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Energy System Development: The Crucial Component

Whenever most athletes think of conditioning or getting in shape for the season, one of the first things that come to mind is running a bunch of miles and or increasing “cardio” so they can “be in shape”.

No matter what sport. Football, baseball, basketball, soccer, Lacrosse…it doesn’t matter.

However, as a top level athlete, or coach for that matter, it is important to be able to distinguish between the different energy systems and know how to train them.

Questions that should be addressed are what are the predominant energy systems used in the sport being trained for, how far away is the season, and how do the energy systems vary per position within the sport.

Does the sport require the athlete to be aerobically in shape?

Do they need to be explosive?

Does she need to be explosive for long periods of time?

Each of these components require specific types of conditioning to peak the athlete for their season..

And training at the wrong intensities during the off season will hurt the athletes ability to “be in shape” for their sport.

The 3 Energy Systems- Anaerobic Alactic, Anaerobic Lactic, and Aerobic

Each of these energy systems denotes how the bodily utilizes different sources to produce energy or muscular force for certain periods of time.

Anaerobic Alactic:


This is the predominant system during activity with an approximate duration of one to ten seconds.

An explosive or powerful movement that happens in a short period of time.

The primary substances to fuel the body are ATP (adenosine triphosphate) and Creatine Phosphate.

Once ATP is depleted from the muscles, the stored Creatine Phosphate breaks down into creatine and phosphate, which is then used to create more ATP

Physiologically, an athlete is only able to sustain this type of explosiveness 8-10 seconds. Hence, short burst movements such as sprints, throwing, or punching rely heavily of the anaerobic alactic system.

In order for the athlete to become efficient at using this system, they should train in short bursts and allow adequate recovery as it can take between 2-10 minutes to fully recover ATP and creatine stores to be able to perform another rep at the same intensity.

Anaerobic Lactic:

While the majority of sports involve short explosive burst that last less than 8-10 seconds, there are a plethora of sports that require athletes to be explosive for more than 10 seconds at a time.

Any exercise that utilizes explosion between 1 and 60 seconds will utilize the anaerobic alactic for the first 8-10 seconds, and the anaerobic lactic for remaining 50 seconds.

The anaerobic lactic system provides energy by breaking down a substance called glycogen, stored sugar in the body, that is stored in muscle cells and the liver, which releases energy to resynthesize  ATP (adenosine triphosphate).

Energy in both the anaerobic alactic and lactic create energy in the absence of oxygen. This absence of oxygen during the breakdown of glycogen produces a byproduct called lactic acid.

When high intensity training is prolonged, large quantities of lactic acid accumulate in the muscle, which cause fatigue and gradually prevent the body from maintaining a high level of power output.

The best way to prepare an athlete for a sport where the anaerobic lactic system is the dominant source of energy is through implementing training activity that is within the range (anaerobic lactic 10-60 seconds) of energy production.

Conditioning of the anaerobic lactic system builds threshold and muscle capacity of fast twitch fibers to continue to fire in the presence of lactic acid, thus being able to resist fatigue for a longer amount of time. The nervous system will be able to adapt from being able to maintain “frequency of discharge” for the duration of the lactic effort.

In sports such as Lacrosse where the short bursts, change of speed, and explosion happen throughout the game, having a well-developed anaerobic capacity will keep the athlete more efficient not only through the game, but the entire season. And when combined with a well-planned strength program, the training effect is further increased.

The Aerobic System:

The aerobic system requires 60 to 80 seconds to start producing energy to resynthesize ATP. But unlike the anaerobic systems, the aerobic system replenishes ATP in the presence of oxygen, using glycogen, fat, and protein.

Heart rate must be increased and rate of breathing in order for oxygen to be transported to muscle cells. And even though both the anaerobic lactic and aerobic use glycogen as a source of energy for ATP resynthesis, the aerobic system produces little to no lactic acid, allowing the body to continue exercise.

As a result, activity that lasts from 1 minute to 3 hours will predominantly use this system. And as a person’s aerobic capacity improves, their ability to use fat for fuel also improves.

Training For Each:

Most sports involve intermittent use of all three of these energy systems, so maximizing the efficiency of just ONE when the sport involves multiple has proven not effective.

This is where offseason training structure comes in to play.

As mentioned earlier, when most coaches “condition” athletes, the common practice is to just have the athletes run miles. And while this does increase the aerobic capacity, this does not address the other energy systems.

Explosive exercises such as short distant sprints, middle distance sprints with variable recovery are tantamount to peak for the season.

Each energy system must be trained and conditioned so that the athlete is able to maintain power output throughout games and the season, while being better able to resist fatigue at the same time.

Making It Specific:

One thing to keep in mind is that Energy System Development can be broad and specific in terms of drill/exercise selection for each system.

For instance, in developing the Aerobic (cardio) system, a coach can have an athlete run 3 miles, or perform technical drills for run mechanics such as B-Skips for 20-30 yards with a jogging recovery back to the starting line and repeat for 8 minutes.

Implementing specific drills instead of just running allows the athlete not only to improve technique relevant to the sport or mechanics of the sport, but also improve energy system efficiency.

Drills can include sled runs, sled pulls, change of direction drills, or any multidirectional movement drills as long as the work to rest ratio is in sync with overall intention and the selected energy system needing improvement. (See charts below)


Energy System Development is a crucial component in preparing an athlete for their season. The sport must be analyzed, movements should be broken down, and the energy expended during competition should be assessed in order to properly program off season and in season training. This could even vary by position.

It’s more than just about running an athlete in to shape. It is about exacting a training regimen that can manipulate the development of each energy system, and condition it for the season.

This is how any athlete of any sport will be able to start, remain, and finish the season strong.

As a result, activity that lasts from 1 minute to 3 hours. And as a person’s aerobic capacity improves, their ability to use fat for fuel also improves.