When athletes and coaches think about conditioning, they often picture endless bouts of Suicide Sprints, Stair Runs and other running drills performed with reckless abandon. Showing up to practice on day one and performing sprints for hours is almost like a rite of passage.
This way of thinking will only get you so far. Better to understand the energy systems in your body and how to train and best use them for your sport.
1. You Need An Aerobic Base
Many people still believe the aerobic system is only for marathon runners. However, you need to have an aerobic base and build upon it.
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The best way to think about your energy systems is to picture a house. You have your basement/foundation (aerobic system); your first floor with the kitchen, bedrooms, and living room (glycolytic/anaerobic system); and your attic (ATP/PC system). Without a good aerobic foundation, the house will eventually crumble. If all you do is high-intensity glycolytic or ATP-PC work, you will eventually run out of gas.
Developing an aerobic foundation helps us develop more aerobic enzymes, left ventricle eccentric hypertrophy (increased stroke volume and decreased resting heart rate) and mitochondria, among other advantageous adaptations. Our aerobic system allows us to compete for along duration, recover between high-intensity work bouts, buffer our muscles for energy production and maintain power output. Without it, we would all be really great for 15-60 seconds and eventually fall apart.
2. You Need to Train for the Demands of Your Sport
Each sport requires different amounts and types of work. If you play baseball, you know you’re not running for minutes on end, and that the average play requires a lot of power and lasts less than 15 seconds with long rest periods. If you’re an MMA fighter or soccer player, you know you require long work bouts of 3 minutes-plus with various power demands and little to no rest.
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If you’re the baseball player, after you’ve developed your aerobic base, you can spend a lot more training time developing the glycolytic and ATP-PC energy systems. However, you still must have an aerobic foundation that allows you to recover between high power plays, maintain power output for longer durations, control heart rate/fatigue and improve your capacity to generate power through training.
On the other hand, MMA fighters and soccer players need to have a robust aerobic system to meet the demands of their sport. Therefore, building an aerobic foundation and building upon that foundation is crucial. Most training in preparation for a fight or the soccer season should be focused on aerobic qualities with a mixture of high-intensity work to maximize the glycolytic and ATP-PC system once you get closer to the fight/season.
3. You Need The Right Training Protocols
If you want to take full advantage of building your energy systems the right way, you must choose the right protocols. For football linemen, it might not make sense to run 3 miles or do all-out sprints for 40 yards for hours on end. Instead, pushing prowlers or sleds for a specific amount of time while controlling heart rate would make much more sense, because it mimics sport and positional demands. Football also demands a lot of the ATP-PC and glycolytic systems, as the average play only lasts about 7 seconds, so high-intensity, short duration activities are beneficial.
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If you’re a basketball player, you need to perform circuits or complexes that involve a lot of different movements while maintaining your heart rate in a specified zone for the aerobic system.
Plan Of Action
Establish a good aerobic base early in the off-season
This is best done with a mixture of low-intensity, continuous work for 20-60 minutes and higher intensity, shorter duration “aerobic power” intervals for 3-6 minutes on and 1 minute off. Perform longer, lower intensity bouts to develop cardiac output and stroke volume. Perform shorter, higher intensity intervals to maximize aerobic capacity and the anaerobic threshold (point at which the aerobic system cannot keep up). Depending on age and training level, the aerobic zone is usually between 120-160 beats per minute.
Train for the demands of your sport
If you play baseball, don’t spend the entire time doing aerobic work. Train to develop your anaerobic systems to maximize power output. High intensity, short duration conditioning consisting of 5 to 30 seconds of work followed by long rest periods can be beneficial.
Choose the right protocols
Don’t waste your time doing something that won’t carry over to improving you as an athlete. Soccer players need a lot of leg endurance, for instance. Choosing activities that train this will be optimal.