The Fitness Industry Has the Energy Systems All Wrong

The title may be a bit of an overstatement, but research (that’s not so new) shows more clearly how our energy systems work together…and THAT changes how we should train.

Like most trainers (and those interested in metabolism or taking high school biology), I learned we have three energy systems providing ATP to our cells. The PHOSPHAGEN (CP) process provides energy very quickly but for  a short time — like the first 30 seconds of activity. The ANAEROBIC GLYCOLYSIS process provides energy for about 90 seconds. The AEROBIC GLYCOLYSIS process provides energy for activity lasting more than 2 minutes.

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The second graph shows how aerobic system starts earlier as needed for energy

We have been trained to think of these processes as working in succession, and developing training accordingly. That is, if your goal is a sport like football, you will need a great deal of work in the first two systems so you can produce short powerful bursts. If you’re a marathon runner, you need more work in the aerobic system so you can maintain a faster pace longer. What these two plans may not focus on is that all energy system are working at the same time. They don’t start up in succession.

If you train primarily for power, you need to recognize that repeated bursts of power will leave your phosphagen system depleted and your aerobic system will be relied on more to get you through the activity — even those first 30 seconds. If you develop your aerobic system with the same effort you do your phosphagen system, you’ll sustain your repeated bursts AND refuel your phosphagen system faster.

The research focuses in the direction of power/sprint athletes, but I think we can imagine a reverse process, as well. That is, athletes who use primarily their aerobic system could well get a boost from power intervals that train their CP system.

For charts, examples, and lots of details, head on over to 8 Weeks Out.

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