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Intro to Energy Systems

There are three metabolic pathways that provide the energy for all human action. These “metabolic engines” are known as the phosphagen pathway, the glycolytic pathway, and the oxidative pathway.

“The first, the phosphagen, dominates the highest-powered activities,
those that last less than about ten seconds. The second pathway, the glycolytic, dominates moderate-powered activities, those that last up to several minutes. The third pathway, the oxidative, dominates low-powered activities, those that last in excess of several minutes. Here’s an excellent reference for additional information: http://predator.pnb.uconn.edu/beta/virtualtemp/muscle/exercise-folder/muscle.html

CrossFit Journal

“What is Fitness?”

October 2002

When you get a chance, read up on the article, there are way more tid-bits of information than I can add in this space. CrossFit has largely been built on focusing on these pathways to find optimal fitness levels. Let’s look a little deeper at each pathway.

This table shows difference in work/rest intervals and repetitions for each energy system. CrossFit Journal “What is Fitness?” October 2002

This table shows difference in work/rest intervals and repetitions for each energy system.
CrossFit Journal “What is Fitness?” October 2002

Anaerobic Pathways

Two of the three metabolic pathways are anaerobic. Anaerobic means that the energy used comes from sources where oxygen isn’t present. The phosphagenic pathway uses phosphagen (phosphocreatine) as an energy source and the glycolitc pathway uses glycogen stores in our muscles for energy.

Anaerobic exercises also can also be broken down into two categories with distinct differences. Exercises where maximum power is unsustainable past 10-30 seconds are using the phosphagen pathway (100m sprint, 1 rep max lifts, max height box jump). These exercises are quick bursts of energy that require a longer rest period to recover. Exercises where sustainability cannot be kept past 30 seconds up to 2 minutes are glycolytic and use the glucose stores and not oxygen in our muscles for energy. (400m sprint, 800m sprint, 3-5rep max lifts). These exercises require approximately a 1:2 ratio of work to rest for maximum recovery.

Aerobic Pathway

The third metabolic pathway is the oxidative pathway. Aerobic means that oxygen is now being used as energy in addition to the glucose stores that remain past the glycolitic phase. Oxidative exercises are those that last longer than a few minutes. (1 mile run, 5k, longer CrossFit WODS without rest intervals).

All three pathways must be trained with out exclusion of the others to create the most well conditioned athletes. However, the anaerobic pathways provide some specific advantages over aerobic exercises. Anaerobic exercise is superior to aerobic exercise for fat loss. In addition, anaerobic exercise does not adversely effect aerobic conditioning. (What is Fitness?, p4)

Therefore, for athletes that are focused on fat loss and aesthetics, they should be mainly training anaerobic pathways and keeping workouts short an intense as opposed to long and measured. Aerobic WODS (longer than a few minutes) should be used sparingly to maintain muscular endurance and conditioning. Properly programmed anaerobic conditioning will increase aerobic capacity as seen in practice by Chris Henshaw’s work with CrossFit Games athletes. (aerobiccapacity.com)

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Goal Setting

As you all should know by now, we are focused on setting goals in the month of October. The advice we give our kids, co-workers, employees, and friends is that without goals in life you are at best aimlessly wandering about and wasting time or at worst you could be headed down a path that leads to trouble. The same is true in regards to our health.

How can we give great advice to others but not follow that advice ourselves? Day in an day out we walk into the box and do the workout. We understandably trust what our coach has programmed and what our coach walks us through all in the pursuit of “fitness”.

CrossFit HQ describes fitness in 100 words.

“Eat meat and vegetables, nuts and seeds, some fruit, little starch and no sugar. Keep intake to levels that will support exercise, but not body fat. Practice and train major lifts: Deadlift, clean, squat, presses, C&J, and snatch. Similarly, master the basics of gymnastics: pull-ups, dips, rope climb, push-ups, sit-ups, and presses to handstand, pirouettes, flips, splits, and holds. Bike, run, swim, row, etc., hard and fast. Five or six days per week mix these elements in as many combinations and patterns as creativity will allow. Routine is the enemy. Keep workouts short and intense. Regularly learn and play new sports.”
– Coach Greg Glassman,
CrossFit Founder and CEO (Courtesy of CrossFit Inc.)

All of those things are great but what do they actually mean to your life? We should pursue those things, but how do they benefit you? That is the key question when it comes to defining your personal goals. CrossFit is the vehicle but your goals are the destinations.

Two Key Goal Ingredients

In defining your goals you need to identify the following, they are not necessarily related, but if you put the two of them together they can be incredibly powerful. Number one, you need to know why you want to be fit. Number two, you need to define what fit means to you.

Let’s tackle the first. Although both ingredients are personal, the first ingredient is the most. Any good consultant will sit take a few minutes to talk with their customer about why they sought out their help. You don’t go to your doctor because it seems like a good idea to sit in a waiting room for 45 minutes in the middle of your day. You don’t even go to the doctor to “get healthy”. You go to the doctor to get the benefits of health. The benefits are highly personal and situational. You may go to the doctor because you may want to keep up with your energized toddler, or your finding it difficult to get up and down. You may go see your financial advisor and set up a savings fund so your child can go to college, get a good education and live a good life.

These same situation holds true for CrossFit. Why do you do CrossFit? Why did you walk through the door?

Some of our early responses for why people joined CrossFit Warpath were about being a better parent after the hour of stress relief, help to redefine the notion that beauty is based on being as thin as possible, and just having or about to have a baby and want to be around as long as possible for them. Other responses were around getting back to feeling their best, like they felt when they were in peak shape.

You have to define the benefits of these grueling workouts yourself. These are the things you need focus on when trying to get out of bed at 5am or when you think of bypassing the box after work. This key ingredient is what you pull from when you want to quit and go back to the couch.

The second key ingredients is a more tangible goal. The first ingredient is the fuel and the second is the milestone your focused on.

Going back to the doctor analogy, a good doctor isn’t going to stop at “you need to get healthier”. A good doctor is going to give you goals, “you need to get your BP to xyz”, or I want you to get to xyz weight before your next visit”.

The difference here is that us as coaches want to hear from you about what your next milestone should look like.

CrossFit is always a good prescription for your goals because of the vast amount of tools available to us but if your goal is to get your first pull up, lifting heavy on Oly lifts isn’t the best path to get there. The reverse is true as well, if you want to increase your snatch, running will help but it’s not the best route to add 10lbs to your snatch.

We need you to define that next milestone based on your goals. Then we, as coaches, can use the CrossFit methodology, our knowledge, tools, and community support to get you there. The great thing is, each goal is just a milestone, once it’s reached, it brings the next goal/milestone into view.

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