By Skyler Zarndt MS, ATC, CSCS
Yesterday, we discussed why the 40 year old ladies at Scottsdale Bodi were making me look out of shape. The conclusion was simple. They’re used to training at LACTATE THRESHOLD. That is, the point at which the body can no longer remove and/or process the lactic acid in the blood. Lactate builds up, Hydrogen ions are a byproduct, and we essentially lose our ability to maintain power and/or stop because it hurts.
If you missed the post yesterday, check it out here.
So now that we know WHAT is meant by lactate threshold, we should obviously discuss how we can apply it.
If you look through an exercise physiology textbook, you can probably find a graph that looks like this:
The x and y axes might be a little different, but the overall graph is similar. This particular graph shows the differences between pre-training and post-training levels. Like we said yesterday, lactate threshold is a variable that can be improved through training.
In general, there is a very distinct upward slope in the line at some point in the graph. This is where your lactate threshold lies. Now, there are a few ways to test this.
The traditional method of determining lactate threshold is done in a lab on a treadmill. The participant warms up, and then starts a moderately slow pace, while increasing pace at set increments. For example, start for 3 minutes at 6.5 mph, then 3 minutes at 6.8, and so on. At each stage, a blood sample is taken from the finger, and the lactate levels are checked. Once the blood lactate reaches 4 mmol/liter, you’ve found your lactate threshold.
Ok, we’re NOT doing that.
So how else could we check it without having to set up a time and shell out some money at an exercise lab?
Well, along with the test in the lab checking for lactate levels, we can also chart heart rate. Your heart rate level will usually coincide pretty closely with your lactate threshold. If you train and get in better shape, your heart will become more efficient, and you’ll be able to work a little harder before reaching a specific heart rate. Same with your lactate threshold.
But how do we determine that? What if I don’t have a heart rate monitor and those shiny heart rate handles on the gym’s treadmill don’t work? (They never do)
Well, it may be easier than you think.
Lets try to determine our threshold by FEEL.
A test was done by German scientist to try to accomplish this very thing. They used the Borg Scale, which may be familiar to some. It’s an RPE (Rating of Perceived Exertion) scale that ranges from 6 to 20. it was supposed to coincide originally with heart rates from 60 to 200, but that’s not exactly accurate. Anyhow, the study concluded that most men and women in the study (2,560 of them) reached lactate threshold around an RPE of 13. They also did the standard blood samples, and they found that 13 coincided rather well with a blood lactate level of 4 mmol/Liter.
So if you don’t have access to equipment, finding your threshold by feel may be your best bet. If you have a heart rate monitor, try the feel test and match that to your heart rate. These numbers will be beneficial when we start training.
So let’s talk training.
It should be noted that training at threshold isn’t for everyone. Endurance athletes will get a particular benefit from it. It relates to sustained cardiovascular efforts. About 30 minutes and up. So aside from classic endurance sports such as running, rowing, etc., it could also be beneficial to a sport such as soccer, where substitutions and longer rest periods aren’t always available.
To make this idea really simple, threshold training is simply in between anaerobic and aerobic training. Some call it tempo training. Threshold training. Whatever. The idea behind this training is being able to increase the amount of work that can be done before our body craps out on us.
I feel there are 3 ways to achieve this.
- Increase Our Overall Volume. This isn’t exactly threshold training, but it’s the first step. Increasing our aerobic conditioning base will increase your capacity for mitochondrial respiration (the power plant of the cell).
- Threshold/Tempo Training. Now that we know about how to calculate our lactate threshold, we can start to train at or near this pace. And that’s exactly what a tempo run is. It’s a predetermined heart rate/RPE/lactate threshold that is sustained during a moderately difficult workout. Set a time. If you’re a soccer player, 30 minutes is probably sufficient, factoring in position, amount of down time, etc. If you’re a distance runner, try to include tempo runs into your routine about once a week. Maybe once every two weeks. It will help increase aerobic capacity and shit your lactate threshold further down the x-axis. AKA more work done with less effort exerted.
- Interval Training. This is simply training at levels ABOVE your lactate threshold. An RPE between 15-18/19, with rest periods of very low RPE levels. I try to match my intervals with what my athletes experience on the field. 10 seconds of HARD work followed by 50 seconds of rest. Specificity is definitely a factor here.
So in summary, training at Lactate Threshold is only part of improving performance or overall fitness. You probably shouldn’t train at this level all the time, or train in this fashion. Make sure the approach you take with your athletes or with your own routine is global and well balanced.
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