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All-Strong Podcast Notes - #3: Energy Systems: What Rest Times Should I Be Taking?

Two posts in a day! Lots for you to read if you're bored. Mostly links this time, but I've also included a pretty in-depth excerpt from my Level 4 S&C notes to give you an idea of how energy systems are looked at from a sports coaching point of view.

Most of the materials in this week's notes are going to go beyond the beginner's perspective, but there's not a huge amount available on energy systems for people who aren't coaches, so hopefully this insight here won't be too much info to take in all at once.

If you have any issues or questions, just contact me whenever you like and we can chat about it.

Here's the extract from my notes. WARNING: it's dense af.


Sport: swimming (freestyle sprints)

The swimmer is an athlete required to produce both a significant degree of power and an increased duration of performance. The 50m freestyle athlete will find that the majority of energy expenditure demands will come to them from the anaerobic system, with an emphasised presence of the ATP system as well.

Considering that the 50m sprint world record currently stands in and around 20 seconds, it’s safe for us to assume that the anaerobic system, which the body turns to for energy after around 10 seconds of activity, will be the dominant energy system used in our athlete’s sporting life if we assume that their participation in the sport is more than a hobby. If the athlete finds themselves taking more than 2 minutes to perform a 50m sprint, their performative ability lies well outside the general needs of their event and a much more significant degree of work in comparison to the following plan will be needed to prevent them from spilling over into the use of the aerobic system.

Special considerations aside, the athlete performing within normal parameters will need to build up a tolerance to lactic acid, which they may already possess, but can also be developed as their performance is trained. It’s also important to note that the athlete’s efficiency within the ATP energy system’s range can also be improved, but their use of this energy system in training will be more focused on the improvement of muscular efficiency and power production.

Outside their work on muscular strength (and the associated benefits which come alongside it for longer-endurance sports) the athlete will not need to focus much on their expansion of their range within the ATP system. Providing the athlete takes their prescribed rests of 3-5 minutes during strength training, the body will temper itself to the system of using up and quickly restoring its ATP stores. With commitment to the content of a prescribed strength program, the athlete will find that their muscular efficiency will improve over time, allowing them to get more of a response from their body during the initial 10 seconds of each sprint in the pool (in addition to the obvious benefits of increased strength).

The most beneficial approach to developing output from the athletes’ anaerobic system will come from interval training which potentially adopts a Tabata approach. Intervals of 20+ seconds will trigger the use of the anaerobic system - short rests (up to 30 seconds) between sets will then prevent ATP stores from replenishing quickly enough, meaning that after the first set, subsequent working periods will all immediately trigger the use of the anaerobic system. Additionally, the limitation of rest periods will begin teaching the body to quickly deal with lactic acid buildup while also enhancing the ability to recover glycogen stores (and spend them more efficiently).

Benefits outlined in the previous paragraph will permit the athlete to perform more comfortably when they enter a competitive environment; increased exposure to high-intensity work during anaerobic system ranges will help the athlete become tempered to the experience of lactic acid buildup while also reduce its overall volume in the muscles of the body during periods of performance due to the increased rate at which it is cleared out. An athlete unphased by lactic acid’s burning effects is an athlete properly conditioned to their sport; they are an athlete less likely to give into pain and discomfort under pressure.

Interval training will obviously work most effectively in the pool, with the added possibility of introducing a degree of endurance work (within acceptable parameters). Since “time swimming” is a less realistic interval measurement than “lengths covered” for the athlete, intervals involving 50-75m sprints should be employed to condition the athlete to working at high pace (as a take on a reverse periodisation approach) while also making the best use of the pool which they train in, to altogether forge a higher lactic acid tolerance; temperament to high intensity work within the anaerobic range; improved speed over competitive distance; enhanced recovery of glycogen stores for race days with multiple heats. To introduce more controlled interval times, implements outside the pool should be used (unless a static pool exists in rare circumstances) such as the fan bike. Intervals based off the athlete’s time to run the 50m sprint (50%, 75% of their fastest time etc.) can be used if the need for shorter, timed intervals are preferred for their effectiveness in developing anaerobic output for initial bursts.

These combined methods of training will collectively allow the athlete to develop the muscular endurance and efficiency levels to produce huge amounts of power off the line, while also conditioning them to the anaerobic requirements of their sport. Adequate and effective strength training will see the athlete fully utilising the potential of their ATP stores, and interval training will boost performance in the latter stages of race conditions by placing them under slightly extended periods of performance with limited periods of recovery, ultimately expanding their lactic acid tolerance and removal rate while simultaneously expanding their anaerobic system’s potential output.

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