ABC Training
December 3, 2008 posted by

A-B-Cs of Training, Part I

In order to train concurrently for non-similar sports I need to be very efficient. Oddly enough, I got a post about this just today on the Beachbody Message Boards, which basically asks if you can training different energy systems at the same time. The answer is yes, and here’s how it works.

From the post I received:

There are three Primary Energy Systems.


The Phosphagen pathway would be used in a sprint (10-30 seconds)
Glycolytic would be used in a mid-distance run (30-120 seconds)
and the Oxidative in a distance run (120-300 seconds or more)

My question is, can you switch from one pathway to another without recovery downtime?

The running analogy would be the same for any given activity but seems easier to understand because, obviously, you wouldn’t train the same way for a 100 meter dash and you would for a marathon, or even a long sprint, like a 400 meters. Those three distances perfectly exemplify events that target a specific energy system. But in order to excel at each, you need some proficiency at the others. The tricky part is that training one pathway interferes with the ability to train another. Therefore, a calculated compromise needs to be established as a training baseline.

Because there are all sorts of sports and, hence, all sorts of compromising situations, I won’t go in depth here. Let’s just look at the basics. Then maybe you can take a stab at how to make your own schedule.

It’s important to note that at the extremes edges of these systems, an athlete may want to minimize their training in the other extreme. Powerlifters and sprinters generally hate endurance work. And this isn’t because they aren’t good at it but because it diminishes their speed. And life in the Phosphagen energy system is all about speed. Conversely, an ultra marathoner has very little need to ever run an all out 100 meter sprint. Explosive speed might help his or her event but this type of effort takes so long to recover from (the breakdown of fast twitch muscle fiber) that it lessens their ability to training efficiently.

Mountain climbing and bike racing are two of the most interesting sports to train across pathways for because, in both, the need for an efficient aerobic system (oxidative pathway) is essential but the ability to recruit high threshold muscle cell motor units (phosphagen pathway) is paramount for success at a high level. And the in-between arena, the ability to stave off lactic acid build-up at high outputs (glycolytic pathway) is what puts you in position for an attempt at victory in a race or to make the crux move on a long climb. What this means is that all energy systems require some attention.

In the big picture, you should train periodizationally throughout the year. The macrocycles that you would lay out would target individual energy systems. A common way to structure this is to first work on an aerobic foundation (oxidative), then work on absolute power (phosphagen), and then target what’s called power-endurance (glycolytic). This may vary depending upon the sport. I’ve discussed this a lot in articles and on this blog so I won’t go into it here.

The question I got was more about how to do this during one cycle. Again, some crossover should be addressed no matter what to target of the particular cycle is–if for no other reason than not to lose fitness in that area. An easy way to do this is to construct your workouts as A, B, or C workouts where each letter represents an energy sytem. Mine look like this:

A workout – Phosphagen. This are highly intense workouts. Recovery generally takes longer than 72 hours.

B workout – Glycolytic. Recovery in 24 – 72 hours.

C workout – Oxidative. Recovery within 24 hours.

A workouts generally consist of short bursts of energy and long rests. For this reason, it’s easy to combine a C workout with an A workout. This is especially true if you are working on different body parts. An A leg workout can be done with a C shoulder workout, where the latter is done during the rest period between hard A movements.

This is the basis. I’ll go into it in more detail, including how I’m structuring my current plan, next time.


  • So, I should do more work on power, and oxidative to decrease my 3 mile times? It sounds to me like interval training would be key, to control the dominant pathway being trained. If this is the case, I should run 100-200 yards, with cool down jogs for 90 seconds. Work:recovery ratio would be 1:3.Then repeated 25-30 times per workout. And done at least 1 or 2 times a week. Since this will take up to 72 hours to recover from. Stacked with p90x workouts.Then maybe an endurance run every now and then. Maybe once a week, or every other week.If this works like I hope it does, stacking a running training program with p90x, I’m wondering if the muscle confusion will carry over from p90x to my run workouts, to get better results. If not, I’ll notice another Plateu, but at least have that much more experience in playing with the pathways.

  • I would only suggest that a long way off from your goal. If will increase your absolute speed but that will have much less effect over three miles than increasing your ability in the glycolytic pathways. You can probably accomplish your goal a lot quicker by just doing more B workouts. However, if you wanted to chop more time off of your goal, and that this would necessitate more flat out speed, than that would be a good tactic.I like this type of interval training. Maybe try 2-3 weeks of 220 intervals. Then do 300 intervals for a couple of weeks. Then 400s. Then take a week off and just do aerobic work. Then try a fast 3 mile and see how you do.You’ll get more ideas when I post my training and Part II of this piece.

  • Great, Thanks for the advice. The typical percentage of training time, spent in each pathway for the 3 mile run is:about 70% oxidative, 20% glycolytic , and 10% phosphagen.This is going to be a little long, but bare with me.Aerobic training benefits cardiovascular function, and decreases body fat… Good..Aerobic conditioning allows us to engage in low power extended efforts efficiently. (Cardio/respiratory endurance and stamina). This is critical to many sports. Athletes engaged in sports or training where a preponderance of the training load is spent in aerobic efforts witness decreases in muscle mass, strength, speed, and power. It is not uncommon to find marathoners with a vertical leap of only several inches. Furthermore, aerobic activity has pronounced tendency to decrease anaerobic capacity. Anaerobic activity also benefirts cardiovascular function and decreases body fat, in fact, anaerobic exercise is superior to aerobic exercise for fat loss. Anaerobic activity is, however, unique in its capacity to dramatically improve power, speed, strength, and muscle mass. Anaerobic conditioning allows us to exert tremendous forces over brief time intervals. One aspect of anaerobic conditioning that bears great consideration is that anaerobic conditioning will not adversely affect aerobic capacity. In fact, Properly structured, anaerobic activity can be used to develop a very high level of aerobic fitness without the muscle wasting consistent with high volumes of aerobic exercise. The method by which we use anaerobic efforts to develop aerobic conditioning is “interval training”. Phew, that was a lot.So, what I’m going for here, is to expand my oxidative capacity, by training with phosphagen and glycolytic, so that I don’t suffer in other areas of my job that require primarily anaerobic activities. So, what I’m actually trying to do, is strategically modify the pathways I use over a period of 3 miles, so that it’s not as much oxidative oriented. Using the well placed sprints in this race I think will ante up the phosphagen pathway and glycolytic, and adversely bring down the use of the oxidative, which would be a steady pace nearly the whole 3 miles. Hopefully, this isn’t too much thought going into decreasing my run time. 🙂

  • Great article, looking forward to reading more. Ive just started the P90X workout and am loving it so far. Im using the program to get me back into shape for events like this That’s actually me fighting the guy Dan Farley.Im also a coach I am looking forward to learning more so I can help people who are into similar activies as I am.Aloha,Robert

  • Jonathan,You might be overthinking it a little but you’ll learn. I’ll try and address your thoughts in the upcoming articles. Just posted part II.

  • Robert,That looks friggin’ brutal. I could see how X would help. Looks like a good group of guys.

  • I will be going over this blog big-time I like how you explain the 3 energy systems that we must maintain as athelets

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