Training the Alactic Energy System in Pitchers

Alactic - Top

After reviewing multiple innings of baseball at every level (professional, collegiate , high school and even international), you quickly understand that pitching is a 1-2 second explosive movement, with an average of about 12-15 pitches per inning, with approximately 20 seconds of rest in-between pitches, followed by 10-15 minutes of rest in between innings.  So, a pitcher going 6 innings might perform as follows:

  • 6 sets (innings)
    • 12x (representing each pitch)
      • Explosion (1-2 seconds)
      • Rest (20 seconds)
    • Rest 10 minutes (in between innings) and start over

It’s needless to say that pitchers require very specific conditioning. To understand how pitchers should train to be able to perform at the top of their game with every pitch and every inning, you have to first understand how the body produces and consumes energy.  So, here is a brief but simple lesson in physiology.

The body’s currency for energy is called adenosine triphosphate (ATP).  It is used for everything that we do.  The body processes ATP and turns it into movement through two main energy systems:

  • Anerobic – quick, explosive bouts (doesn’t require oxygen)
    • 1- Alactic (does not produce lactic acid)
    • 2- Lactic (produces lactic acid)
  • 3 – Aerobic – (requires oxygen)

Muscle cells store only enough ATP to fuel a few seconds of maximal work. However, they also store another compound called creatine phosphate (CP), which rapidly replenishes ATP.  Together, ATP and CP comprise the Alactic Energy System.

The high intensity and rapid movement of pitching relies heavily on the Alactic System. This system is used when the oxygen requirements within muscle fibers exceed the immediate supply.  With a single pitch only lasting anywhere between 1-2 seconds, pitchers live primarily in Alactic System with Aerobic as a secondary phase.  This basically means short spurts over a long period of time.  All three systems are generally active at any given time, but the intensity and duration of activity determines which system is most dominant.  The following chart provides a summary of primary energy systems at work depending on length of activity:

Alactic Chart

Note: Working on a good aerobic base early in the off-season will help with recovery between sets when performing alactic training later in the off-season when explosiveness becomes a priority.

The Alactic System can supply energy for up to 10 seconds of muscle contraction.  Each energy system has its own way of producing ATP. Of the three, however, the Alactic System produces ATP the quickest but is the least efficient at sustaining it. Once ATP and CP stores are depleted in the Alactic phase, they must be replenished, either aerobically or through the lactate system.

Note: Working on a good aerobic base early in the off-season will help with recovery between sets when performing alactic training later in the off-season when explosiveness becomes a priority.

Alactic Energy System Training

This past off-season we had the pleasure of training Robbie Aviles, a pitcher in the Cleveland Indians organization.  Robbie trained at RPP five days/week. We utilized his two movement days to perform his energy system work.

To put together an Alactic Energy training program for him we had to properly simulate a typical outing to find out what Robbie’s heart rate (HR) looked like on the mound in a typical inning.  We used a heart rate monitor to get a closer look at what his HR levels might look like in a game situation. We felt this would give us better insight as to his energy system usage and what type of conditioning will be most beneficial to help increase his endurance inning-to-inning prior to spring training.

Alactic - 2

We had him warm-up with 5 minutes of “catch” followed by a set of 10 throws at approximately 60% intensity before starting his HR measurements.


You can see below that Robbie’s peak HR fluctuated from 142-153 bpm and averages about 149 bpm. With this data, we determined that Robbie has a strong aerobic base. This is important. A pitcher with a poor aerobic base would not be able to maintain this energy production and end up gassing out due to the gradual increase in HR from pitch-to-pitch. This could easily translate to a loss in command in later innings and even poorer recovery long term in-between games (for relievers this can be even more crucial, as they need to be ready to go at all times).

Alactic - 3

Note: The best time to train the Alactic system is in the late off-season when we want to be at our fastest and most explosive.

Because ATP and CP storage lasts under 10 seconds, you have to focus on brief, all-out efforts such as short sprints, vertical jumps and explosive Olympic lifts.  And then allow for sufficient recovery time between bouts so that your muscles can start to replenish their ATP and CP stores before the next round. Work rest ratios are different athlete-to-athlete based on their overall conditioning.

To train the Alactic System, we incorporated a method called “explosive repeats”. This method is a great way to train the body’s ability to quickly regenerate ATP by increasing the enzymes (reactions) involved in energy production. Here are examples of two different exercises you can do with pitchers to enhance this ability in a sport specific manner. It is important to coach your athlete to “go all out” and aim to maintain the same number of repetitions in each set. We used a work/rest ratio of :06 sec (pitch) to :20 sec (time between pitches) and a total of 12-14 reps to simulate the average amount of pitches thrown in an inning.

(Med. Ball Slams)

(Reactive Heidens)

Please keep in mind that these are not sport specific exercises from an “activity” standpoint but more because of the “adaptation” that they are stimulating.  Like pitching, these exercises are great for developing the generation and transfer of power in the sagittal and frontal plane, as well as the recovery abilities of the fast twitch (type 2) muscle fibers.

Taking a deeper look, here is a graph showing Robbie’s starting and ending HR set-to-set using 6 seconds of Reactive Heidens.

Alactic - 4

You can see as oxygen demand increases, his recovery abilities are progressively challenged. This is shown by the gradual rise in HR, from set to set. Had Robbie not been training using alactic work/ rest ratios specific to the game, combined with a good aerobic base to help decrease recovery time, his heart rate would have elevated at a much higher rate pitch-to-pitch. This could result in a harder and more forceful “chest” breathing pattern which in turn can create more erratic movement at the thorax. If we know anything about throwing, the less movement we have at the thorax, the more stable of a platform we have to throw from, much like the steady upper body needed by Olympic Biathlon athletes to hit a bullseye.

Alactic - 5

Robbie left on March 2nd to report for spring training in Arizona.  Not long after he left he sent me a text that said the following “Nunz, I gave up a couple of singles today, but my stuff was nasty,  I was sitting 93-95 mph and the coaches told me that this is the best shape they have ever seen me in”.  I have to be honest that felt incredible.

Baseball is primarily an Alactic sport so contrary to old school thinking, there’s no need to go for a run after a game to flush out the lactic acid, because there’s simply not enough lactate produced alactically to flush.  A complete conditioning program for any pitcher should prepare him for maximal intensity of less than 10 seconds (Alactic) with preparation for ample recovery (Aerobic).  So pitchers, as far as energy work is concerned you should train in the same manner that the game is played.

See ya in the gym…

By Nunzio Signore (BA, CPT, NASM, PES, FMS) and Tom Guetta (B.S.)

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