Introduction to Energy Systems and Energy Systems Training/Development

Energy system development is a buzz word in the industry right now. What does it mean & How can we apply it?

Training, movement, exercise whatever you want to name it is all underpinned by energy systems. Our body is constantly working to supply muscles with enough energy to keep moving and sustain our workload in whatever capacity. The way in which energy is made available to muscle changes dependent on the specific intensity and duration of exercise, the training age/level of the athlete will also impact predominant energy system usage.

A Closer Look:

The body’s ability to produce energy will come down to a number of different things, most notably;

1: The Energy system development of an individual, both anaerobic and aerobic.

2: Muscular size and fibre make up. Bigger and stronger muscle will require more energy but also be able to produce more energy.

3: Nutrition, How your body is fueled will impact energy production. (Kebab and chips before an ultra marathon MIGHT not be optimal.)

Over the coming weeks and months I want to take you a little bit deeper into energy systems, their roles, how we can train them and some of the outcomes we can expect. If you’re reading this you most likely have a keen interest in your own health and fitness, I’d also assume you are someone that is training 3 or more times a week. You can learn how to increase your performance by understanding how energy is produced in the body and therefore structuring your training and nutrition to improve energy metabolism.

The 3 Energy systems:

  • The ATP-PC System or Anaerobic Alactic

  • The Glycolytic System or Anaerobic Lactic

  • The Aerobic System

They work together to sustain life and meet the energy demands of physical performance. Everything we do challenges energy production in different ways based on power output and work rest ratio. Every adaptation in the body is about meeting the demands of the environment while maintaining homeostasis.

The currency of energy in the body is known as Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP). The body can produce ATP in two different ways; with or without oxygen, aerobically or anaerobically. Each energy system pathway is capable of producing ATP from different substrates, at different rates, and for different time duration. There is always an inherent tradeoff between the rate of ATP production and the duration a given power output can be sustained

The energy requirements of each sport/environment can be broken down into the following components:

The rate of energy production - how rapidly energy is generated during the period of work; high power = high rate. Sports that require maximum power output over a short duration of time depend on the alactic energy system. Such as Olympic weightlifting, powerlifting, sprinting, etc.

Duration of energy production - how long the levels of energy production must be maintained; Sports that require sustainable power over long durations depend heavily on the aerobic energy system. Such as triathlons, cycling, marathons, etc.

Work to rest ratio - The time ratio between the length of work and the rest period; Higher peak power and longer rest = greater anaerobic contribution. Shorter rest periods and/or longer work periods = higher levels of aerobic contribution

An analogy that we can look at is to imagine the 3 energy systems as 3 separate engines.

When you start the engines, they all turn on and run together. The aerobic engine is small, efficient and is able to run and run producing small amounts of power but it keeps the car moving. When you want to put your foot down to jump a red light the Anaerobic Alactic engine kicks in to produce enough power to get you through in 10 seconds, As you are doing this a police car spots you and begins to chase you down the road for 30-90s. You need to keep power high in order to get away from them so the anaerobic lactic engine pulls you away down a side street luckily the chase doesn't last more than 90s as the car begins to slow. All the while the aerobic system is still running to keep the car moving, whilst the other two engines recharge and recover. The time taken to recharge them will depend on the power of the aerobic system and the quality of the fuel in the car (nutrition).

That isn't a great analogy, but I found it very relatable.

Another analogy, taken from Brett Bartholomew…

credit card=ATP/PC,

cash= anaerobic,

salary= aerobic.

I hope you have enjoyed this brief introduction into energy systems, in the next few blogs we will look at each system individually, stay tuned.

Any questions please reach out.




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