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Posted - 10/15/2018 :  15:21:02  Show Profile  Reply with Quote
Energy Systems 101

In the world of sport performance, the physiology of human energy production and utilization can be the difference between gold and silver medals. That is to say: How well did the gold medalist produce and use his energy?

When developing an athlete, it is of paramount importance to consider energy systems in program design. ESD, or energy system development, can be thought of simply as conditioning. Unfortunately, the term conditioning often gets thrown around loosely as, “we’re going to run up this hill until you puke.” And while that can be a response to the challenge of physical preparation, it is not always suited for every athlete’s needs. This type of approach may build “mental toughness,” but it rarely has a scientific basis behind it.

In a conceptual consideration of ESD, there are 3 primary systems in which we as humans produce energy. Each system uses it’s own respective metabolic pathway to produce the body’s common energy currency known as ATP. ATP can basically be thought of as “gas for the car.” ESD is simply what allows us as coaches to build a better ability to produce and use gas!

It can help to think of the three energy systems in the context of a bon fire.

Fire #1: the Aerobic Fire
The aerobic, sometimes referred to as oxidative, system gives us the ability to create and use energy at lower intensities over longer periods of time. As you sit here reading and breathing, your aerobic system is at work keeping your heart beating and eyes scrolling. This fire burns “low and slow” using oxygen as its catalyst to create energy.

This system allows us to sustain low to moderate level exercise over a long period of time.

Fire #2: The Anaerobic/Lactate Fire
The lactate system, sometimes referred to as anaerobic or glycolytic system, is a much stronger fire than the aerobic fire and gives us the ability to run fast! Imagine someone squirting lighter fluid over our first fire (the aerobic fire). It burns brighter and harder because now it is using the lighter fluid, not oxygen, (metaphor for anaerobic/glycolytic pathways), to create energy! But as you can imagine, there is only so much lighter fluid in the bottle, and when it runs out, the fire dies back down.

Know that feeling when you are sucking wind and panting? That is your body trying to keep the fire going after you’ve expelled your lighter fluid! Your body needs that oxygen to keep the original fire going.

This system allows us to produce energy at a high level, but only for a small amount of time; typically about 60-90 seconds.

Fire #3: The Phosphocreatine/A-lactic Fire
The PCr system, sometimes referred to as the A-lactic system, is the strongest and brightest fire. It is our maximal energy output method, but it is extremely limited in how long it can burn. Imagine someone throwing a single quart of gasoline on the fire. EXPLOSION! But after just a few seconds, the fire goes right back to its low and slow burn.

This explosion allows us to lift maximally, jump maximally, sprint at top speed, and throw hard, but only for a brief time; typically 8-10 seconds or less.

Each system has its place for development, especially in consideration of specific sport demands. We tend to focus on the development of aerobic and alactic qualities. Baseball demands high effort swings, throws, runs, etc. over the course of the game/season.

It’s important to remember that although I’ve explained them separately, it’s not as simple as “flipping the switch” to utilize one system over the other. They are all working together, with one contributing dominantly. You should’ve picked up on an underlying theme: the fire is always burning. The longer you can keep your fire burning without having to use lighter fluid or gasoline, the more “in shape” you are.

We hope this is helpful! Have a great week, and as always feel free to comment with questions or topic requests!

All the best,
The Rapid Team

Andrew Gordon, MS, CSCS
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