| | | | Aerobic System For Football

Author / John

Every muscle contraction in the body is the result of a molecule called adenosine triphosphate (ATP). When the ATP is combined with water it splits apart and produces energy. ATP is broken down during a muscle contraction into adenosine diphosphate (ADP). However, ATP must be replenished for work to continue so another chemical reaction adds phosphate back to ADP to make ATP.


There are three energy systems that produce ATP.

The first being ATP–CP also know as the phosphagen system. Phosphocreatine, which is stored in muscle cells, contains a high energy bond. When creatine phosphate is broken down during muscular contraction, a large amount of energy is released. This happens in very short time durations like squatting a one rep max or short sprint.

The second is known as the glycolytic system that comes online after the ATP-CP systems expires. The body supplies glucose from glycogen stores in the liver and muscles that can be broken down to create ATP. Remember, like the ATP-PC system, the glycolytic system does not need oxygen for glycolysis. This system takes over after about 30 seconds of sustained work. Lactic acid is produced via the Kreb’s cycle as the muscle fatigues.

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The third system is the oxidative system or what is commonly referred to as the aerobic system. This system is a low power system that creates ATP at rest and during low intensity exercise. Fats and carbohydrates are the primary substrates that are used to convert to ATP.

We hear all frequently about the first two systems but why would it benefit a football player to develop his aerobic (oxidative) system?

The oxidative system is vital to producing ATP for long periods of time. Developing a more efficient aerobic system will aid in recovery for more intense bouts of exercise by making your body’s ability to transition between different energy systems more efficient. Also aerobic capacity training helps develop cardiac output. Keeping intensity low will drive a maximal amount of blood through the heart and make a more efficient left ventricle. Thus moving more blood with each beat and making for a more efficient heartbeat.

Aerobic work assists the autonomic nervous system composed of the sympathetic and parasympathetic systems. It helps by calming the sympathetic nervous and reducing that “on” feeling that we get when performing any HITT or heavy rep maxes.

By creating a wide aerobic base with your athletes will result in faster recovery between heavy bouts of ATP-PC and glycolytic training efforts.

I personally fought against this for years believing that training slow made me slow and the best way to train the aerobic system was with heavy glycolytic work.

While doing some research on myself and training group we found there was a direct correlation between my strength and my aerobic base. I started doing 30 minutes of aerobic work three days a week at 70% of my max heart rate (130 BPM). I would alternate between walking with a 50 pound weight vest, Assault bike and doing GPP med ball work were I would move continuous for 30 minutes similar to what Charlie Francis would prescribe for his sprinters. I would test rep maxes and max rep sets each week and found as I pushed my conditioning to 5 days a week I made strength increases.

I found the increased conditioning allowed me to recover between sets and workouts. And paid dividends out of the gym as my sleep improved and I felt more rested.


The more interesting byproduct was the decreased body fat and better processing of carbohydrates – usually I feel sluggish and bloated after eating carbs but found this not the case when doing more aerobic work.

While what I did was more extreme, I believe three 30 minute bouts of aerobic work a week would benefit football players in the off-season and especially during the season.

In retrospect, I should have jumped on the Assault bike after each game for 30 minutes of aerobic work to help with recovery and clearing lactic acid and soreness from the body. I believe this with the use of an EMS device would have produced significant dividends in my NFL career.

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John Welbourn is CEO of Power Athlete and Fuse Move. He is also creator of the online training phenomena, Johnnie WOD. He is a 9 year veteran of the NFL. John was drafted with the 97th pick in 1999 NFL Draft and went on to be a starter for the Philadelphia Eagles from 1999-2003, appearing in 3 NFC Championship games, and for starter for the Kansas City Chiefs from 2004-2007. In 2008, he played with the New England Patriots until an injury ended his season early with him retiring in 2009. Over the course of his career, John has started over 100 games and has 10 play-off appearances. He was a four year lettermen while playing football at the University of California at Berkeley. He graduated with a bachelor's degree in Rhetoric in 1998. John has worked with the MLB, NFL, NHL, Olympic athletes and Military. He travels the world lecturing on performance and nutrition for Power Athlete. You can catch up with John as his personal blog on training, food and life, Talk To Me Johnnie and at Power Athlete.


  1. Ben Kucharik on October 19, 2016 at 1:41 pm


    It must have been just about a year or two ago I heard you start to talk about the aerobic base development. Even after you talked about it I found it hard to embrace. Running sucks, I despised it for the longest time. I felt it was hindering my strength and fucked up my sprinting mechanics

    As I embraced it more and more I saw the benefits just as you did. it helped take another 30 seconds off my 2 mile runs for the army dropping my time below 13mins. I even had an a few abs start to show appear.

    Great article


  2. Robbie on October 19, 2016 at 2:20 pm

    I just started adding weighted vest work and or 1 year old boy wearing on my dog walks. 30 to 45min 2-3x a week. It was intended to ramp me up for deer season and the possibility of packing out the meat. I find it helped me recover from strength work as well. What would your gpp med ball work look like?

  3. Gilbert Schuerch on October 20, 2016 at 5:56 pm

    John, out of curiosity, what Rep Maxes were you testing? Was it 1 RMs, 3 RMs, 5 RMs or something in the more glycolitic range of 10RMs to 20RMs? Did you find that your strength increased in the lower rep ranges?

  4. chupacabraj on December 24, 2016 at 10:53 am

    In preparation for the police academy part of my weekly conditioning was the infamous prowler pushes. I use 170 lbs (40% of 1rm squat) and I push it on a rough paved surface for 40 yards. I perform one all out push followed by 1 min of rest. I worked my way up to 8 rounds. This took roughly 5 weeks to work up to.

    The last two weeks I have added two 800 meter sled drags a week to my routine. I started with 70 pounds (20% of 1rm squat) and will add 5-10 lbs each week. With only two weeks of performing this aerobic work via sled drags I have DRASTICALLY improved my anaerobic endurance; yesterday I completed 12 rounds on the prowler and will be adding weight this coming week/increasing the distance of the push.

    Your article is spot on John. Thank you for sharing your findings and supporting what I have just discovered myself.

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