ATP-CP Battery: Why Absolute Strength Isn’t Everything In The Sport of Fitness

by Evan Peikon

What is the ATP-CP Battery (Adenosine Triphosphate or Creatine Phosphate Battery)?
The simplest way to answer this question is to think of your capacity to lift heavy weights as a battery. Every time you lift a weight close to you max you drain the battery, and then it recharges. When lifting a weight at say 90% of your max, you may drain your battery 50% or 85%. And it may take you 30 seconds or 3 minutes to recharge your battery, which is based on your individual physiology.

How Would you test your CP Battery?
Take this scenario…
A. Power Clean; build to a 1RM
-Rest 2 Minutes-
B. 8 Minute AMRAP:
Power Cleans @90%(A.)

Athlete 1 Power Cleans 300 lbs. Then he gets 38 reps @270 lb in 8 minutes.
Athlete 2 Power Cleans 300 lbs. Then he gets 17 reps @270 ln in 8 minutes.

– In this scenario athlete 1 has a good CP battery since he can perform a high volume close to his max with relatively short rest between reps.
-Athlete 2 on the other hand has a poor CP battery as he needs a significant amount of time to recharge his battery before hitting the weight again.
-Note: a score of 35+ is the goal/ indication of a good CP Battery.

 Implications/ Real life Application:
After reading my aforementioned statements, a few things become quite apparent:
1. Absolute strength is important in the sport of fitness
2. Absolute strength is NOT the end all be all determining factor in performance.
3. A Competitor with a good CP Battery/adequate strength can in fact beat a stronger competitor with a poor CP battery.
4. This list can go on forever, but i’ll end it here…

So… How does this apply to a crossfit Metcon?
Lets take Regional workout #5 for example.

Dead Lift (315#)
Box Jump (30’’)

First you must keep in mind that this isn’t an ATP-CP Battery test for all the regionals competitors. Those who blew through it looking stoic may have actually been hitting the aerobic power energy system (ie- an aerobic monster with a huge deadlift). However, for those who had to tackle this workout in more of a “grunt work” fashion, its safe to say they were using their phosphate battery. Which isn’t to say that they weren’t breathing hard, as thats not a determining factor due to the fact that aerobic metabolism will still aid in recharging your CP battery by generating ATP.
That being said, lets take two more hypothetical regionals athletes. Both have identical strength numbers, and are both operating in the ATP/CP system. The athlete who can “recharge” his battery the quick is the one who will be able to get through the deadlifts faster and with shorter rest times. Using this type of situation it became very clear that a powerful battery can be the determining factor in going to Carson or not. It also sheds light as to how some Crossfit Games athletes are able to run at the front of the back on “heavier” workout even though they arent nearly as strong as others (Spealler comes to mind as an example).

 How to Train your CP Battery
When training the CP battery, the best approach to take is “Alactic/Aerobic Training” (ie- EMOMS) or Pseudo-Metcons with bottlenecks.

 Method 1: Alactic-Aerobic
This method is more commonly referred to as an EMOM or “On the Minute Work”. It is aerobic/alactic due to the fact that you have a short burst with a higher power output (A-lactic), but have enough rest to recharge your battery and sustain the output over a prolonged period of time (aerobic).

For Example:
Perform 3 Power Snatch @65% at the top of the minute for 10 minutes; rest the remainder of the minute.
On the Minute for 16 Minutes
3 Power Clean @65% (even minutes)
5 Hand Stand Pushup (odd minutes)
As a general guideline:
-use low %’s of your max lifts (55-75%)
-use movements with a low eccentric portion (Power variations of olympic lifts)
-use advanced gymnastic movements (relative to the athlete).

 Method 2: Bottlenecks
This method is often considered a “Heavy Metcon”. (Ie- a technical movement or heavy weight causes a bottleneck, forcing you to rest and recharge your battery before continuing).

For Example:
5 Rounds for Time:
5 Burpee
50 Double Unders
5 Front Squat @185 (assuming a max front squat of ~225; which is heavy for this athlete).
3 Rounds For Time:
200m Run
6 Muscle Ups (assuming max of ~3 UB muscle ups)
3/3 Turkish Getups

 General Guideline:
-Use Advanced Gymnastics movements (relative to athlete)
-Use heavy weights (relative to the athlete, and rep scheme)
-Use High skill movements.

 Other Considerations
Keep in mind that the ATP-CP Battery and Neuromuscular Efficiency are two different beasts. Without going into much detail on neuromuscular efficiency (since it can be its own blog post), it is more applicable to trying to hit 85% of your max on a slow (squat, bench, deadlift) for max reps. The physiology of it is too complex to explain in short here, so suffice it to say that the former is more or less regulated by energy systems while the latter is regulated neurologically.

Also take into account that a good CP Battery also appears to have a direct relationship to a well developed aerobic system.

*post any questions or comments in the comments section below.

6 thoughts on “ATP-CP Battery: Why Absolute Strength Isn’t Everything In The Sport of Fitness

  1. How many times a week would you recommend training the ATP/CP battery in an athlete with a training week of 6 hours?
    As you said, an athlete with a strong ATP/CP battery can beat an athlete with a weaker battery. Would you say the status of ‘battery’ is the most basic essential component for a successful competitor?

    • Rory,
      That is entirely dependent on the context of the rest of the training week, the athletes strengths/weaknesses relative to the demands of the competition, and the status of the athletes battery, and the time of year (this one is key). I have regional, top opens level, and open competitors doing batter work anywhere from 0-4 times per week so there is no hard and fast rule. With more context I can give you better insight though.
      In reagards to it being to most basic essential component… Being that we do not know what the events ahead of time, and the demands of the sport are so broad I cannot say it is the single most essential component. However, I can say it is a critical component along with characteristics such as aerobic base development and muscular endurance.

      • How would you structure emom battery sessions for an individual with a low cp battery score vs an individual with a moderate to high battery score? Both looking for improvements but to different degrees.

      • For an athlete with a lower score I would Rx lower %’s relative to their max that I would for an athlete with a higher battery score (assuming density was equal for both parties). If density was the variable we are trying to manipulate I would Rx a lower density at a given % (relative to their max) for the athlete with the lower battery score.

        The first scenario could look something like….
        Low CPB- 3 OTM for 10m @75%
        High CPB- 3 OTM for 10m @93%

        The second scenario could look something like…
        Low CPB- 2 Tng reps @85% OTM for __ minutes
        High CPB- 4-6 Tng reps @85% OTM for __ minutes (assuming same # of minutes for both parties).

        Also note that these are overly simplified examples that simply serve the purpose of showing the trained characteristics without other confounding variables. In actually a CPB session may look something like….

        2 Minute AMRAP:
        10 DL @315#
        max Burpee- BJ in remaining time @30″
        Rest 2m x3
        2 Minute AMRAP:
        7/7 DB Snatch @70#
        max Defecit HSPU in remaining time @6″
        OTM for 15 Minutes:
        1st: 2 legless rope climbs
        2nd: 8 DB Thrusters (45/arm)
        3rd: 2 Stone to shoulder

      • Thanks for the great response! You also speak of bottlenecks used to train an athlete battery. Would it be more appropriate in that rx to again use lower % of max for the low cpb and higher % of max for the higher cpb individual in that type of workout ? Thanks again.

  2. Yes- the same rules with apply. If the bottleneck is to large it will essentially put an end to the session, and if it is too small it will not quite bottle neck the athlete. As such, the bottleneck needs to be at the appropriate % and have an appropriate amount of density relative to the athlete.

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