Energy Systems: A Simple Introduction – Garage Strength

Energy Systems: A Simple Introduction


Strength coaches love throwing the term around: train the energy system. But what the hell does that even mean? Do they even know what that means? Is it as simple as only training one specific energy system? Which system entails what muscular action? There are so many questions and so many poor answers! Enjoy this write up as we give a simple introduction to comprehending energy usage for the body!

Strength coaches love throwing the term around: train the energy system. But what the hell does that even mean? Do they even know what that means? Is it as simple as only training one specific energy system? Which system entails what muscular action? There are so many questions and so many poor answers! Enjoy this write up as we give a simple introduction to comprehending energy usage for the body!

How many systems should we worry about?


For starters, let’s keep this very simple. The three energy systems are:

1. Anaerobic Alactic Energy System

2. Anaerobic Glycolysis System

3. Aerobic Oxidative System

Glycolysis System


These three systems encompass all athletics and the work we need to put in to improve various sports. It’s important to recognize that a sport like shot-putting or discus throwing may compete entirely in the Alactic system of energy usage, BUT there is a benefit for the athlete to train with anaerobic glycolysis and even at times within the Aerobic Oxidative energy system. As athletes adapt to stimuli, it is important for the strength coach to design training around the best way to optimize the most important system while also improving the rate of recovery.


The Anaerobic Alactic Energy System

The alactic system is the prime energy system used in throwing, in hitting for baseball, it’s the energy system used for massive knockout punches, it is what is utilized for the sport of Olympic weightlifting. Every single athlete on the planet can benefit from a higher functioning alactic energy system because it leads to being more explosive and more powerful!


The alactic system works closely with the aerobic oxidative system in sports like football and wrestling. The repeated bouts of explosiveness are key in these two sports to develop a tremendous result. This is similar to a sport like field hockey. Envision a wrestler scrambling for 30 seconds or a field hockey player running or jogging and then needing to smash the ball across the field, the alactic system is used to deliver that power.


The alactic system is typically a bit more genetic-based because it has a tremendous amount to do with the amount of fast-twitch fiber makeup. However, it can also be developed and improved through training. By handling heavy weights and moving weights rapidly over a period of 6-15 seconds, the alactic system is thoroughly developed and improved.

The Basics



Energy Source for Muscular Contraction:

A simple method of energy that does not rely on carbohydrates or fats. Phosphocreatine is used to regenerate the ATP the working muscles need. During these intense, explosive movements, the ATP runs out, phosphocreatine donates its phosphate molecule to ADP which then turns into the ATP muscles use for energy. There are minimal chemical reactions inside the Alactic system, the system can create ATP rapidly BUT the ATP fuel lasts for a shorter time frame.


Time period of energy usage:

- 6-15 seconds

Strength Qualities Improved:

- Explosiveness, maximal strength, speed-strength, rate of force production

Supporting Energy System:

Because the phosphocreatine is utilized rapidly in the Alactic energy system, the only way phosphocreatine can be replenished inside the muscles is through aerobic action. This may seem counterintuitive but the Aerobic Oxidative system supports the Alactic system tremendously, especially in sports like football, wrestling, and field hockey.

Lifts/Reps/Rest in Alactic System:

- Cleans/Snatch/Back Squat/Deadlift/Bench Press/Jumps all done with 7-10 sets of 1-3 reps. The optimal recovery period is typically 90 seconds to 120 seconds.

The Anaerobic Glycolysis System

This system has been poorly understood by coaches and athletes for years. There are a few key factors that need to be understood behind the Anaerobic Glycolysis System. For starters, athletes need to stop fearing lactate. It is not a horrible repercussion of metabolic stress. Lactate is a key product within the system and acts as an energy bridge between the aerobic and anaerobic systems. Without lactate usage, athletes in various sports would fatigue much quicker and we need to learn how to use lactate as an energy source.




In rankings of sports performance, this system likely would be the third system trained for sports like wrestling and football. Instead, massive amounts of work within the alactic system and oxidative system could lead to greater performance. By no means does that mean training should not exist within the anaerobic glycolysis system, it just means the predominant amount of work should not be inside the parameters of this particular system.


One of the best ways to improve this specific system is to utilize longer periods of exercise with shorter more incomplete rest periods, similar to those methods used by bodybuilders. This helps the body adapt and buffer the aspects that ultimately lead to fatigue.

It is important to train within this energy system but the amount of TIME spent under the glycolysis system can vary from sport to sport, depending upon the needs for that particular type of competition.

The Basics




Energy Source for Muscular Contraction:

The Glycolysis system can produce ATP for just over a minute, through the means of breaking down blood sugar or stored sugar (glycogen). We need to understand how the system uses sugar to break it down through chemical processing to regenerate ATP without the use of oxygen.

This process is known as glycolysis, where one molecule of sugar is taken through chemical steps until it becomes two molecules of pyruvate. During this process, 2 ATP molecules are produced that are then utilized for muscular contraction.

Pyruvate is formed and then is oxidized or turned into a molecule known as Acetyl CoA where it will use oxygen to generate 32 more ATP molecules or instead it is turned into lactate. Acetyla CoA would lead down an aerobic pathway while lactate will take the body down the anaerobic production system.


Time period of energy usage: 

- 30-120 seconds

Strength Qualities Improved:

- Strength, muscle size through sarcoplasmic hypertrophy (link video), strength levels of slower twitch muscle groups


Supporting Energy System: 

- The Aerobic system can help convert lactate back to pyruvate

Lifts/Reps/Rest in Glycolysis System: 

- All main lifts: 4-6 sets of exercises for 8-20 reps with 60-90 second rest period

The Aerobic Oxidative Energy System

The aerobic system uses oxygen to produce ATP and is the system responsible for long term energy production. It is also the system that our body uses more for ATP production throughout our daily lives while doing normal everyday tasks. The Aerobic system can utilize sugars AND fats to generate ATP. This system is incredible and long-lasting but cannot deliver the amount of power or high force that many athletic situations need.

The unique side behind the aerobic oxidative system is that through very low intense aerobic improvements, our biggest strength athletes will even notice a simple improvement in their recovery.

The Basics


Energy Source for Muscular Contraction:

By combining proteins, glycogen, fats, and oxygen, the body creates ADP+Phosphate which then turns into ATP. The ATP fuels muscular contraction which then creates CO2 and water as the by-product from the energy usage.

Time period of energy usage: 

- 120 seconds or longer

Strength Qualities Improved:

- Strength endurance, power output for repeated bouts, enhanced recovery from alactic stimulation

Supporting Energy System:

- The other two systems should be chosen as the main systems of focus in training, depending upon the competitive sport while aerobic is the KEY supporting system to all other systems.

Lifts/Reps/Rest in Oxidative System: 

- Sled work or conditioning work with 10-15 seconds over a time of 4-20 minutes. Low-intensity work on assault bike or rower at 10-45 minutes to enhance recovery.


By analyzing this basic information, we can comprehend what systems we will use for various specific athletic endeavors. To produce an insane power output, we know that the Alactic System is optimal. To enhance size and strength, we know that the Anaerobic Glycolysis System is optimal. For a vast majority of sports, utilizing the Aerobic Oxidative system is KEY to optimal performance and recovery! One system is not greater than the other, instead, it is optimal to utilize the energy system properly for your training and competitive goals by understanding the time frames and power output needed in your specific sport.

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Dane Miller

Dane Miller is the owner and founder of Garage Strength Sports Performance. He works with a select handful of elite athletes building comprehensive programs for strength and sports performance. Several times a year he leads a seminar for coaches, trainers, and athletes.


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