Energy Systems in Sprinting – Time, Distance, Recovery


Someone asked me why I don’t use my Lactate tester much or why I don’t stress about lactate curves and my response was a humbling the workouts matter. A few years ago I experienced a very honest relationship with a coach who was getting great results in 400m training and his methods were very blue collar. No elaborate color schemes on the classic periodization chart, no roundtable discussion on naming each block, just a calendar, stopwatch, and notebook. It wasn’t an epiphany, but it was a gentle wake up call that energy systems is not about physiology, it was about the workouts and what variables were important. I do read research and do believe sport science helps coaches, but I think the physiology of training is a way for many to justify training because so many studies conflict each other. I am for reading on how the body works, but we also need to balance how workouts work with speed and development.

When I look at fatigue, the best way is to look at output of speed over a particular distance and see how velocity is affected by rest periods and volumes. Cellular mechanisms matter, but the universal language is times, distance (rep and set) , and of course rest periods between reps and sets. Yet the universal language is limited because it’s not exciting. We need to change this attitude in my opinion. One of my favorite articles was Mike Bottom’s energy system article in the ASCA book from Human Kinetics. While it may appear at first glance he was training energy systems and used color codes, it was an example of planning how one needed get organize training.

All speed is relative. Velocity is based on all time personal bests, but those are at the end of the season and SPP times will reflect more on early fall testing. First, even if one is peaking, workouts are not in the same arousal levels as meets. Even if they are, timing does help keep people honest about not going to fast. Don’t win the championship on Thursday when the meet is on Saturday. That’s why I love electronic timing. Athletes must calibrate their feelings to reality, be it fast, slow, or smooth.

The Acidosis discussion in the comments thread of Henk’s blog was a prime example of why I don’t debate much on the physiology of training. Even if you win the battle, 5 years later a paper with have both sides loosing the war. I will continue to use time, distance, rest, and volume to guide me to what is working. Science does matter, as additional information can help us see the interaction of the program. So the question is why things are fatiguing, it’s not just one energy system, it’s where in the rep, where in the cycle, and where in the race things are not working. Manipulating any of the variables over time is the reality, and cellular debates have limits.