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The essential guide to your body’s energy systems

What is energy? How is it created? These are simple questions. The answers, on the other hand, are a little more complex.

You can probably describe energy as a feeling.

“I have a lot of energy right now.”

“I’m all out of energy.”

“That took all the energy I have left.” And on and on we could go.

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Energy in scientific terms is the ability to do work. Work like physics work, not work like tip tapping away on your computer at your job. In physics work is done when an acting force causes displacement of the point of application in the direction of the force. Try say that five times fast.

To simplify with a digestible example: your bicep does positive work on a dumbbell by applying a force to it causing it to move upwards a certain distance. The force is supplied by the bicep, the dumbbell is the point of application and it is displaced, and the work is being done in the direction of the force.

The type of energy required to do this type of activity is stored (potential) energy and working (kinetic) energy.

Energy is stored in the body as ATP

ATP is adenosine triphosphate. It is the molecular unit of energy currency within a cell. ATP is exchanged between stored and working energy like money is exchanged between two people for services.

Money sitting in your bank is like stored energy. Transferring that money to a carpenter to redo your kitchen cabinets is now working energy.

You need ATP to do work. It’s used to fuel working muscles.

The body creates ATP in three ways

  1. ATP-CP system

The ATP-creatine phosphate system. Also called the phosphagen system. This system can create ATP from creatine phosphate stored in muscles. This reaction happens really fast, but the amount of creatine phosphate stored in muscles is quite low, so it doesn’t last very long. It’s typically depleted within 10 seconds.

The phosphagen system is the primary system used to create ATP for short, powerful movements like golf swings, a 100-meter sprint, or powerlifting.

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2. Anaerobic system

Also known as the glycolytic system. It creates ATP from sugar. It can create ATP pretty fast, but not quite as fast as the phosphagen system. The glycolytic system is the primary system for medium intensity activities, like a 400-meter sprint.

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3. Aerobic system

The aerobic system creates ATP from oxygen. It’s the long-duration energy system. Any activity over a couple of minutes is going to rely heavily on the aerobic system. We’re talking low intensity, long duration activities like jogging, biking, and swimming.

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Energy system training is tailoring your exercise to specifically tax one of these energy systems.

Why you should train all your energy systems

  1. You create more room for adaptation

The body is incredibly adept at adapting to the demands that you place on it. If you want proof, look at the body types in the Olympics: long distance runners look different than sprinters who look different from swimmers. Each athlete’s body has adapted to the demands of the training that athlete has put it through. Their bodies are optimally designed to perform in their activity.

If you only train one energy system you’re decreasing your potential for positive adaptations. And you’re only using a third of your body’s fitness potential! Training all your energy systems opens the door to a wider variety of adaptations; you challenge your body to perform in all the ways it was built to.

2. You might find you respond to some types of training better

Plateaus happen. Certain people don’t seem to respond to certain types of exercise. As a result of our genetics, we are built to have a proclivity for different types of activities. An Olympic sprinter isn’t going to become a world class marathoner in four years, no matter how much long-distance training they do. Their body responds better to training of that nature, which allows them to perform at that level.

If you’re getting nowhere with jogging long distances, you may respond better to more high intensity, shorter duration activities, like sprints.

3. Variety is fun

When exercise becomes monotonous and boring, it isn’t any fun. Variety keeps things interesting and it constantly challenges you to adapt in a different way.

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How to train your different energy systems

Energy system training is all about duration and intensity.

**always allow for a proper warm up and cool down before exercise**

  • Training the phosphagen system

High intensity, low duration, long rest. Muscles have about enough creatine-phosphate stored to maintain ATP for about 10 seconds. These are short, quick bursts of energy.


  • 2 sets of 5 second sprints

Run all out for 5 seconds. Rest for 3 minutes, then go again. Repeat 8 times. That’s one set. Take a five-minute break and do the second set.

Strength training

  • Olympic lifts

Short, explosive lifts such as the “overhead med-ball floor stomp” or “push-jerks” primarily target the phosphagen system. 3 sets of 6 reps with 3-minute breaks in between sets keep you in the phosphagen range.

  • Training the anaerobic system

Medium intensity, medium duration, medium rest times.


  • 1 set of 30 second sprints

Run as fast as you can for 30 seconds, rest for a minute, then go again. Repeat 10 times.

Strength training

  • Hypertrophy or muscular endurance workouts

Performing your strength training program with reps between 10-20 and rest periods between 1 minute and 2-minutes primarily tax the anaerobic system.

  • Training the aerobic system

Low intensity, long duration, no rest

Perform any activity – running, swimming, cycling – for 10 minutes or more at 70-75% of your maximum heart rate.


Everyone should train their different energy systems, it’s good for overall fitness, it gives you more opportunity to see positive results, and it keeps training fun.

If you’d like to learn more and get some personalized attention, contact me. I’d love to hear from you.

Please like the post if you feel it deserves it, follow Healthy Wheys on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter and have a great week!



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