Energy System Training for Sport or for Health

Energy System Training for Sport or for Health

This blog was written by OPEX Ambassador and CCP Coach Chad Johnson, owner of Chamber Fitness in Belmont, Australia. As a gym owner for 11 years, Chad is passionate about providing every individual with an opportunity to express themselves to the fullest, in both a physical and mental capacity. Follow Chad on Instagram here.

With the entire world experiencing the full effects of living through a global pandemic and the added stressors and limitations it has brought to each of our lives, I feel this is a great time to delve deeper into the discussion of the prescription and application of Energy System Training

Specifically, let’s cover why this should look different to individuals on the pursuit of sporting performance vs. those on the pursuit of health and lifestyle. With a higher-order approach, coaches in the future can prescribe fitness more effectively to these two very different populations.

What is Energy System Training (EST)?

Firstly, we must define what Energy System Training is. We could go down the rabbit hole of complexity, but that would likely lose the effect in this blog, so I’ll aim to keep it understandable and relatable. 

EST, simply put, is the production and utilization of the body’s different fuel sources to achieve the prescribed task most effectively and efficiently. 

(Coach Resource: Want to learn more about energy system training? Download our free guide here.)

We can categorize this into 3 main systems:

  1. Creatine Phosphate System (CP or OPEX Gain): Resistance training tasks such as a 3RM deadlift or 10 second maximum efforts on an assault bike with lots of rest needed to replenish.
  2. Glycolytic System (OPEX Pain): Short duration/high-intensity efforts that become unsustainable and that leave you on your back in a pool of drool unable to comprehend life, e.g., 500m max effort Row (if you have the requisite strength to express). 
  3. Aerobic/Oxidative System (OPEX Sustain): Now we look at longer, continuous and more sustainable pieces of work such as a 60 minute row or long distance running.

Athlete (Sport) vs Health (Gen Pop/lifestyle)

Secondly, we must give context to either training for sport and performance, or, training for health and lifestyle. 

Sport: In a nutshell, when the intention is sport, training should be designed to maximize performance in the sport. Depending on the sport, this may include attempting to maximize the CP, glycolytic, or aerobic energy systems. This style of training may result in a high peak of performance but is not sustainable for a lifetime.

Health: When the intention is health, training should be designed to support great mental acuity, function, and living large and long. For most people, this will be achieved by pairing great CP work with aerobic work, not to maximize either energy system, but to support consistency in training for life. Glycolytic training does not have a place in training for long-term health.

TRENDS

Unfortunately, due to the hype and craze created by and surrounding HIIT-style training, the entertainment factor it provides, plus the “athlete” badge of honour that gets handed out to everyone who participates, the perception that “harder is better” seems to have as much momentum as ever and is still preached by coaches in the functional fitness landscape worldwide. 

I hope that the context and content provided below allows for you as coaches to think more critically about your own prescriptions of fitness programs and the responsibility we hold, knowing what we know, to change that very landscape for the better. 

HIGHER ORDER ENERGY SYSTEM TRAINING

If we are to evolve from this lower order, one size fits all mindset with EST prescription, then we need to honour the individual at the beginning of this process. A very simple way to do this is to ask these questions:

  • Person: Who am I prescribing for and what is their current level of ability?
  • Modality: What exactly are we prescribing?
  • Intentions: What are the goals of the individual?

With this knowledge now available to us, we can now look at creating and prescribing the dose that is the most appropriate and applicable to the individual’s wants and needs.

Below, I will lay out two different case studies that are based on two very different intentions: sport and health.

AVATAR: SPORT PERFORMANCE/ATHLETE - Jonny

  • Name: Jonny
  • Age: 27
  • Training Age: (Advanced) 12 years of bodybuilding, 4 years Olympic Lifting, 3 years Crossfit
  • Goals: To make it through to the quarterfinals of the Crossfit Open in 9 months
  • Dose: The dose for Jonny will be reflective of his training age and the insights delivered from his initial assessment (Ability) + Goals to compete at a high level in the sport of mixed modal (Intentions + Modality). 

Due to the chaotic demands of the sport and the broadness of the testing grounds, Jonny will require regular exposure to all 3 energy systems in a periodized manner. 

A sample day may look like this (inside an Accumulation Block): 

AM: Aerobic Focus 

Cyclical Aerobic @ MAP 7

Row 10 Minutes @ 40 minute Race Pace

Rest 5 Minutes
Assault Bike 10 Minutes @ 40 minute Race Pace
Rest 5 Minutes

Repeat for 2 total sets 

PM: CP and Glycolytic

A ) Clean Complex :

Clean Pull + Power Clean + Low Hang Clean , 1 + 1 + 2 x 6 sets, rest 90 seconds - 2 mins b/t sets

*Tough sets across

B) Paused Back Squat 

@22X1, 5 reps x 5 sets, rest 2 mins b/t sets

*Build to a tough 5 for the day starting @ 70 % BS max 

C) Gymnastics Push / Pull Capacity, for time:

5 Strict Ring Muscle Ups

5 Deficit Kipping HSPU 6"

10 Kipping Ring Muscle Ups

10 Deficit Kipping HSPU 4"

15 Bar Muscle Ups

15  Kipping HSPU 

D) Glycolytic (Anaerobic Lactic Power) 

30 Sec Assault bike for cals @ VERY HARD effort x 4-5 sets; rest 4:30 b/t sets

As you can see by an average day of training, improving performance is the number one priority for Jonny. This is necessary if he is to align with his intentions and work toward achieving his goals. 

The overall stress, load, intensity and dynamic style of contractions endured by his body day after day, week after week, month after month and year after year are not sustainable and require an extensive recovery regime just to stay on track. 

His ongoing pursuit of performance in the mixed modal scene will dominate the majority of his life, he will be tired, he will be sore, he will lack vitality, but that is part and parcel of the athlete game and is necessary for Jonny to reach and express full physical potential. 

AVATAR: LIFESTYLE/GEN POP - Jenny

Name: Jenny

Age: 38

Training Age: (Beginner - Intermediate) 2 years of boot camp, 2 years Les Mills, 6 months Crossfit

Goals: Drop some body fat, increase lean muscle, improve ability/function /capacity on the tennis court, increase afternoon energy levels, sleep better, enjoy training and the feeling of working out.

Dose: When taking into consideration Jenny’s training age and history, current ability and goals, a full body resistance plan with some moderate cyclical and or mixed aerobic work would give her the greatest result. 

A sample day may look like this (inside an Accumulation Block):

Full Body Resistance: Strength Endurance focus

A1 ) Single Arm DB Glute Bridge Bench Press @30X1, 10-12 reps/arm x 3 sets; rest 30 seconds
A2 ) Romanian Deadlift @2020, 10-12 reps x 3 sets; rest 30 seconds
A3 ) Front Leaning Rest on Rings, AMSAP -5 sec x 3 sets; rest 1-2 minutes 

B1 ) Cyclist Goblet Squat @21X1, 10-12 reps x 3 sets; rest 30 seconds
B2 ) Elevator Ring Row @2222, 8-10 reps x 3 sets; rest 1-2 minutes

Mixed Modal Aerobic 

C) For Consistency @ MAP 8

AMRAP in 15 Minutes @ Sustained output:

15 Cal Assault bike @ Steady

10 No Push Up Burpees 

15 Ski Erg @ Steady

10 Box Jump Step Down 

50m Dual DB Farmers Carry - tough load

*Use phone lap timer to record splits as we want a nice steady pace across the board, 

With Jenny’s intentions of working toward enhancing her capacity in both tennis and vitality outside of the gym, the session is much more biased toward creating full-body strength, structural balance and overall resilience. 

The “met-con” at the end is challenging but not so far beyond capabilities so that it will elicit the correct dose-response and won't dampen her ability to recover adequately. Jenny will have an abundance of energy for what's most important to her in life post-gym sessions. 

Longevity, vitality and recoverability are key components of this program design. She will still experience a great level of fun and variation in her training, with the structure to support her goals.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

After more than 11 years of owning a gym now, it's become more evident than ever to me that intentions are everything. 

I have lived through and prescribed many workouts in an era in which the definition of a “good” workout was the level of suffering endured. I believe now is the time as coaches to level up from this. Although necessary for the small percentage of trainees (competitors), is proving detrimental to the rest and zapping the vitality out of life for many.

Not everyone who walks into the gym space is or wants to be an athlete, so why must we continue to train them as if they are? If we continue to popularise intensity over sustainability and an “all-inclusive” approach, then those in the pursuit of living the largest life possible will be moved further away from that target with every session that passes.

Instead, as coaches, let’s honour the abilities, the needs and the intentions of the individual before prescribing energy system training. 

Want to learn more about energy system training? Download our free guide here.

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