Energy System Training and High Intensity Continuous Training

Conditioning the energy systems is a vital component for training athletes and to achieve general fitness.  The problem with most applications of conditioning is that most coaches or trainers are more concerned about constantly taking their clients to maximum fatigue through constant inappropriate application of exercise intensity.  This has become the trend pariticularly in “bootcamp” style fitness classes where individuals perform various circuits and exercises to exhaustion.  And while this approach will work for a certain period of time (particularly with those that have general fitness goals such as losing weight), at some point the intensity at which you work at with these modes of conditioning will level off and you will have a dimishing level of returns.

So is there something better than just doing burpees until you vomit?  The problem with an appropriately designed program that promotes improved levels of conditioning (or biological capacity and power), is that most individuals don’t understand one basic principle: it takes time.  This process should have long-term benefits and goals for your training to truly be effective.  Before getting into the means of how to condition, I just want to give a brief mention of the 3 energy systems:

1.  Alactic or ATP-PC system (immediate energy system)

2.  Glycolytic or lactic system (intermediate energy system)

3.  Aerobic system (long term energy system)

Over the past few years I have been reading a great deal of information from Joel Jamieson’s website on training the different energy systems, and I would highly suggest some of his articles for anyone to read who is interestested in this topic.  One of the main errors that many people make is the overtraining of the intermediate system, or the glycolytic.  There is this belief by many that individuals need to overload this system to condition when in many sports/activities, this system actually doesn’t contribute as much.  I can remember running gassers during football practice 2-3 times per week in-season, and always remember them being hard to run regardless how often we did them.  The same can be said for individuals with general fitness goals.  Molly Galbraith makes this point in an article she wrote when she referred to the misinterpretation of the Tabata research; these four minute rounds of exercises were suppose to work wonders for fat loss and conditioning (after all, who wouldn’t want to just do something for 4 minutes).

As I stated before, anything performed in the short term will yield benefits (law of adapatation).  The problem comes in (and is typcially a problem for non-competitive athletes looking for more general fitness goals) is that you reach an intensity barrier where you can no longer get the benefits from exercise, and raising the intensity to try and achieve further benefits becomes pretty much impossible.  This is typically when injuries set-in, or the individuals just looks for the next training fad to work its magic.

This brings in the importance of using conditioning to both establish an aerobic base (yes, I said aerobic) and for recovery puposes and establishing a base level of conditioning.  No matter how difficult you want to make you training to work hard and achieve goals, everyone needs to follow these principles in order to have long-term improvements and avoid injuries.  This is not to advocate for just long-distance running (which is also misused and abused).  There is absolutely no point in worrying about timed miles unless you run cross country or marathons.  But some forms of aerobic training should not be left out of your training regardless what your conditioning goals are.

High Intensity Continous Training

This is a conditioning mode that I learned about from reading information by Mark McLaughlin.  What this bascially entails is utilizing high intensity work over a prolonged period of time to facilitate recovery and improve the oxidative capacity at the muscles.  An important item to note is that while it is high intensity, you need to stay below your anaerobic threshold.  What you essentially do is pick an exercise and perform a repetition of it approximately every 2 seconds, with a resting pause in between each rep.  The resting pause is a vital elemet to this as it reestablishes blood flow to the muscles.  Mark likes to use a the spin bike with a high level of resistance to acheive this effect.  Using a high resistance, he has an athlete peddle and pause doing it continuously from anywhere from 5-20 minutes.  Now for individuals who don’t have a spin bike, I will outline methods for achieving  this below:

1.  Walking Lunges

This is a variation that I use many times, particularly for onlin clients because it is an easy one for them to follow.  This involves performing lunges continously for 5-20 minutes with a brief pause between each repetition.  It is important that during the pause that your muscles are completely relaxed.  I would recommed starting with looking to get in 20-60 minutes of total work, beginning with 5 minute rounds with 2 minutes between each round.  You can keep the rest periods active by performing abdominal work, push-ups, mobility work, or small rehabilitation based exercises during the rest periods.  It should be noted that you can, and probably should, add resistance to this exercise (dumbbells, barbel, weighted vest).  Just be careful not to overload it and begin working over your anaerobic threshold.

2.  Step-Ups

This variation involves just doing a weighted step-up for time in the same manner as the walking lunges.  You need to set the step at an appriorpriate height.  One way to do this is set the step to align with the bottom of your patella.  The perform step-ups for the allotted time with complete relaxation between each repetition.  Again additional resistance should be employed.

In regards to when to perform this type of exercise, one way is to do this the day after a hard training session (i.e. an intense lower body strength training session or sport practice).  While this form of exercise can seem difficult, athletes and trainees should feel refreshed after doing them from the recovery they help promote.  They will also improve conditioning at the muscular level, which is a forgotten element to training.  I have had some individuals do this after a weight training session if they have limited days in which they can train.  While it would be ideal to utilize a heart rate monitor for this type of exercise to make sure you are staying below your anaerobic threhold, I would not limit the use of this type of conditioning if you don’t have one.  However, they are relatively inexpensive (a basic model of a good name brand will cost around 40-50$).

Coaches need to realize that constantly just running athletes into the ground not only is non-productive, but it also limits ones ability to condition the biological systems of the body.  There are better things for basketball players then contant windsprints, and better things for combat athletes than continous burpees until they fall over.  While it may seem hardore and fit the bootcamp model, constantly working individuals to exhaustion by training lactic-based conditioning has limited effects for long-term development.  By establishing an aerobic base and focusing on recovery, one can not only avoid injuries in the short-term, but also exeperience more benefits in situations when glycoltic based training is warranted.  Coming up, I will do a few more posts on other aspects of conditioning for both athletes and general fitness enthusiasts.

For more on training with Mensinger Performance & Fitness Systems click here

Leave a comment

No comments yet.

Comments RSS TrackBack Identifier URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s