If you are looking to take your training to the next level I suggest you start with my friend lactic acid. It’s gotten a bad rap over the years so I want to spend some time talking about not only the purpose it serves, but how knowing your lactate threshold can come in handy in terms of improving performance and taking your training to the next level. Before we get to how you can address your training, let’s start at the beginning.
Lactic acid is produced in a metabolic pathway called glycolysis. It was discovered in the 1920s that lactic acid is produced during fatiguing muscle contractions in the absence of oxygen. This, and other things over years, led scientists to begin to blame lactic acid for things like muscle burning and soreness. Lactic acid is actually a very busy guy running around being used as fuel for the heart, being used to make more glucose, and being converted back to glycogen for later use. See, he’s not so bad after all.
Next level training involves something called lactate threshold. Lactate threshold is the point where lactate production begins to exceed lactate removal and causes large/fast increases of lactate in the blood. The point of knowing your lactate threshold is that if you train properly (next level) you can condition your body such that you can raise your lactate threshold. If you raise your lactate threshold, you can run/compete/perform at a higher percentage of your maximum (next level) for longer periods of time. The longer the run/competition/event that you are training for is, the more important it is to train your lactate threshold. You want to take your training to the next level and go harder/faster for longer periods of time, right? So, it’s time to get a handle on where your lactate threshold currently stands.
You can get your lactate threshold measured. There are some home devices that can be used, but I recommend you look into working with a professional if you are serious about knowing your lactate values and taking your training to the next level. Measuring your lactate threshold is typically done by drawing blood while exercising in a clinical or laboratory setting. A colleague of mine, Scott Miller PT, MS, SCS, CSCS provides this type of service as part of clinical operations at his Agility Physical Therapy and Sports Performance clinic. He is a Board Certified Sports Clinical Specialist, runner, cyclist, and has a host of other professional credentials that you can find here. For those of you reading who don’t live near me, you can find this type of service in locations around the country, you just have to do some digging around. The easiest place to start is to check and see if a university within driving distance has an exercise performance laboratory. If you don’t have luck there, check to see if you have any sports performance training centers that are local.
Ideally, you want to find out your lactate threshold and the exercise intensity associated with it. You can usually find a heart rate range that is closely associated and can work with it in your training schedule. If you don’t get it measured directly, you can use your rating of perceived exertion (how hard it feels) and recommended heart rate ranges to estimate and monitor training intensity.
If you are slower, less fit, or newer to your sport or activity, your lactate threshold training sessions should be done at about 75-80% of your measured or calculated maximum heart rate. Someone who is trained or more experienced could push the intensity up towards 85-90% of maximum heart rate. These workouts could be done in a longer-continuous format, but I prefer to do it in intervals. These workouts should be done no more than 2-3 times a week. The length of time/distance of the workouts would all be dependent on the length of competition/event you are preparing for.
It takes some time, but if you are putting in the effort, why not use some science with yourself, clients, or athletes. Make the best use of everyone’s energy and begin to see the results you are looking for by taking your training to the next level.