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Lactate threshold testing - why bother?


This is a very exciting time for me. With the help of Revolution Human Performance, and their humble and amazing owners Morgan and Dion, I have been hired to coach strength, conditioning and movement, but also to implement more testing and measurement. With my main background being exercise physiology, it seemed appropriate to start measuring athlete's aerobic fitness, because many were focusing solely on strength, and paying less attention to their ability to recover and build up a large base/capacity to do work. Many athletes were reporting that their energy levels were shot by the last game of a tournament, that they couldn't make it through training camp tests, and that their idea of incorporating fitness into their strength program was HIIT (high intensity interval training). This is where the lactate threshold test comes in, and where things get interesting.

Lactate is produced in the blood even as we are resting. Red blood cells produce lactate constantly, so if we measured your lactate right now as you sit and read this post, it would be between 0.1 and 2 mmol/L most likely. During exercise, lactate is a product of anaerobic metabolism (the system that produces energy via glucose, and doesn't need oxygen to make energy). For the lactate threshold test, we measure an athlete's blood lactate as they cycle during 3 minute increments of increasing power outputs. From that, we start to see "breakpoints" arise:

As depicted in a sample lactate threshold test above, the test includes - 3 min submaximal stages starting at a low, warm-up intensity, to a moderately hard intensity

- This is followed by 1 minute increments to "max", where the end of the test is known when the athlete cannot maintain a cadence within 15 rpm's of their self-selected testing cadence. - Lactate samples and heart rates are taken/measured at every stage. Lactate is measured through a small prick to the finger, to test a small sample of blood. - From this, we can accurately find a person's aerobic and anaerobic threshold, which gives us the ability to plan cardiovascular training based on test results.

- Individualized training zones are given to the athlete to start a more tailored program to their weaknesses and strengths.

Length of test: Usually between 9-15 minutes Prerequisites: Cleared for safe exercise via PAR-Q or doctor. AND a desire to train smarter.

As stated above, after 3 minute increments on the bike to find lactate thresholds 1 (aerobic) and 2 (anaerobic), we typically add in a Maximal aerobic power (MAP) test, found via 1 minute-increments of 25W until the athlete cannot maintain their cadence. This portion is easily done as a continuation of the lactate test. This portion, unlike the lactate threshold test, is a maximal effort, so it requires mental toughness and a high level of motivation. With the knowledge of an athletes thresholds and MAP together, I can calculate what % their thresholds are relative to MAP and this gives me a good idea of where to prescribe training.

Now for the cool part.

Below are the results of the first 8 athlete's I've tested in the gym so far. Think of the top edge of the blue box as their first threshold, the top of the red box as their second (anaerobic) threshold, and the top of the orange box as their MAP (maximal aerobic power), or as I like to think of it, their aerobic "ceiling".

As you can see, there are a variety of different athletes in the gym. All of these athletes are within 15 years age of eachother, but for example, the female soccer player is the youngest, perhaps represented in her lower thresholds and MAP as compared to the other athletes. Also, males typically have a higher MAP than females, in part due to their genetic makeup, hormones, and muscular differences from females.

If all these athletes were to run a 30-60minute race, who would win? In theory, you can hold a pace that is just below the top of the red box for about this time period, but if it was a running race, factors such as tendon stiffness, muscle torques relative to bone lengths, and overall efficiency would play a big role in who would win. If all else was equal, the male athlete 3rd from the left would likely win, as he would have the highest speed maintainable as compared to the other athletes.

Another point of interest is the size of each person's blue box. This represents the athlete's "aerobic base", and ability to recover. The bigger the base, most likely the higher the rest (higher thresholds, higher max), because of the ability to recover from high training bouts. A big base indicates a lot of hours sub aerobic threshold, and physiologically, it means the athlete has a good strong heart, has developed many blood vessels to help transport oxygen, and has undergone "central adaptations". I like to think of long slow, distance work as "hard to get, hard to lose".

HIIT is a very popular form of exercise because it doesn't take very much time, it feels hard, and you leave feeling accomplished and sweaty. HIIT helps modify the enzymes at the muscle level, the fiber composition of the muscle, and the ability of the muscle to uptake oxygen more readily. I like to think of HIIT as "easy to get, easy to lose".

"Hard to get, hard to lose" OR "easy to get, easy to lose". What if we could have a combination of both!!! We all want easy to get, hard to lose training adaptations so that we can put in the least work possible and get the biggest return. Adding in aerobic work can be boring, and time consuming, but at the end of the day, the adaptations, once had, are structural. If you have a big base, and get injured and can't train for a month, these structural adaptation that you've gained will help you to recover, as well as not lose all the training you had worked so hard to get in the first place.

Even athletes that are speed athletes can benefit from aerobic work, as increasing aerobic capacity will help with recovery both long and short term. It is common to see the sport of Bobsled as a 4-6 second output sport, but you have multiple days of training runs, competition days, and most critical events like World Championships occur late in the season, so recovery is crucial. If you are not fit enough to recover between sets, days and weeks the odds of having quality maximal RFD becomes low, so how much adaptation to the speed work will one get if they cannot tolerate the work load necessary to do so?

Yours in health,

#VitalStrength

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