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Posted by on Jan 23, 2014 in Media | 0 comments

Let’s Talk Energy System Training

Let’s Talk Energy System Training


Recently, on /r/ultimate there were a few posts containing some recommended workouts and lifting suggestions (which is good since questions seem to get asked regularly about such issues). I’ve been meaning to suggest some readings on energy system training for a while now, and given these recent posts – this month seems apt.

I don’t know the entire context of how training has shifted in various sports (and at various levels) during my ultimate career, but there do seem to have been some changes and trends (there certainly were in ultimate). I remember when I first started playing, 3 mile jogs and ‘cardio’ seemed pretty common from what little info we had about flatball training norms. Fortunately for our team, we were running a good mix of Fartlek intervals, hills, and other varied workouts by the end of my college career.

Much of my club career came during the rise in ‘dynamic stretching warmups’ and the hatred of static stretching. Similarly, a continued disgust with distance training was often evident (which yours truly, master of crappy jogging form, was fine with). Meanwhile, I became amateurly obsessed with learning about training: trading emails with ‘The Viking’ about new ways to torture ourselves, reading articles on T-nation, and delving into the classics (yes, I made myself read the tome that is Supertraining). 

Luckily, the field of fitness seems to always be advancing (and we are seeing great work being done by our ‘own’ fitness professionals – Tim, Melissa, and Ren to name a few). Conversation amongst ultimate players is moving away from ‘ultimate is all sprints, so that is all you need to do at the track’ to broader discussions of training methods. This is a great sign, particularly when we check our assumptions of how our sport (and others) breakdown:


A 2009 study found that, “More than 70% of the total [soccer] match duration was performed at low “aerobic” intensities, while only 1-3% of the match was performed at high-intensities (“sprinting”) (3). The overall work-to-rest ratio of these soccer players averaged out to a 2-4 second sprint every 90 seconds.”


The Return of Aerobic Work – Anthony Mychal


Aside from the amount of knowledge and content being pushed out by KStarr at Mobility WOD, some of the best (and perhaps most relevant) work I have been reading of late has been about optimizing different energy systems of the body through different training protocols. With no further ado, I have some reading homework for all of you. Note: Don’t let the ‘macho’, figure model promoting, product hyping ‘’ bias your experience, this is writing from some modern gurus – Cressey, etc.


Cardio Confusion – Eric Cressey


An important takeaway from this info is that the word “cardio” doesn’t tell us much. We’re training, not just working out, so it’s important to determine ahead of time which energy systems we want to challenge with a particular exercise intervention. Fellow T-Nation contributor Christian Thibaudeau wisely conjured up the term “energy systems training” to encompass all of these activities. Within this classification, one can specify which energy system is being trained by a given activity.


Eric runs through a good presentation of the ways in which energy systems work in our body, some discussion of research implications, a defense of why aerobic conditioning can be beneficial for strength and speed athletes; and even some suggested ‘cardio’ workouts:


Dynamic Flexibility Circuits: This one is a favorite of mine, as you’re actually improving your range of motion while improving your work capacity. Simply take body weight exercises like overhead lunge walks, lateral squats, knee-to-chests, scorpions, butt-kicks, etc., and work on getting your heart rate up a bit. Go in bouts of 30 seconds at a brisk, but deliberate pace.


As I have mentioned before, Cressey is thoughtful enough to put out a lot of free content via his website and has lots of great video demonstrations on his youtube channel (particularly related to throwing and shoulder mobility).


 Your Cardio Makes No Sense – Eric Auciello


A well rounded GPP athlete would be able to go long and slow or short and fast from a performance standpoint, which leads [to] the biggest training flaw with hard efforts: a lack of purely oxidative aerobic training.


Eric lays out a simple test to see if your “aerobic energy system is garbage” as well as some good ways to fix it:


Mousetrap 2.0

30-60 minute max rounds: 1 Barbell complex of:

5 Stiff leg deadlifts 5 Bent over rows 5 Power cleans 5 Front squats 5 Push presses

5 Sandbag get-ups

.5 mile Airdyne

The weights on this workout are subjective due to your level of aerobic conditioning. I used 65 pounds on the barbell complex and a 60-pound sandbag – 40 minutes was more than enough for me!


 Up Your Work Capacity – Michael Ranfone


Supertraining author Mel Siff defined work capacity as “the general ability of the body as a machine to produce work of different intensity and duration using the appropriate energy systems of the body.”


Ranfone lays out some challenging thoughts on work capacity, don’t miss out on the example ‘Movement Based Circuit’ he outlines later on in the article.


No one wins a medal or contest for having the greatest work capacity. But very few achieve glory without it.


Finally (I warned you I really got into this stuff), there is a great piece on a growing methodology for using Heart Rate Variability as a training guide:


Heart Rate Variability Training – Jonathan Pope and Craig Weller


The difference between your good gym days and your bad ones are determined largely by the status of your nervous system. Just as you stress a muscle in training in order to force it to adapt and become stronger, your nervous system is being stressed, recovering and attaining a new level of strength


This article may be of special interest to those of you geeking out on the growth of lower cost wearable fitness technology devices.


A study done by Potterat et. al. compared Navy SEALs to “non elite” men from a conventional military group. The SEALs had higher heart rate dipping, which means that during sleep, when the parasympathetic system takes over to induce recovery, their heart rates dropped by an average of 29%, whereas the non-elites dropped by only 21%.

The SEALs also had lower baseline levels of the stress hormone cortisol during the day while in a free living (non-stressed) environment, despite an equal level of cortisol release during a stressful survival course.

That’s a crucial point. The elite performers had stronger parasympathetic tone during non-stressful living conditions. The ability to relax is an asset.

Heart Rate Variability Training is full of research references and some discussion of Selye’s General Adaptation Syndrome. Plenty of reading and research for you to dive into before you get all the deep recovery sleep you need…and wake up to train again.


P.S. If I may be so bold, two personal training favorites for those of you who made it this far: GPP ASAP and Extensive Tempo Runs.