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Understanding the 3 Basic Energy Systems

3 Basic Energy Systems To Perfect Goal Oriented Exercise:

During exercise, your body relies on three basic energy systems:

1. The anaerobic a-lactic system.

2. The anaerobic lactic system.

3. The aerobic system.

Depending on the sports played (or exercise you're doing), athletes/people rely on one system more than the others.

An understanding of the involved energy systems in a particular sport/workout gives valuable information about the strength and fitness qualities necessary in that physical activity.

The Three Basic Systems:

1. Anaerobic A-Lactic (ATP-CP) Energy System

  • The anaerobic a-lactic (ALA) system, also known as the ATP-CP, or adenosine triphosphate - creatine phosphate system, provides high bursts of start-up energy for activities that last less than ten seconds in duration.

Athletes who compete in sports that require high amounts of short duration acceleration - shot-putters, weight lifters, gymnasts, or sprint-distance anaerobic a-lactic system. The ALA system does not create energy for sufficient duration to create a great deal of waste products.

2. Anaerobic Lactic (Glycolytic) Energy System

  • The anaerobic lactic (AL) system (also known as fast glycolysis) provides energy for medium to high intensity bursts of activity that lasts from ten seconds to two minutes. Baseball players, soccer players, middle distance runners (400m-800m) and sprinters rely on this system. The anaerobic lactic system, as well as the ATP-CP system, are capable of high intensity levels, and do not rely on oxygen for fuel.

The primary difference between the two systems is in the capacity of the system. You can think of capacity as the amount of time that the system can work at peak output before dropping off.

Whereas the ATP-CP system will only produce energy for 10 seconds, fast glycolysis works at capacity for as long as two minutes. As a result, waste products such as lactic acid accumulate in the blood and in muscle cells. A burning sensation in the muscle, shortness of breath and fatigue are all symptoms of lactic acid build up.

3. Aerobic Energy System

  • The aerobic system is the most utilized of the three. It provides energy for low intensity activities that last

  • anywhere from two minutes to a few hours. Unlike the other two systems, the aerobic system requires oxygen and takes much longer to overload. Sports and activities that use continuous sustained efforts such as long distance swimming and running rely on the aerobic system.

In reality, most sports use a variety of energy systems, or at least the power (time to reach peak output) and the capacity (duration that peak output can be sustained) of the system. The only real exceptions are Olympic weight lifting and certain field events, such as hammer throw or shot put. Which energy system is most prevalent in a given sport dictates the training intent.

  • Training Intent

  • The training intent refers to the athlete's/persons desired outcome from training, whether it is relative strength, hypertrophy, or strength endurance. Every athlete/person has a training intent that is specific to his or her sport/needs, which is shaped and defined by specific loading parameters.

FYI - This is a client Q&A blog regarding the above 3 energy systems - I hope you find this brief information useful.

All the best with your training journey!


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