Training at Lactate Threshold Part 1

By Skyler Zarndt MS, ATC, CSCS


Last week, I was introduced to a group fitness class at a studio here in Scottsdale.  I’ve always been hesitant/resistant to go to any classes like these.  I’ve been designing my own workouts for years, I’ve gotten fairly good results, and quite frankly, get highly annoyed by the personal trainer “gurus” at places like these.

But, I decided to give it a shot.  I had a free week and I needed a mental break from the routine I had been doing.  I went into it with an open mind.

The class wasn’t terrible.  I actually kind of enjoyed it.  There were a few things I probably wouldn’t recommend for my athletes…but then again, my athletes wouldn’t be doing a 6 am “Sweat” class.

The purpose of this article isn’t to talk about group classes.  Rather, it’s to discuss some thoughts that I had before and after taking this class.

The first thing that came to mind is “why am I so tired halfway through class, and this 40 year old next to me is dominating this workout?!”  I at least LOOK like I’m in good shape.  Setting my pride aside and catching my breath, I realized that this lady has been training like this for years.  Circuit training.  Minimal rest.  Grind out your reps with suspect form.  50 continuous minutes of whatever the ACE/ACSM/whatever certified trainer told her to do.

Her training = that class, that class = her training.

She has been training at Lactate Threshold.  While I’ve been lifting between 70-90% of my 1RM for 2-5 reps, this class (and all these other group classes), just grind you down and make you tired…rep after rep, round after round.  But that’s what a lot of people want.  This class made me work at a level of cardiovascular stress that hasn’t been touched in a while.  So while my body composition is certainly better than most in this class, their preparation for this class was far superior than mine.  That’s why I got my butt kicked.

Now, as a Strength Coach in baseball, lactate threshold isn’t something that comes into play very often (i.e. ever).  We just don’t get to this point, so we don’t really train at this intensity.  So let’s define what exactly lactate threshold is so we can further discuss the benefits or downsides to training in this manner.

Lactate Threshold is the point of intensity during exercise in which the lactic acid in the blood builds up quicker than it can be removed.  This is also associated with “the burn” that we feel in our muscles during high intensity exercise.  It should be noted that “the burn” isn’t caused by lactate itself, but rather a buildup of Hydrogen (H+) ions.  This leads to a state of acidosis (decrease of blood pH below 7.0), and the lactate in the muscles actually helps to act as a buffer aimed at diminishing the burn.



Training at this level is primarily seen in endurance sports.  The point at which we can no longer remove lactic acid quick enough can be improved.  It’s basically improving our high intensity steady-state cardiovascular ability.  If we train at or close to our lactate threshold, we will find ourselves being able to work at a more intense level before we start to feel the burn.

For baseball athletes, we will never even sniff this level of conditioning on the field.  It just doesn’t happen.  So we prefer to train in different ways.  But, since most of us are not baseball players, and many of us would like to improve our general fitness, this fashion of training is actually a fantastic tool.

Yea, it’s not a lot of fun.  But it works.  It will increase your aerobic capacity, as well as your overall work capacity if you’re hitting the weights, as well.

Tomorrow, we will talk about how to calculate (or come close to) our Lactate Threshold, as well as discuss training in this fashion.




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