Endurance Training for Athletes

What you don’t know about endurance training will kill you… Or at least your performance. You can be the best athlete in the world, but without endurance, you will not perform. Fatigue masks performance. It’s been said that “losers quit when they get tired, winners quit when they win”. So, you better get in shape and do it the right way with a quality, sport-specific endurance training program.

The Effects of Endurance Training on Anaerobic Performance

Did you know that steady-state aerobic training decreases your vertical jump? Did you know that aerobics done for more than 20 minutes can turn fast twitch muscle into slow twitch? Olympic lifters intuitively know this as the most aerobic training an Olympic lifter does is walking into a gym. Olympic lifters hate cardio because they know cardio makes them weaker and slower. Although this is extreme thinking, this thought process is on the right track. It is true that cardio “kills” performance if done incorrectly.

Aerobic Training Vs. Anaerobic Training

Sports are profiled as either aerobic or anaerobic. For instance, aerobic sports and endurance sports are synonymous. Common endurance sports are running, swimming, and cycling. For a sport to be classified as aerobic, three criteria must be met:

  1. Movements are cyclic. In other words, the movements are rhythmic in nature and continuous.
  2. The movement occurs for two or more minutes consecutively.
  3. The sport requires lower intensity efforts for a given duration. Therefore, instigating the recruitment of aerobic metabolism (generally the mobilization of fats for fuel).

Anaerobic Training

Conversely, weightlifting is 100% anaerobic (see Figure 1). This is due to it’s famously high need for strength and power in a short duration. As a result, endurance training for an Olympic lifter would be entirely non-sport-specific. In comparison, anaerobic training:

  1. Often involve alternated periods of short work and rest.
  2. Are generally acyclic, having many diverse patterns of movement.
  3. Are performed at moderately high to very high intensities.
Energy systems chart for sport training


Energy Systems within The Body

The body has three energy systems: ATP-PC system (aka anaerobic alactic system), lactate system, aerobic system. The first two are anaerobic and do not need oxygen to produce energy. Though, the latter requires oxygen to produce energy. The ATP-PC system can be further broken down into the “Anaerobic Alactate Power” (AAP) and “Anaerobic Alcatate Capacity” (AAC).

The Lactate system can be further broken down into the “Anaerobic Lactate Power” (ALP) and “Anaerobic Lactate Capacity” (ALC). Power refers to how fast this system generates energy and capacity refers to how long it can hold it. Think of capacity as the size of the tank and power as the quality of the gas.

Steps to Determine How to Condition for a Sport

Beyond a general preparation phase, training needs to be specific. Conditioning is no different. To optimally condition for a sport, follow these simple steps:

  1. Reference the Adapted Energy Systems Chart for Sport Training (Figure 1) to determine what percentage each energy system contributes to the sport.
  2. Determine which energy system you wish to train. Simple Method (Figure 2)
    1. ATP-PC system – your set/rep will be 0-15 seconds
    2. Lactate system – your set/rep will last 15-120 seconds
    3. Aerobic system – your set/rep will be two minutes. Each system can be further separated into two stages: power and capacity
      • Anaerobics, always train power before capacity
      • Aerobics, always train capacity before power
  3. Choose the primary method for the dominant energy system to train
    1. If the sport is anaerobic then primarily train interval based
    2. If the sport is aerobic then primarily train steady state
  4. Choose your training exercise or exercises
    1. For Steady State work then train specific to the sport
      1. If you’re a runner, run; swimmer, swim…
    2. For Interval Training, choose one exercise or circuits of exercises. Some example exercises are sprinting, elliptical, cycling, sled work. As well as boxing, battle ropes, bodyweight or even traditional lifts at 50% 1rm performed for time
  5. Choose your work-to-rest ratios, training time, and number of sets: Consult Figure 2
Program Design for Energy System Training - endurance training

Negative Affects of Endurance Training for Anaerobic Athletes

So just how does conditioning incorrectly (steady-state cardio) for an anaerobic athlete kill sport performance and lead to getting benched? Below are the side effects:

  • Biochemical changes in fast-twitch muscle. As a result, causing heavy chain myosin to become light chain, leading to loss of power and strength.
  • Decrease in vertical jump and seated medicine ball throw (Poliquin, 2004)
  • Elevated cortisol: Cortisol is inversely proportionate to testosterone as they use the same byproducts. Furthermore, elevated cortisol leads to adversely affects everything from recovery time to body fat percentage.
  • Cycling leads to tight hip flexors, shoulder impingement, and kyphosis.
  • High levels of aerobic work increase oxidative stress. Therefore, can impair recovery and in some cases increase the risk of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s (Poliquin, 2004).

Tips for Training the Systems

In conclusion, it’s important to train for specific sports to get the results you are looking for. Here are some tips for training the systems:

  • Realize true energy system takes time. Therefore, block off 30 minutes for multiple sets.
  • You get what you give. Training the Lactate System is very hard, so be prepared to push your body into high levels of discomfort.
  • Consequently, use either passive rest for the ATP-PC system, or cycle in a complex of exercises. For alactic training, try to get the heart rate down to 120 before doing your next rep or set. You can use passive-active rest for the other systems.
  • Above all, if your athlete needs to lean out, the best system is the Lactate System. This is due to elevation in growth hormone and increased after burn of activity.
  • Max strength enhances all systems, even the aerobic system. Increasing slow-twitch muscle mass for aerobic sports leads to more blood flow (capillary density) and increased energy production (mitochondria).
  • Maximal strength enhances your ability to train the Lactate System.
  • Having a strong endurance system dramatically improves recovery between bouts of anaerobic performance.
  • Alternating exercises allows shorter rest ratios. Therefore, you should choose distant muscle groups (battle ropes alternated with jump squats for time).
  • 6 seconds of maximal work with a recovery of 30 seconds replenishes ATP-PC by 74%. 1 minute recovery replenishes ATP-PC by 81%. 3 minutes of rest will replenish ATP by 92%
  • Tabata style training (20 seconds on 10 seconds off) trains the Lactate System and the Aerobic System.


1. Bompa, Tudor. (2015) Periodization training for sports [WWW] Available from:http://www.humankinetics.com/excerpts/excerpts/understanding-energy-systems-training
2. Fox, E.L. et al. (1993) The Physiological Basis for Exercise and Sport. 5th ed. Madison: Brown & Benchmark
3. Hartman, Bill. (2011) Energy Systems Primer. [WWW] Available from: http://billhartman.net/blog/wp-content/uploads/2011/08/An-Energy-Systems-Primer-2011.pptx.
4. Mackenzie, B. (1998) Energy Pathways [WWW] Available from: https://www.brianmac.co.uk/energy.htm [Accessed 19/10/2017]
5. Poliquin, C (2004, Nov). Biosignature Modulation Seminar, Chicago, Illinois
6. Siff, and Verkoshansky, (1999), Supertraining. 4th ed. Supertraining International, Denver

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Featured Resources

Top Fitness Categories

Strength Training


Strength Equipment

Speed & Agility

Sport Performance


Top Articles

Game-day Lifting and Why Your Athletes Should Be Doing It

Author: Scott Meier

How to Get in Shape for Hockey (Fast)

Author: Jason Ivesdal

How to Add Fun Competition Workouts to Groups

Author: Scott Meier

Fitness Equipment


Sign up to receive the latest physical education resources, activities, and more from educational professionals like you straight to your inbox!