Anaerobic & Aerobic Energy Systems

By Graham Palmer

“Movement is the only way you have of affecting the world around you”. – Daniel Wolpert

Anaerobic and Aerobic Energy SystemsThis is a brief introduction to how humans produce energy. Also how at Max Impact Fitness we apply them.

Our bodies produce energy in three ways.

  1. ATP-PC system (Adenosine Triphosphate & Phosphocreatine)
  2. Glycolysis or Lactic Acid system
  3. Aerobic system


ATP is energy stored in our muscles. Which provides an immediate source of energy for 1 to 2 seconds. The breakdown of PC restores the ATP for a further 12 to 13 seconds, providing around 15 seconds of flat out exertion. Once your ATP is depleted, if rested for 30 seconds your ATP will recover 50%. If rested for 2 minutes your ATP is fully restored. If exercise of high intensity is continued longer than 15 seconds. Our body begins to draw on our second energy system. Our Glycolysis or Lactic acid system.

Glycolysis or Lactic acid system

Glucose is stored in our muscles as glycogen. Glucose is broken down to release energy, this is called Glycolysis. As the energy is required quickly, the body does not have time to deliver oxygen to the muscle. So the breakdown is without oxygen and referred to as Anaerobic Glycolysis. This is a far more complex system than the ATP-PC. Following many reactions, lactic acid is finally produced. Lactic acid is a by-product of the process and accumulates in the muscles and blood. This will cause fatigue in the muscles. You will feel a burning sensation in the muscles. Eventually exercise has to be reduced to enable the lactic acid to be removed. This system can provide energy from 15 seconds to around 2 minutes, sometimes longer.  Energy required for longer durations, needs to be at a lower intensity and relies on Oxygen. This is known as our Aerobic system.

Aerobic system

Any steady exercise longer than 2 minutes such as swimming, running, walking, cycling etc. Are using your aerobic system. This is where Oxygen is used to break down glucose and converted into energy. It is a much slower process, so Lactic acid is not produced. Although it is a slower process, it is very efficient. As long as you keep refuelling (eating food) and avoid injury. Your aerobic system will last indefinitely.

WARNING: Before engaging in any anaerobic drills or programs. A good level of aerobic fitness must be attained. It can be dangerous to use anaerobic exercises with a low level of fitness

Max Impact Fitness is a class designed to fit a variety of personal requirements. Originally designed to support the Practical Karate and Martial Arts members of our group. It is equally a stand alone session. To provide an effective training program for any combat sports such as MMA, Thai boxing, Kickboxing, Boxing, etc. It is also perfect for any fitness enthusiast wishing to improve fitness, weight loss and maintain good mental health.

All of our drills are of high intensity lasting for around 1 minute. Each drill varies in content. Which provides improvement for technical skill, conditioning, movement and coordination. We use a variety of protocols which include HIIT, TABATA and AGT (Anti Glycolytic Training).

Training this way will not be using our aerobic system, but focussing on our ATP-PC and Glycolysis / Lactic Acid system. However, it is our aerobic system which is working when we recover from each drill. It is important to have good aerobic fitness as well as anaerobic. So you can recover faster and repeat a high intensity drill again and again.

There was an interesting study from 1997 by J R Hoffman “The Relationship between Aerobic Fitness and Recovery from high intensity exercise in infantry soldiers” Which showed a higher level of aerobic fitness allowed the soldiers to recover faster.

Anaerobic and Aerobic Energy SystemsMax Impact for self defence

Of course in any threatening situation. The wise and safest thing to do is to remove yourself from the situation. Or preemptively strike to facilitate an escape.* However, if a real life situation goes physical, it will be of very high intensity and usually of short duration. Your ATP-PC system will provide energy for this short explosion of action. However, having a good level of Glycolysis (anaerobic) & Aerobic Fitness will provide you with faster recovery to escape or continue with the high volume of intensity if the situation is sustained.

Building a resilience mind

Pushing your anaerobic threshold is not comfortable. Most people can go flat out for the first few seconds. But very quickly your brain and mind begins to tell you to STOP! This is your internal safety system looking out for your body. So you do not push it too far. But you have much more in the tank. David Goggins a former Navy Seal has been attributed with coining the phrase “the 40% rule”. Meaning when your mind is telling you to stop, you have 40% left in you. Now the average person is not the level of a Navy Seal. However, by engaging in anaerobic exercise you will build a resilient mind. So you can push past these internal signs to achieve goals which you first thought were unachievable.

Anaerobic and Aerobic Energy SystemsMax Impact for Combative sports

Of course different combat sports have different rules sets and timed rounds etc. But usually the fighting part of a round will be explosive. Your two anaerobic systems will be in demand during this time. Your aerobic system will be drawn on for recovery. As well as contributing to going the distance for a longer fight. Training the anaerobic drills of Max Impact. Along with a combat sports technical and tactical method. And of course accompanied with its strength program. Will improve a fighters anaerobic threshold, mental resilience and aerobic recovery.

Max Impact for the Fitness enthusiast

Personal fitness, health and well-being is so important in today’s society. Perhaps more so than ever, with the recent Covid pandemic and the long months of lockdown which followed. Many people turned to exercise to maintain movement and a healthy mind. Today’s environment and society can be a stressful one. Finding somewhere to de stress and let off steam. While combining an enjoyable but challenging exercise method, can be a life saver. Some people do not like the typical Gym environment. Or want to learn a Martial Art. Or engage in a combat sport. Max Impact has been designed so anyone can drop in and use the session as an addition to their fitness schedule. It adds variety to a weekly fitness program. It provides a challenging, but enjoyable training method. Which promotes and maintain a healthy mind.

It’s just good to move and feel great!

* Preemptive self-defence is permissible in some cases. Lord Griffith said in Beckford v R: A man about to be attacked does not have to wait for his assailant to strike the first blow or fire the first shot; circumstances may justify a pre-emptive strike.

R v Beckford (1988) 1 AC 130



Graham and Neil are both members of the British Combat Association (BCA). They train regularly with world renowned BCA Instructors Peter Consterdine and Iain Abernethy.
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