The Simplest Way To Understand Energy Systems (Part 1)

To really understand “energy systems” you need to understand some foundational concepts first.

The best way is through an analogy — we’ll use a house analogy — which lays the groundwork for deeper understanding.

So — first —  imagine a modern-day house.

It would have electricity (E), with wiring that provided shocking power.

It would have plumbing (P) with pipes that delivered and flushed fluids.

It would have a ventilation (V) system, with ducts and windows that kept the air flowing and temperature controlled.

Each has a VERY different job, but they all would work together to promote optimal living conditions for you.

There’s a harmony there, and a similar harmony is found in your body, your “house”, but with astounding elegance and complexity, and with functions that intertwine synergistically.

Those are energy systems. Or, at least, that’s an easier way to THINK about energy systems.

But what nature has given us is even better than a regular house. For us, physiologically, those three areas overlap, and each can provide “back up” services – a sort of engineered redundancy.

Cool, right?

Each system relies on each other to operate optimally, and they have unique relationships:

• Plumbing and electricity support each other intimately and are tied.
• Plumbing and ventilation support each other intimately and are tied.
• Electricity and ventilation don’t like each other very much and support each other only indirectly.

We can think of Plumbing as that in-between friend that makes everything okay when electricity and ventilation both show up to the party. “Simmer down you two.”

How does this work in practice? If your “house” electrical circuit suddenly goes out, your pipes can provide support, delivering an alternative system that isn’t necessarily as efficient, but it still works. Exploiting our analogy, water can power a water wheel.

This is how the body works.

We live in a very smart house – it adapts, building bigger pipes, thicker wires, or bigger air ducts depending on what we do in our training.

In order to be a well-rounded athlete, we need to develop all areas.

For example, an athlete who has massive electricity potential with strong wires, but little ventilation, might be a powerlifter – a great thing to be, but limited if the goal is balance. An athlete who has a massive ventilation system and great plumbing, but very little electricity, might be a marathon runner.

In fitness, we want to train everything worth having – in fact, we want to overlap them as much as possible. We want them all to share the work as optimally as possible.

Through correct training we can do that. We can train our plumbing to better support electricity work. And we can train our plumbing to better support ventilation work.

Of course, there is a time and place to pursue those things (this is where periodization, planning, and peaking would come in).

It would be nice if everything fell neatly into place, but electricity (E), plumbing (P), and ventilation (V) break down into more sub-groups.

You might know those “big” systems by different names – anaerobic, lactic, aerobic — or phosphagen, glycolytic, oxidative. But they only present part of the picture – they are incomplete.

The sub-groups break down into more “energy systems,” and you may be familiar with some of their names too — Speed, Strength, Lactic Power, Lactic Endurance, Aerobic Power, and Aerobic Endurance name just a few.

The key to the most efficient and effective training is found in exploiting these systems in training. We want to understand how each system feels, and how to elicit the right sensations.

Correct programming will give us the tools to build a better house – faster, more solidly, and more effectively.

In the next part of this series, we’ll take a deeper dive.

Nathan Holiday

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