Training the Phosphagen Energy System

The phosphagen energy system is how we get moving, especially when moving with a great amount of effort. When one attempts to jump, sprint, or lift a heavy object the energy system that dominates these activities is the phosphagen system. The system is anaerobic, meaning it does not require oxygen to function. This is an extremely important detail because without this energy system we would not be able to operate with any sort of speed or immediate strength. The fuel source of the phosphagen system is the direct use of adenosine triphosphate (ATP) and creatine phosphate (CP). At any given time we have enough ATP stored in our muscles to supply 4-6 seconds of highly intense movement. PC stores are about quadruple this amount and facilitate the rapid replenishment of ATP for usage. We can generate enough energy to do incredible things, but sustaining this effort is not possible for long. Strength training can increase the amount of force generated and the ability to sustain the force generated over a longer period of time.  

Training to increase strength, and power requires specific considerations. Variables such as intensity (% load), frequency, rest period, speed of movement, volume, and duration all need to be manipulated appropriately to accomplish these goals. When training for maximal strength and power the conditions one puts their body through is taxing to say the least.

If someone has a goal to lift a heavy object 1 time, or perform an olympic style, power oriented lift, their plan should have the following parameters:

Volume: 3-10 sets x 1-5 reps

% Load: 0-50… 85-100 (0-50%.. Seems a bit low? If the goal is to move fast, train to move fast with lighter loads and HIGH SPEED)

Rest: 2-10 minutes

Frequency: 3-6 days/ week

There is a lot of wiggle room with the suggested parameters. This is because it all depends on: your training age, what plan you’re following, and what stage of the plan you’re in.

Outside of the weightroom, one way you can train the phosphagen system is maximal effort sprinting. Similar considerations must be made if one has a goal to improve overall speed and quickness. From research I have obtained, and my personal experience, the three biggest considerations for improving speed is: volume of sprinting, rest periods between sprints, and training method. When training, a common mistake made is treating sprinting as conditioning. Sprinting is a highly intense, single leg plyometric, and it requires max effort. If the true goal is to improve speed, one must not shorten rest periods, or maintain a high volume of sprint. Simply put, the training turns into a conditioning session where the athlete performs repeated submaximal runs and speed improvements do not occur. The method of sprint training is just as important. Breaking down the phases of sprinting, focusing on those phases, and putting them back together to perform the sprint is one way to improve speed.

Who needs this type of training? Anyone who has a goal to move heavy things fast, run fast, or send nukes into deep center field. When the goal of training is to increase speed, strength, or power, one must train within the framework of the phosphagen energy system. However, the ability to have enhanced recovery ability via increased cardiovascular function is another way to facilitate the achievement of these goals. Having increased recovery ability allows someone to train harder, more often, which results in increased ability. So, I might suggest some extremely light cardiovascular work every so often to improve these qualities. Maybe a day or two where the athlete hops on the bike and gets their heart rate up a little bit to about 50-60% of their max heart rate for about 10-15 minutes. There can be several benefits to properly prescribed aerobic conditioning, the main reason would be facilitate recovery ability. As mentioned in the previous post- all three energy systems play into each other, and without proper functioning of one the other two might suffer.

Thank you for your time! If you have any questions, please reach out to us!

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