This is probably a recurring theme for some, and a question we all ask ourselves at some point along our journey. As an IRONMAN, I know I ask myself this a lot, whether it’s in relation to the swim, the bike, the run or even the strength side of it.
Even though there are ten different elements of fitness (five health related and five skill related), there are only three energy systems.
These three energy systems underpin the way the body operates. Different factors having different inputs and effects will obviously have an impact on the outcome, and in this case the energy systems it will use to provide that function.
The three energy systems are;
Oxidative/ Aerobic Energy System.
Glycolytic/ Anaerobic Energy System.
Creatine Phosphate Energy System.
The aerobic energy system is the most used, and we spend most of our time using this energy system. In this energy system your body is utilising oxygen to burn fuel and keep your body operating and fulfilling the tasks you’re asking of it. You will know if you’re in this zone because conversation whilst doing whatever it is you’re doing is easy, unbroken and pretty much as conversation should be. This is typical of when we’ve worked in the studio with a body weight circuit, conversation seems to flow for 5 minutes or so, and then dies out.
This dying out of conversation doesn’t happen by accident, this is a result of the work you’re wanting to do, creating far greater load than your body can handle with its aerobic energy system. This creates a shift in energy usage to the anaerobic or glycolytic energy system. This now means that your body is no longer using oxygen to burn fuel. Instead, it secretes stored energy from the muscles or liver to handle the workload your asking of it. As a result, conversation is broken and sentences can be difficult to understand.
This progresses on to the point where you actually have to stop, and this is at the end of your Creatine Phosphate energy system. We’ve not actually done that much work using this in the BP @ Home because our equipment doesn’t really allow us to create this environment for our body. This particular energy system is dominant for lifting heavy weights in sets of three to five reps, creating the need to rest for a long duration. It is also dominant for dynamic movement such as a sprinters effort of up to 10 seconds, a golfers swing or tennis players serve.
I’ll use the tennis players serve as an example. For one or two serves every round a player may be able to hit the ball a certain speed, using the Creatine Phosphate stores effectively but this then goes into a rally, making the body shift from Creatine Phosphate to the Glycolytic energy system. This is identified by the slowing down of game pace, the reduction of power and the reduction in ball speed, all because the players fitness can’t uphold the physical demands of continuously hitting the ball with maximal power. The end of the rally usually comes either by error through fatigue, or one players skill or fitness outlasting their opponent. After the rally, a little time is taken to regroup and ‘have a breather’ where the body drops back to an aerobic state, before the next serve is struck and the process starts again.
This is a brief explanation of how energy systems work, and you’re probably sat there thinking ‘I don’t play tennis’, but the principal is relatable to other things such as walking or hiking with a friend. On the flat your conversation may be fun and enjoyable, but you hit a hill and the demand for energy increases, the conversation stops because of this shift in usage. If you’re managing to maintain conversation, at any point working out or otherwise, you’re probably working in your aerobic energy system. If your conversation skills begin to suffer it’s probable that you’re working in the anaerobic energy system.
I can relate to this myself, obviously delivering the lives I have to explain what we’re doing verbally as I physically demonstrate. This is as daft as it sounds, more difficult than it looks. Timed sessions aren’t so bad, because I can forget about having to count reps and talk my way through the sessions, but even some exercises we have done, I’ve gone quiet because I can no longer sustain that amount of work in the aerobic energy system.
Now we’ve pretty much completed one full block of what is now BP @ Home, you should be feeling fitter, and that your body works so much better than it did before but like anything else, it’s the little things in life where you notice the big difference, such as climbing the stairs or walking the family dog.
As ever, the term ‘fitness’ is hugely specific. Even though a rugby player and a football player are both required to run as part of their sport, the fittest rugby player wouldn’t be the fittest of footballers and vice versa because the way both sports work are different, despite their similarities. When your aim is to enhance your lifestyle, all round athleticism is definitely the key. It is fast becoming the norm in sports that the hardest of sports personalities cross train with the most irregular things to provide their body with balance I.E a boxer might learn ballet to improve their footwork, or a basketball player may learn juggling routines to improve hand eye coordination.
It is for this reason we focus on something different each week with the program BP @ Home program. The endurance sessions build the base to improve your aerobic capability and anaerobic threshold (basically allowing you to do more work before going into the anaerobic energy system), the strength and agility sessions train the body to move more effectively through wider ranges of motion through common and irregular movement patterns whilst under greater load, the intensity week helps to condition our anaerobic energy system, which carries over into increasing the aerobic capability, and the peak week allows us to use everything we’ve done in the past three weeks to really test our abilities, and help us see that we are getting fitter.