What’s your salary? 

A salary is a periodic payment which you receive for a service you do for your employer. What you do with your salary is up to you. Some spend big as soon as it lands in their account. While others save for a rainy day and make modest withdrawals over time.

In the sports performance world, Brett Bartholomew of EXOS used a money analogy in a recent podcast I was listening to (Pacey Performance or Physical Preparation Podcast… can’t remember which, but they were both great) to discuss energy system development which really hit home with me about how I set up my program for my track guys (mainly quarter-milers). It was something to the effect… The aerobic system is your salary; this funds your long-term ‘spending’ and is your base…The anaerobic glycolysis system is your cash; it is always at hand but goes very quickly… The ATP-PC system is your credit card; it is the fastest and most readily available way to ‘spend’ but leads to debt related issues if drawn upon too often (quoted from Twitter reply). The analogy is fantastic. It can really be related to any sport and emphasises the point that if you do not sufficiently prepare for your event, bout or season, you will all too soon be making withdrawals from systems which have a finite lifespan on them.

For my 400m guys, we spend a whole lot of time during the GPP doing capacity work, both aerobic and anaerobic, but effectively trying to build a salary that is compounding with interest across the preparation phase and setting them up to make major withdrawals at the pointy end of the season. This salary is in essence determining how much will be available on the credit card and cash in your pocket. Of course we make withdrawals in the form of cash and card (in the form of anaerobic power workouts), but it is in moderation as I have found not only does it deplete those particular systems to a high degree, it also impacts the athlete and weekly setup on the other end, as you have now withdrawn more than you have deposited for that week. Don’t get me wrong, some weeks we will spend big time and destroy the anaerobic systems, blow all our short term cash, as we need to develop, enhance and tax these systems in an uncompromising fashion (kind of like people banging down the doors of Boxing Day sales). But, I know they will pay a price for it and it will take us a while to repay that debt through the form of some type of capacity based work. I know Clyde Hart, of Baylor University, used some similar terminology where they very rarely taxed the anaerobic systems as he believed for 400m running (and rightly so), what you have available anaerobically is just a reflection of what has been developed aerobically; plus he apparently had too many injuries with a specific anaerobic power focussed program.

In a team sport setting, the GPP is a time to build and earn an enormous salary as we know that once the season begins, the players are taxing each system every 5-8 days and if there has been limited deposits made across the pre-season they will be left wanting late in games or the season when the chips are down. Whether this is in the form of stand-alone conditioning or game-specific drill conditioning, there needs to be continual top-up of salary across the season to enable you to continually make withdrawals. Topping up salary with capacity based work is not exciting, nor looks good on an Instagram video but it is spine to your season. Pursuits like Track and Field, which are ‘Peaking’ sports, have greater control over the withdrawals due to being able to manipulate the competition schedule compared with ‘seasonal’ sports which are bound by the fixture. But, in the end we aim for the net sum to remain in the black for as long as possible; and this of course is smart periodisation and programming.

We all know that each energy system needs to be effectively developed and depending on that activity; some will be developed to a greater degree. But be wise with making your withdrawals; there is a physiological and neuromuscular cost associated with withdrawing too frequently.


Thanks to Brett for the analogy and inspiration.

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