Saturday, February 4, 2012

Understanding Lactate Threshold (LT), Run Training Tolerance

Understanding Lactate Threshold- the basics for beginners and intermediate athletes, especially triathletes- swimmers, bikers, runners.

I am in Boulder, CO working with my son on his Boulder Sports Recovery business: All Sports Recovery Club. Please check it out. Come in and visit:

Friends and athletes that I train back in Fort Myers, FL asked me to review what I meant by time trial (TT) testing for lactate threshold. I put some thought into my explanation, so I felt it might be helpful to others.

Explanation: LT is lactate threshold. It is very important to know what your tolerances are in expending energy (meaning how hard you are working at your training). If you are working harder and demanding more oxygen than your heart can pump to your muscles, you will have to quit, bonk, or hit the wall, so to speak. This is obviously NOT the goal. In training, we try to find the magic number (and to improve that number)  where the exercise load you are demanding of your cardiovascular system does not exceed its capability. As you advance your conditioning, athletes and coaches do interject harder intervals to improve LT. Thus, you can run harder, longer with proper conditioning.

Heart rate is one way to ID your LT zone. Pace and power are two other ways. Most runners (and cyclists, even swimmers)  should, after at least two weeks of consistent conditioning, have an idea of what pace they can maintain for about 8-10 min. This is an average (pace) even with some breaks (aka, rest intervals: RI). Most athletes if well-conditioned can sustain at LT output for up to one hour. Most beginners and intermediate athletes can sustain LT pace for somewhere between 5-10 minutes. This is something that smart training (especially with good coaching) improves.

People with power meters on their bikes can tell how many watts of power they can expend. Cadence, pace, HR, & power can all help you on the bike to find LT (threshold or tolerance).

Important!! To know these LT numbers is to (1) tell you how effective your training is, (2) make you a smarter, more confident racer/trainer. Thus, you know when you are on track. You also know when you are not pushing hard enough or pushing too hard.

A common heart rate test for LT on the run is 3 x 10 minutes with 2 minute rest intervals (RI) slow run or walking recovery intervals between the 10 minute run sets. Ideally, you want to find a pace you can run that doesn't change more than 15 seconds on all three 10 minute run sets. You also need to know preliminary heart rate zones. I can help you with this. To find your heart rate zones for training takes about 2 weeks of conditioning to establish. So don't test for LT until you've begun your conditioning.

Warning: make the TT (time trial) test fit your conditioning. I have assigned LT tests for 2 x 8 min. when someone was out of shape or even 2 x 3 min. Don't go 3 rounds of 10 min. when HR is sky-rocketing and pace is collapsing. The tests has shown enough data. Your fitness stinks, you are not well, or something else, try again later.

Tools: A Garmin 305 is what I use. I could conduct this test on myself, unassisted. The Garmin 305 or newer will track: time, heart rate, and pace. You can also use a Garmin 205 combined with a heart rate monitor.  For example, you can set the heart rate monitor (HRM) to beep when your heart rate (HR) hits the high end of your LT zone and or drops below your low end, such as 148-152 beats per minute(bpm). Athletes with very different paces can use similar HR settings. One athlete may run an average of 8 min. per mile, while another runs 12 min. per mile, all at LT heart rate zone of 148-152. Keep your eye on the Garmin for time only. Try not to look too much. Looking at your watch too often can effect your HR. Start and stop the watch between the 10 min. intervals and also on each of the recovery breaks. How fast your HR drops is an important indication of conditioning. It's a good sign of your fitness when your HR quickly drops (aka, recovers) after you slow down. If you remember to start and stop the watch every time, you can do this test on your own with a Garmin (alone, if 305 or newer) and Polar HRM. Polar and Garmin are my choices. There are many other options. The Garmin will keep a pace history of all the 10 min. intervals along with the 2 min. recovery sets.

Let me know if I can help you further. If you provide me with some of your run times, I can help you establish a base pace for your LT test. Time Trial tests really should be done every 3-4 weeks for each discipline (swim, bike, run).

Good Luck!
Coach Susan Kelly
Youth & Junior Elite USA Triathlon Certified Coach, NASM Personal Trainer, Level II USA Triathlon & Level II ASCA (swim) Certified Coach

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