Three Energy Pathways

A lot of people think CrossFit is just random workouts, that there’s no system to things, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. We focus on three different energy pathways. But what does that really mean?

Well, if you look at a graph of your power output on the y-axis, and time on the x-axis, we can see that for a short duration period of time, you can put out a lot of power. It would look something like this.


High power output, short period of time. That’s the first energy pathway that we train at Sequoia CrossFit. That’s called the phosphogenic pathway. The phosphogenic pathway is anaerobic, which means you do not need oxygen in order to create energy in your muscle tissues. What does this really look like? This is a sprint. This is a one-rep max or three-rep max, maybe 20 seconds of effort.

The second energy pathway that we train is called the glycolytic pathway. Power here doesn’t peak quite as high as the phosphogenic pathway. It’s also going to take a little bit longer to peak, so the glycolytic pathway has a profile that looks much more like that. So basically, what that means, you’re going to have less energy output, but you’re going to be able to sustain it for a little bit longer. That’s going to be an exercise that’s going to be between two and 10 minutes in length. Think Fran, one of the classic CrossFit workouts. That energy pathway can be both anaerobic and aerobic. It can switch back and forth by using glycogen to fuel its cells.

The third pathway is purely aerobic. This is what we think of when we think of marathons and long duration workouts. That’s the oxidative pathway. We can see that its profile will be much more like a long, slow burn that increases kind of indefinitely, so your power output can go for a very long time, but it doesn’t get very high. So you can think, okay, I can run a marathon, but can I do a max-rep deadlift at the end of that marathon? Unlikely.

So we need to be good at all three energy pathways in CrossFit. We’re trying to get general physical preparedness, so that no matter what happens, we’re ready for it. So sometimes you’ll see our workouts are going to be short and sweet, quick, hard workouts, one-rep maxes. Sometimes we’re going to go for a long run or a long row. That’s going to be our oxidative, our aerobic workouts. Sometimes it’s going to be in between, so that we can train that glycolytic pathway. Either way, we need to be able to switch back and forth, use all energy systems as efficiently as humanly possible, to be the best, most well-rounded athlete we can be.

That’s the long and short of what we do here at Sequoia CrossFit. We’d love to have you come out and visit us. We have classes every day, and you can even enjoy some Crooked City cider as well on us, 21 and up only, but come visit us any time, 4030 International Boulevard, or visit us at We look forward to seeing you soon.