09th Jan2012

Are You Training All Your Energy Systems?

by A.J.

Military Fitness

Tactical Dead Sled

(Exercise video at the bottom)

Recently I sat down with the Strength and Conditioning Director of the Special Operations THOR 3 Program and I asked him about where some of the weaknesses in the average Special Operations Soldier were and what he had to say really surprised me. Often times SOF troopers completely ignore whole energy pathways you need to complete a mission at critical times. When you are in a fist fight you may need power to survive, or when chasing an insurgent your aerobic endurance may be the difference between capturing a HVT (High Value Target) or letting him get away. After these examples, he started talking about three distinct energy systems your body uses to do work, and according to him they were as follows. The following is fairly technical but I tried to keep it as simple as possible.

The aerobic system or oxidative system uses oxygen to break down food stores and is generally the energy system used to engage in long lasting activities that take place over several minutes with a moderate to low power output. The oxidative system in a military context is often the most developed of the energy systems because of the long marches and frequent runs that are engaged in during morning PT. When a soldier has to cover a long distance the oxidative system provides a large portion of the energy required.

The next energy system we talked about was an anaerobic system named the ATP-CP (Alactic) system that you rely on for quick bursts of energy such as when you choke slam a terrorist or kick in a door. ATP is the quickest reacting energy source and is available to do work for the first 1-4 seconds of effort. The CP or
phosphate system starts to get involved at the 10 to 45 second mark which is why
generally provides a great increase in strength for short periods but does nothing to lower your long distance run times.  This system is developed often by weight lifting, fighting and interval work. Recovery times become very important here because it takes about one minute to recover 81% of your PPO (Peak Power Output) due to CP regeneration.

The third energy system was the anaerobic glycolysis (lactic) system which also doesn’t require oxygen but does produce lactic acid and is normally used for activities lasting 10 seconds to one minute. Once the CP stores are depleted the body will revert to glucose or glycogen to restore the ATP needed to do work. The total threshold of work is limited by the accumulation of hydrogen ions in the muscles which cause the burn that Ron Burgundy talks about after doing over thousand bicep curls.

Soldiers are notorious for developing one system to a great degree and totally ignoring the others. This is precisely why when you have a NCOIC who is a great runner as a team you will often ignore weight lifting or non running PT. To be well rounded it is imperative that you develop all systems and have a strong training program to improve. I have included a breakdown on time of effort and the corresponding energy system.

Duration Classification Energy System
1-4 Seconds Anaerobic ATP
4-10 Seconds Anaerobic ATP + CP
10-45 Seconds Anaerobic ATP+ CP + Muscle Glycogen
45-120 Seconds Anaerobic, Lactic Muscle Glycogen
120-240 Seconds Anaerobic + Aerobic Muscle Glycogen + Lactic Acid
240-600 Seconds Aerobic Muscle Glycogen + Fatty Acids

From a biochemical prospective it becomes important to develop all these systems but, with the limited time the typical Tactical Athlete has for strength training and conditioning it becomes doubly important to find a workout that really returns huge results with a small investment of time. I got to talk to a personal trainer/movement specialist (Jason Walsh) on a recent OCONUS trip and got inspiration for a new training method to do just that. I have named it the “Tactical Dead Sled” and have included a video:

When conducting a tactical dead sled your most underdeveloped energy system will be the one that garners the greatest benefit from the training in effect targeting your weak link.

If the exercise is easy you most likely lack the ability to put out high power and torque and most likely require strength training development from explosive effort exercises because you are reaching a demand level due to high output.

If you start out fine but can’t reach the end then you lack glycolytic energy pathways.

If you can not get back on the treadmill when the rest period is over then you need more oxidative endurance.

Be sure to post your comments and click the like button if you enjoyed the article. If you are planing on taking the dead sled challenge bookmark this page and give us your feedback.

Be sure to have a heart monitor and be sure to get a doctors permission before starting any exercise program.

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