Alactic vs. Aerobic: Could You Be Doing the Wrong Exercises?

Train smarter for the demands of your sport by learning the differences among the anaerobic alactic, anaerobic lactic and aerobic energy systems.

Sprinting like the wind

Athletes and coaches tend to think more is better—that the athlete who's the most tired at the end of the day had the most productive training session.

But there's more to training than throwing together a bunch of random exercises to wear yourself out. You need to do exercises that target the energy systems you use most often in your sport. Otherwise, you won't see results on the field or on the court.

The body has three pathways that create energy: anaerobic-alactic, anaerobic-lactic and aerobic.

Anaerobic Alactic

  • Short duration—for movements lasting up to 10 seconds
  • Does not use oxygen to replenish energy stores
  • No by-product

Anaerboic Lactic

  • Intermediate duration—30 seconds to two minutes
  • Does not use oxygen
  • Produces lactic acid


  • Long duration—longer than three minutes
  • Uses oxygen
  • No by-product

The most successful athletes predominantly train the energy system that is most active when they are playing their sport. Most sports rely more heavily on the anaerobic alactic system than on the other two. Unfortunately, many coaches ignore this and focus their training on their athletes' anaerobic lactic and aerobic systems.

Alactic training, which increases the amount of mitochondria in your cells, is the best way to improve conditioning. You can increase the density of the muscle itself by lifting heavy weights and doing low-volume, high-intensity sprint work.

Sample alactic conditioning session:

A1: Warm-up
B1: 50-yard Tempo Runs: 2x5 @ 85% of max speed, 45-second recovery time

Sample alactic speed session:

A1: Warm-up
B1: 30-yard Sprint with Push-Up start: x6, full recovery, 3-8 minutes
C1: 10-yard Sprint with 3-point start: x4, full recovery, 3-8 minutes

Sample alactic strength training session:

A1: Warm-Up

B1: Squats: 5x2, 25-second rest
B2: Broad Jump: 5x3, full recovery

C1: Bench Press: 5x2, 25-second rest
C2: Med Ball Chest Pass: 5x3, full recovery

D1:RDL: 3x8, 25-second rest
D2: DB Overhead Press: 3x8, 60-second rest

E1: Chin-Up: 3x6, 25-seccond rest
E2: Walking Lunge: 3x6, 60-second rest

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