it enables you to develop more aerobic enzymes, increase the size of the left ventricle ( which increases stroke volume and decreases resting heart rate) and increase mitochondrial density in muscle tissue.
Not only that, but a rock solid aerobic system enables you to workout longer, recover more thoroughly between high-intensity sets and exercises, buffer your muscles and maintain power output.
So first and foremost, make sure you posses a good aerobic base.
Next comes the hard part: You’ve got to understand the primary energy demands of your activity/sport. For example, the average baseball play involves a lot of power, lasts less than 15 seconds and is followed by a long rest period. Soccer play on the other hand, has long bursts of three-plus-minute work efforts with varying power demands and little to no rest.
So obviously these two different types of athletes go in two different energy systems training directions––the ball player leaning towards ATP-CP/glycolytic, the soccer player leaning towards glycolytic/aerobic.
And it’s precisely at that sport-specific point of divergence, away from the aerobic foundation, where it’s critical that you decide what energy system(s) you’ll need to concentrate on––which rests upon having a basic understanding of energy systems and energy systems training.
Knowing the principles and protocols equates to training smarter.
So what energy system(s) power you through your sport?