Lactate Threshold Training (LT) is a very popular method for improving high intensity endurance performance.VO2 max may indicate an athlete’s genetic potential and natural ability, but their lactate threshold can be increased with the right training program. Athletes use their lactate threshold to determine how to train and at what pace can be maintained during endurance sports. Lactate threshold can be increased greatly with training, so many athletes and coaches have come up with complicated plans to increase the LT.
What Is Lactate Threshold Training?
The lactate threshold is a point during high-intensity, exhaustive exercise at which lactate builds up in the blood stream faster than the body can get rid of it. Anaerobic metabolism produces energy for short, high-intensity bursts of activity lasting no longer than a few minutes before the lactate build-up reaches a threshold where it can no longer be absorbed, so it accumulates. This point is known as the lactate threshold and is reached between 50-80% of an athlete’s VO2 max.
During moderate exercise the lactate can be absorbed quickly, but with high-intensity exercise it is produced faster than the body can absorb it. This lactate threshold is marked by a slight drop in its pH, from 7.4 to about 7.2, that causes fatigue and reduces the power of muscle contractions. At this point, the athlete is forced to either back off or slow down. Having a higher lactate threshold means someone can continue at a high-intensity effort for longer periods of time. Because of this, many consider LT a great way to predict athletic performance in high-intensity sports. LT is also used by many athletes to determine training plans.
What are the Benefits?
Your lactate threshold essentially defines the upper limit of your sustainable efforts in training and competition. Once you cross over and rely more heavily on your glycolytic system for energy, you’re exercising on borrowed time. The accumulation of blood lactate will hinder your muscles’ ability to contract, and you will be forced to slow down or stop. The more work you can do before reaching lactate threshold, the better. If the pace you can hold at your lactate threshold is higher than the pace your competitor can hold at his or her lactate threshold, you go faster, reach the finish first, and win.
Being able to do more work at lactate threshold also means maintaining a lighter pace is even easier. While your main rivals are burning energy fast, riding at their limits, you can stay right with them and rely primarily on your aerobic system. This saves valuable energy for hard efforts later, like the run leg of a triathlon, a long climb to the finish line, or a sprint.
How to Do Lactate Threshold Training?
Consistency is the key to improving performance at lactate threshold. You have to accumulate a lot of work at a steady workload to place the appropriate amount of stress or load on the system. Since you can’t spend a lot of time working above threshold, these training intervals have to be at an intensity just below your threshold. For both running and cycling, interval workouts focused on improving performance at threshold should progress from 5-minute intervals to intervals of up to 20 minutes in length.
Recovery between intervals should stay at about one third to half the length of the interval. Your first goal is to accumulate time with multiple shorter intervals, and then progress to performing fewer, longer intervals. Lactate threshold workouts are hard on the body, and it’s best to put a day of light endurance training or active recovery between days of lactate threshold training.
Through training, the body learns to contract muscles repeatedly with force and quickness without too much buildup of blood lactate. If the muscles can increase workloads or stress while maintaining a faster pace at aerobic levels, you can spare muscle glycogen while at the same time decreasing the amount of blood lactate produced. When you have increased the work you can do before reaching lactate threshold, and the power you can produce when you’re there, you can move on to training that very specifically sharpens your event-oriented skills and begins the taper towards your goal event.
During this training period, you generally keep a little intensity going in order to stay fresh and powerful, but you also need to make sure you have plenty of recovery to restore and replenish all of your energy systems.