Lactate Threshold Training Explained
Lactate Threshold Training Explained And How To Improve It
Recently, we have spoken about improving your aerobic capacity. This is an intensity utilising predominantly the aerobic system which, you can sustain for a prolonged period of time. An increased VO2 Max will allow for a higher amount of oxygen to be consumed which, can be delivered to your muscles during exercise. Generally speaking, the higher your VO2 Max the higher the intensity you would be able to sustain whilst using the aerobic system. However, increases in VO2 max do not necessarily transfer into an increased aerobic capacity. What is more important is your lactate threshold (LT). Simply put, this is the intensity that your body turns from your aerobic energy system onto your anaerobic energy system. In this article, we’re going to explain the lactate threshold, what it means and how you can improve it.
What is lactate?
Lactate is an important by-product of Anaerobic Glycolysis, the process which, turns carbohydrate into energy without the presence of oxygen. This allows for a fast production of ATP in a short amount of time. Although, this is not sustainable for periods longer than 1-2 minutes. If the lactate threshold is at a higher percentage of your VO2 Max, you will be able to perform at a higher intensity without entering the anaerobic energy system.
Lactate threshold explained
The lactate threshold has been defined as the intensity at which lactate production exceeds lactate clearance. At this point, lactate accumulates which, creates an acidic environment within the cells and causes the ever familiar “burn” feeling within the muscles and a sense of doom within your soul, encouraging you to pull up, slow down the pace or even stop all together.
Imagine this, your body is a bath tub and the taps are running, the water is clearing out of the plug hole at the same rate as it is filling up. This represents an intensity below your lactate threshold. As you open the taps the water flows faster but the plug hole cannot clear the water out at the same rate so the bathtub starts to fill up. This is your lactate turn point. The lactate starts to build. At this pace, you are going to overflow at some point. As the intensity increases the taps open up even faster and as the water starts to build you are getting closer and closer to overflowing. This is your lactate threshold. When the bathtub reaches full capacity and taps are still running you will have reached your VO2 max and the bathtub will overflow.
THE VIDEO: Lactate Threshold Training EXPLAINED + How to Improve
How to improve your lactate threshold
When your VO2 max has reached its ceiling, to improve your fitness you need to effectively raise the line at which your body turns from aerobic to anaerobic, increasing your lactate threshold. Lactate is measured within the blood with precise complicated and expensive blood analysis tools. It’s not likely that you have access to this type of equipment so we need to establish this intensity with an more accessible type of assessment.
Both the Maximal Aerobic Speed (MAS) Test (for running and rowing) and a Functional Threshold Power (FTP) Test (for cycling) establish a maximal sustainable intensity whilst below lactate threshold. When this intensity has been established, an intensity above this output will be classified as anaerobic and every intensity under this number will be classified as aerobic. There are many other things to consider but in to simplify and quantify training these methods are well proven to get results.
Maximal Aerobic Speed MAS
The easiest but gruelling way to determine your MAS is a maximal ramp protocol on a treadmill. There are other submaximal ways to determine this. However, the max ramp protocol has the least amount of variables, meaning you are able to establish a more accurate measurement. Start running on a treadmill at an easy and comfortable pace. Increase your speed every 3 minutes until you can no longer sustain your speed. Three minutes are used at each increasing speed because the anaerobic system will not be able to work for longer than around 2 minutes. When each increment is stretched for a full 3 minutes you can be certain that the aerobic system is predominantly fuelling your activity.
Every 3 minutes, increase your speed by 1km/h until you are forced to stop. This will be a gruelling test as it will take you almost to failure. Stop yourself before you are thrown off the treadmill. Each increment will be harder than the last until you reach a speed which you can no longer sustain. When you reach this speed you would have tipped over your lactate threshold. Take the speed of your last complete stage as your MAS.
Stage 1 – 8km/h
Stage 2 – 9km/h
Stage 3 – 10km/h
Stage 4 – 11km/h
Stage 5 – 12km/h – could not complete a full stage.
In this example, stage 5 could not be completed as this tipped over the athlete’s lactate threshold. Stage 4 was the last complete stage so the athlete’s MAS is 11km/h.
Functional Threshold Power FTP
If you are a cyclist, the equivalent to the MAS would be a Functional Threshold Power FTP test. This is slightly different, but the principle is the same, it is a way of quantifying a sustainable intensity.
When training you should use your MAS the same way you might use a 1rm. To improve your MAS you need to accumulate volume at a submaximal intensity. This will improve your efficiency at a given speed which, will build your aerobic capacity and raise your lactate threshold. Research suggests that there is a “sweet spot” intensity which, is between 80-95% of MAS. An intensity lower than this isn’t sufficient to stress the cardiovascular system to elicit a response. Any higher than this and your anaerobic energy system will take over. The key to improving your lactate threshold is to spend time in this aerobic sweet spot zone.
4 weeks of training may look like this:
Week 1 – 2-3 x 12 minutes @ 80% MAS (6 min Rest)
Week 2 – 4 x 8 minutes @ 85% MAS (4 min Rest)
Week 3 – 6 x 6 minutes @ 90% MAS (3 min Rest)
Week 4 – 8 x 4 minutes @ 95% MAS (2 min Rest)
Each week, the intensity will increase as the duration of your intervals decreases. This allows the body to adapt to each intensity progressively as you accumulate the volume at the submaximal intensity. This will build your resistance to fatigue and improve your aerobic capacity, increasing the intensity or speed that you hit your lactate threshold.
Without a blood lactate and gas exchange analyser it is very hard to be precise with predicting your lactate threshold. Instead, if you are aiming to improve your aerobic capacity, the MAS and FTP tests do a great job of quantifying training intensities. It is often, thought that the harder you train, the fitter you will become but this isn’t strictly true. If you over shoot your intensity and end up working too hard, you will not get the adaptation that you are looking for, to improve your lactate threshold, slow and steady wins the race.