The Simplest Way To Understand Energy Systems (Part 2)

Last post I spent some time going over a house analogy that is fundamental to a deeper understanding of our model of energy systems.

If you haven’t read that, read it here. (It’s short).

Energy systems fall into three primary areas (I briefly reviewed some of these last time). They are known by various names:

Anaerobic Lactic Aerobic
Phosphagen Glycolitic Oxidative
ATP/CP fuel source Sugar fuel source Fat fuel source

But like I mentioned before, they are incomplete — the above implies a false rigidity, a focus on a fuel source or single system as opposed to a complex, synergistic system with integrated functioning.

The fundamental concepts of electricity (E), plumbing (P), and ventilation (V) give a more realistic and useful picture.

These are represented in the body by:

The best way to establish a relationship with each area is by recognizing how it feels.

The sensation experienced when operating primarily within a given energy system is distinctive, but awareness takes training and focus.

Conventionally, these three areas sit on a simple spectrum with overlapping areas. Like this:

The yellow circle represents electricity (E).
The green circle represents plumbing (P).
The blue circle represents ventilation (V).

But that doesn’t take into account the interplay between them – the complexity of their relationships.

The graphic below visually illustrates how energy systems work together in the body — it illustrates their relationships.

Remember the last post when I briefly mentioned some of the more conventional energy system names you might know like Lactic Power, Aerobic Power etc.? Well, those are represented above — and are specifically placed in the diagram to figure out how to access them. Ie, where they are in relation to each other. 

Here’s a chart for your reference. Analyze it and compare to the diagram above.

You’ll notice that ventilation (V) encircles everything and is on the right. It sits above everything because it best supports everything. But an even better way to look at it would be if E and V we’re woven together (think DNA).

Next, electricity (E) covers all of plumbing , because without some amount of electricity, no contractions can occur, no fueling can be initiated.

Finally, on the inside, offering internal support for electricity and ventilation, is the green circle, plumbing (P), which provides internal support for each system to function. The further to the right, the more ventilation is required, to the left, the more electricity.

The Heart Rate line shows how to access each energy system, and more importantly, provides a conceptual model for chasing the appropriate sensation.

Understanding where each of the following systems fall in the diagram is also important. And they are in very specific, purposeful locations because of how they relate to each other.

You’ll see that the electrically dominant systems fall on the left side, the plumbing in the middle, and the ventilation on the right.

CPE is a unique one, and training this system yields an outcome that could either be an adaptation of the electrical system or the plumbing system. Meaning, it could be that the electrical system is regenerating faster (cp battery) or that the strength endurance system is getting more powerful. The outcome is the same, but the mechanisms at play depend highly on the individual.

Once we move into the where HR line is, we can imagine a repetition spectrum. The further to the left, the lower the rep number (heavier the weight). The further to the right, the higher the rep number (lighter the weight).  Along with decreased loading, work time increases (but not always) as we move to the right too. Of course, this is a simplification.

Keeping this in mind, we can start to see the relationship between things like StrE and LP.

Generally, StrE work is similar to bodybuilding type rep schemes(reps 6-15 or so). If you take loading that is a little lighter, and add a situation that generates higher heart rate, you get LP. StrE and LP are closely related in terms of weight used, but not in terms of sensation. One might be doing a heavy set of 15 deadlifts and find that HR has skyrocketed, and breathing is elevated after the effort. This would actually be a LP set, even though the set technically falls into StrE parameters. You can see how this can get complicated (even though this is still the simplest way to look at things), and why individuality of the athlete is hugely important.

Lighten this load, mix in a few more global type movements, push out the work time, and you get LT. ie 3 min AMRAP deadlifts, burpees, box jumps.

The same thing is true with the relationship between Stamina type movements and Aerobic Power. In this case, it’s not so much the weight involved (even though this IS a factor), but the physiological make up of the athlete and how the athlete has been built both genetically and through training.

If you’re an athlete programming for yourself, be sure to consider all these factors. It becomes very important to your progress that you learn how to construct the right program. I see far to many people doing the wrong things or, much more commonly, paralyzed by the overwhelm of writing that perfect program. I can’t tell you how many times I chat with an athlete that is concerned they’re not making the best use of their time.

Nathan Holiday

CEO of Level Method, Nathan was born in Australia, grew up in CA, and joined the Army at 18. He deployed to Baghdad, Iraq as a Sniper team leader in 2006 and after being honorably discharged in 2008 went on to become a coach, athlete, and entrepreneur. He holds a BA in Business, earned at night while running his gym in the day. Nathan has extensive knowledge and experience in a wide variety of subjects and considers himself a committed, lifelong student.
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