And unfortunately, I think there are a lot of misconceptions when it comes to EST.
With everyone looking to get leaner, more “toned,” or just look and feel like a sexy beast, it’s natural to assume that glycolytic and/or anaerobic training is all you really need.
Couple that with the fact that black and white statements make for the best sound bites, and you have a recipe for a lot of poor information.
Below are 10 random nuggets, tips and tricks to get more out of your EST. Enjoy!
1. Think of your body as the most efficient, effective machine known to man.
You tell it to get bigger, it gets bigger. You tell it to get stronger, it gets stronger.
The same goes with energy system training.
If you train for aerobic development, the body does everything in its power to become more efficient within the aerobic energy system.
More aerobic enzymes.
A bigger left ventricle of the heart.
Improved utilization of oxygen at the muscular level, etc.
And the converse is true as well. If you train the anaerobic system religiously, your body is going to become more efficient anaerobically as well.
This may seem like a very bland statement, but it’s also powerful. We have to remember that every form of exercise we do sends a signal to our body, which will then create an adaptation.
2. Aerobic energy system training and anaerobic energy system training are in direct competition with each other.
If we can agree that the body is super smart and is constantly trying to adapt to the training we impose upon it, then we start to realize that maybe we can’t do everything at once.
Let’s say you’re doing some lower intensity exercise, or working in a more aerobic zone. This will set off a cascade of adaptations, as your body will want to become more efficient and effective at aerobic exercise.
But if you train anaerobically, the body moves in an entirely different direction. As you can see from the chart on the right (which was pulled from my Program Design lecture at the Elite Athletic Development seminar) you can see why training for all physical qualities simultaneously isn’t a great idea.
Quite simply, the adaptations we’re trying to achieve are in direct competition with each other.
Aerobic training develops aerobic enzymes. Anaerobic training develops anaerobic enzymes.
Aerobic training builds mitochondria. Anaerobic training destroys mitochondria.
Aerobic training stimulates the parasympathetic (rest-and-digest) nervous system. Anaerobic training stimulates the sympathetic (fight-or-flight) nervous system.
Instead of building both simultaneously (which only works for beginners), focus instead on building your pyramid from the ground up.
3. Don’t focus on glycolytics/anaerobic development without an aerobic base.
One of the biggest issues I see is when athletes constantly bombard their system with glycolytic and high-intensity exercise.
Think of your energy system development as a pyramid. At the bottom you have your low-intensity (aerobic) exercise, in the middle your moderate intensity exercise, and at the top is your high intensity (glycolytic/anaerobic) exercise.
If all you do is focus on the top, you’ll never expand your base. This will ultimately limit your ability to do high-intensity work for prolonged periods of time.
On the other hand if you take the time to build a “base,” you’ll have the foundation to do more high-intensity work, when you start training it.
This is just one reason why performing glycolytic and high-intensity work year-round isn’t the best idea. Even wrestlers and MMA fighters who fight in inverted work:rest ratios will benefit from developing a base first, and then moving into high-intensity bouts and efforts as they get closer to a competition.
4. “You get 8 seconds of free energy.” – Charlie Francis
This is in reference to the creatine phosophate system, but quite simply, you have 8 seconds of free energy until these ATP-CP stores are topped out. From there, your aerobic and/or glycolytic energy systems will take over.
On a side note, Charlie Francis was really, really smart.
5. All of your energy systems turn on simultaneously.
I don’t know about you, but when I learned physiology you probably walked away with the impression that your energy systems turn on in order.
First your alactic or ATP/CP system turns on for 6 to 8 seconds.
Then, when it runs out of fuel, your anaerobic/glycolytic system turns on for up to ~2 minutes.
After that, your aerobic system revs up and turns on.
And unfortunately, this just isn’t the case.
Instead, all of your energy systems turn on simultaneously, and then up or down regulate based upon how intense the exercise is.
So even if you’re going hard for 30 seconds or one minute, your anaerobic/glycolytic system may be doing the lions share of the work, but your aerobic system is working as hard as it possibly can, too.
6. Respect the Power-Capacity Continuum.
Numerous smart coaches (i.e. Patrick Ward, Mladen Jovanovic, etc.) have discussed the power-capacity continuum recently. In case you’re unfamiliar, here’s a very brief synopsis:
All sports and/or exercises can be placed somewhere along the power-capacity continuum. On the left hand side you have the very power dominant sports such as powerlifting, Olympic lifting, or the throws in track.
Essentially, you do something once with great speed/strength/power, and then chill out for an extended period of time.
On the opposite side of the spectrum you have sports/exercises that go on for extended periods of time, yet speed/strength/power output is relatively low. Here you can think triathletes or marathon runners. (Photo courtesy of Mladen Jovanovic.)
The graphic to the right is one I created for the EADS course with Joe Kenn. Here we’ve taken the middle portion of the above graphic and placed it on it’s own continuum.
Baseball would be the most “power” dominant team sport, as it’s very explosive paired with long periods of rest or recovery in between bouts.
On the opposite end, you have soccer. While there is obviously a strong power/speed/strength component, these athletes also need a tremendous amount of capacity. After all, it doesn’t matter how good you look in the first 15 minutes – if you can’t make runs in the 80th, 85th, or 90th minute, you’re in big trouble!
Once you start to understand and respect the power-capacity continuum, it makes programming EST for any athletes much, much easier.
7. Aerobic training is fantastic for recovery.
One of the best things about aerobic training is how it expedites and improves recovery. Not only does this make you a more efficient beast in between sets and exercises, but it also expedites recovery in between workouts as well.
Taking this a step further, I love to put aerobic/low-intensity training on off-days to promote active recovery. Whether it’s cardiac output, a pool session, or even high-intensity continuous training, I firmly believe that active recovery is preferable to passive means.
Don’t think this applies to strength and power sports athletes?
Louie Simmons noticed a dramatic shift in the performance of his powerlifters when they started incorporating sled dragging and general physical preparation (GPP) into their training programs.
Whether it was due to the active recovery component, improved cardiac output, improved parasympathetic/vagal tone, or some mix of these (and other) factors, the fact of the matter is it works.
8. Real glycolytic and anaerobic training is horrible.
It’s humorous hearing people talk about doing “Tabata” protocols, or high-intensity training, when most are doing nothing of the sort.
But taking this a step further, going with balls-out intensity for 30, 60 or 90 seconds, is absolutely, positively horrible. When I have to write this type of workout for an athlete, I go through a brief moment of silence because I know how horrible it really is.
If you don’t believe me, go in the gym, warm-up, and ride an AirDyne for 30 seconds with legitimate, all-out intensity.
And let me know how you feel afterwards!
9. Did you know you can change your heart?
Did you know you can develop your heart, much like you can develop your muscles?
Just like lifting progressively heavier weights builds bigger muscles, smart EST can create specific adaptations in your heart.
First off, as I alluded to in my “You NEED Long Duration, Low Intensity Cardio,” low intensity exercise promotes an eccentric lengthening/stretching of the left ventricle of your heart.
When performed for extended periods of time, this creates an adaptation where you can effectively get more blood in and out of your left ventricle with each beat (i.e. increased stroke volume).
And since you’re moving more blood per beat, that means your heart can beat less often, lowering your heart rate.
Quite simply, you can make your heart more efficient.
But here’s another cool thing – we know that mitochondria are the powerhouse cell of our body. High intensity exercise (~60 seconds) performed at a max heart rate, followed up with an extended rest period of ~5 minutes, can stimulate the heart to lay mitochondria within itself!
Pretty cool, eh?
Just remember – everything we do in exercise promotes an adaptation of some kind. If you want to learn more of this stuff and become an absolute ninja with EST, be sure to check out Joel Jamieson’s Ultimate MMA Conditioning book. It’s in my Top 5 books of all time for performance coaches and personal trainers.
10. Keeping it fun is critical.
Last but not least, EST training can be downright brutal.
Or, it can also be painfully boring.
One of the best tips I can give you is to work on keeping it fresh.
Sure there’s a time for sport-specific or movement-specific work, but there are also times where you can make it more general in an effort to get a quality adaptation, while also keeping it fun and engaging.
For instance if you’re doing cardiac output, don’t feel like you have to do cyclical exericse on a treadmill, bike or elliptical.
Create circuits where you’re throwing med balls, pushing the Prowler, or doing correctives and mobility drills.
Quite simply, the more fun and engaging it is, the more likely you are to stick with it and reap the benefits.
So there you have it, 10 quick nuggets, tips and tricks on energy system training.
Physiology wasn’t my primary focus in school, but I’ve worked my arse off to learn more about it. I figure my athletes deserve it.
I hope if EST isn’t your forte, that you’ll come back frequently this month. I’ve got some great materials on tap that I know you’re going to enjoy.
All the best
(Lead photo courtesy of Tulane Public Relations)