As 7th grade science class taught us, energy is neither created nor destroyed, only transferred. All energy in our bodies is derived from the sun and the food we consume, which the body harnesses and transfers for various demands through different pathways.

These energy systems enhance cellular, respiratory, cardiovascular, and muscle performance – all of which are important for a long, healthy life – regardless of fitness goals. Understanding when and how they function will improve the quality of your workouts and encourage you to mix up your training routine.

At the onset of activity, there is a quick release of cellular energy (ATP). The body’s capacity to store energy is quite low and rapidly expended, thus the first stage lasts about 5-10 seconds. Sprints, heavy lifting, and most explosive power exercises use your body’s energy reserves to be performed. After about 90 seconds of rest, your body has built up more energy, and you’re ready for another burst of activity. Training in this method is great for your body’s ability to respond to instant changes in proprioception, produce maximal force in little time, and all around enhances your adaptation and reaction to whatever life throws your way.

The second stage, known as anaerobic, occurs when the stored energy is depleted, but you want to keep moving. The body begins to breakdown carbohydrates, sustaining activity for another minute or so. Your body’s demand for oxygen to fuel itself is really kicking into gear, and your heart rate increases to get blood flowing and oxygen bumping. This second stage will sustain about 8-10 repetitions and is the main system used during moderate weigh lifting and HIIT. Engaging this pathway in relatively short, intense bouts of activity will enhance your ability to build muscle, torch calories, increase oxygen and blood flow, and heart rate capacity.

The third stage, known as aerobic, is likely the most familiar of the body’s energy systems, as it’s the longest lasting and most sustainable. This pathway kicks in after about a minute and can maintain a steady, continuous pace to fuel your 30 minute run or 2 hour bike ride. Along with carbohydrates, fats and oxygen are used to keep the body going, and the final stage is sought after for its relatively low intensity and prolonged benefits in cardiovascular health and calorie burning abilities.

Utilizing each energy pathway is vital to achieve a high functioning, versatile training program well suited for longterm health and wellness.

Explosive movements prepare the body for unpredictable environments, while anaerobic activity promotes endurance, revs up the metabolism, and can continue the calorie burning process for hours after the duration of activity. Aerobic activity is widely accessible to all, fairly easy to perform, has immense cardiovascular and respiratory benefits, and will keep your body healthy and high-functioning for the long haul – literally.

Using each pathway for a prolonged period of time, intermittently, will allow the body to burn carbs, fats, and replenish energy to keep moving. Mix up your training with a day focused on each, or incorporate all into a session to alleviate the need for hours of cardio or strictly high intensity, butt-kicking workouts.

As trainers, it’s our job to map out the mix of energy system work that will help you reach your goals. Our expertise and training allows us to be your guide and take the guess work out of “what to do” in the gym, and help you reach your optimal health.

“Exercise Metabolism and Bioenergetics.” NASM Essentials of Personal Fitness Training, 6th Edition. National Academy of Sport Medicine. Chandler, AZ. 2018, pp. 71-81 Gagliardi, Christopher.
“The Three Primary Energy Pathways Explained.” ACE Exercise Science. 7 Mar. 2019.

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