Lactate Threshold, The Forgotten Panacea

Lactate Threshold Training, The Forgotten Panacea

For years the science of sport has looked at Lactic Threshold aka Anaerobic Threshold as a basis for performance and training. To avoid making this article to scientific I have add a link in which one of the top research physiologist, Dr. Kravitz explains the details http://www.unm.edu/~lkravitz/Article%20folder/lactatethreshold.html

My purpose in this article is to present the case for training smart. I have been in and know many of my friends who are into Crossfit as athletes, owners, coaches, etc. Simply put Crossfit is a diverse training system based on cross training using various methods. Truth be told, many of us have been doing this long before there was such thing as Crossfit. However, since its inception it has evolved into a sport, the sport of exercise as many refer which is true and quite endearing if you ask me. As an exercise enthusiast I like it and am glad to see that many more people are embracing fitness as a way of life and a sport.

Ok, so lets get down to it then. If it is a sport and we want to treat it as such and compete then we need to start incorporating principles of human performance that are key to safe and effective progressions. After all, most of those competing are not professional athletes which means they have real jobs, with stressors that many athletes do not have and without the support that most athletes have (i.e. regular massage, stretching regimens, proper nutrition, etc.). Regardless, all athletes need a plan and NO athlete can go 100% everyday, day in and day out year round. And if you think you are Superman or Superwoman get over it, it does not happen.

So, this is where lactate threshold plays a role. The Lactate Threshold (LT) is the point during exercise of increasing intensity at which blood lactate begins to accumulate above standard levels. This corresponds to a key factor known as RPE or rating of perceived exertion which operates on a scale or 6-20 and can be put into Zones 1-5 and is a key performance measure. Since most lack the tools to test lactate blood levels we use the RPE and corresponding Zones to determine our LT.

Here is a list of Zones and RPE

    •    Zone 1: 6-8 RPE
    •    Zone 2: 9-11 RPE
    •    Zone 3: 12-14 RPE
    •    Zone 4: 15 RPE
    •    Zone 5: 16-20 RPE

    •    Zone 1/Recovery: Low intensity, easy, body rejuvenating zone.
    •    Zone 2/Extensive Endurance: Long endurance, conversational-level zone.
    •    Zone 3/Intensive Endurance: Increase of intensity, lactate production rises.
    •    Zone 4/Threshold: Just below or slightly above lactate threshold, discomfort, anaerobic.
    •    Zone 5/Anaerobic Endurance: Intensity now exceeds the lactate threshold.

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Much of this work and study of the LT has been around endurance sports such as Triathlon and Cycling. Many of know Lance Armstrong, his coach used this system as the basis for all Lances training. A majority of his training was in Zone 4 or 15-16 RPE.

Chris Carmichael, Lance Armstrong’s coach, explains:
“Power isn’t the issue. Anyone can produce 400 watts for a few seconds. However, most riders can’t produce 400 watts for a very long time without going anaerobic and slowing abruptly. What’s key is the ability to produce significant power while remaining under your lactate threshold (LT) and in control. All of Lance’s training revolved around raising his power at LT. The secret is to do most of your hard training a little below, at, or slightly above your lactate threshold.”
And much like Cycling, Crossfit is about the ability to perform under intensity and over time aka Muscular Endurance. Therefore when teaching, training, coaching athletes for Crossfit and performance instead of doing daily WODs where you push yourself to exhaustion train smart and use LT as the basis behind performance measure. A majority of the training should be in Zone 4 or an RPE of 15 with only 1 day a week being in Zone 5, RPE 16+.  As one increases fitness levels the RPE will correlate to a better time and increased performance. This will help prevent burnout, injury and again most important lead to increased performance.

For more specifics and information please feel free to email me joe@fitnessjoe.com

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4 thoughts on “Lactate Threshold, The Forgotten Panacea

  1. Okay, I’m going to date myself here. When I was earning my masters in exercise science at UVA, lactate threshold was beginning to usurp VO2 max as THE index of conditioning level as well as guide to training intensity level. We were still banging rocks together to make tools…

  2. Thank you for sharing. Yes, lactate threshold is crucial to the VO2 Max. It is more about an approach to training to prevent over training and enhance Max VO2. But I agree banging rocks ;).

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