How to Program Alactic Training

How to Program Alactic Training


If a coach wants to improve a client’s absolute strength and physical potential, they can’t overlook the importance of training their alactic energy system. While any fitness coach can provide a textbook definition of the alactic energy system, they may struggle with applying this knowledge and designing an individualized program around it.

How to Program Alactic Training

The alactic energy system uses the human body’s simplest, most immediate and powerful energy source. Your body only uses this system for a short period of time. The system relies on fuel from phosphorylated creatine phosphate to rapidly mobilize high-energy phosphates to perform short bursts of powerful work. Alactic work examples generally involve one rep maximum lifts. The time domain of work this energy system tackles generally lasts up to ten seconds. OPEX Fitness uses the term ‘gain’ to describe this energy system because of the fact it is most often used in tackling absolute strength adaptations, or one-rep maximum lifts.

Alactic ‘Gain’ Training Rationale and Progression Examples

OPEX Gain = Resistance Training.

Reasons for training OPEX Gain:

  • Mechanical Adaptation
  • Hormonal Effects
  • Coordination of both the Intramuscular and the Intermuscular

The reasons why a coach may want clients to engage in this type of training is to primarily build mechanical adaptation, create hormonal effects, and develop coordination between the intramuscular and intermuscular structure. Alactic energy system training can increase a client’s longevity, vitality, and recovery if done correctly.

(New to energy system training? Get in-depth concept exploration and sample programming in the Energy System Training guide.)

Here are a few examples of what an OPEX Gain progression would look like over six weeks utilizing a back squat and a deadlift:

Alactic Training Progressions:

Week 1- Back Squat @ 30X1; 5×5 sets @ 72% of 1 Rep Max, rest 3-4 minutes between
Week 2- Back Squat @ 30X1; 4×5 sets @ 78% of 1 Rep Max, rest 3-4 minutes between
Week 3- Back Squat @ 30X1; 3×6 sets @ 82% of 1 Rep Max, rest 3-4 minutes between
Week 4- Back Squat @ 30X1; 2×6 sets @ 85-86% of 1 Rep Max, rest 3-4 minutes between
Week 5- Back Squat @ 30X1; 1×7 sets @ 90% of 1 Rep Max, rest 3-4 minutes between
Week 6- Re-Test Max

(Notes: Each week the total volume and reps per set are decreasing as the percentage, load, per set is increasing. As we increase the percentage of the load relative to the client’s max, the total volume needs to decrease. If we don’t adjust the total volume of reps performed, we could risk tiring the client, fatiguing their central nervous system (CNS), or increase their chance of injury due to heavy loads lifted under greater fatigue, both physical and neural.)

Week 1- Deadlift @ 11X1, 6 reps @ 70-73% x 3 sets, 3 minutes
Week 2- Deadlift @ 11X1, 5 reps @ 73-76% x 3 sets, 3 minutes
Week 3- Deadlift @ 11X1, 4 reps @ 76-79% x 3 sets, 3 minutes
Week 4- Deadlift @ 11X1, 3 reps @ 79-82% x 3 sets, 3 minutes
Week 5- Deadlift @ 11X1, 2 reps @ 82-85% x 3 sets, 3 minutes
Week 6- Deadlift @ 11X1, 1 rep @ 85-90% x 3 sets, 3 minutes

(Notes: This model of progression could be called a “Linear Progression.” The load is increasing and total reps per set are decreasing, similar to the back squat example. This is a great model to help build an athlete towards a heavy single or three tough working sets by week six.)

Week 1- Back squat @ 20X1; Build to a tough set of 6 reps
Week 2- Back squat @ 20X1; Build to a tough set of 4 reps
Week 3- Back squat @ 20X1; Build to a tough set of 2 reps
Week 4- Back squat @ 20X1; Build to a tough set of 5 reps
Week 5- Back squat @ 20X1; Build to a tough set of 3 reps
Week 6- Back squat @ 20X1; Build to a tough set of 1 rep

(Notes: This progression is a bit more advanced. We can describe this as a “wave loading” progression. The first three weeks are decreasing in reps, followed by three weeks that ramp back up, then lower to a max the final week. Volume is relatively fixed, which includes one tough set per week. As a result, we are specifically targeting a neural/alactic system adaptation. This could be considered a hallmark progression for a ‘Gain’ based movement with an intermediate to an advanced level client who has a relatively developed CNS.)

Final Notes: When it comes to ‘Gain’ progression, a clinical pearl to remember is that load and total reps are inversely related. As one goes up, the other goes down. This ensures the central nervous system will not be overtaxed allowing for greater recovery between sessions.

Curious to learn more about Energy System Training and its application in fitness program design? Download our free comprehensive guide to Energy System Training and learn from more than a year of sample programming.


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