Lactate Threshold: Tapping Your Aerobic Exercise Potential

If you want to take your aerobic exercise to its fullest potential, you need to be aware of your lactate threshold. It has a pretty solid impact on the intensity and duration of your workouts. This guide will explain the basics of lactate threshold and how it influences your aerobic exercise.

What Is Lactate Threshold?

Lactate threshold is the moment in which the production of lactate in your body is greater than your body’s ability to remove it. Lactate is a by-product produced during all levels of intensity during exercise. Even a task as simple as sitting up from a chair produces lactate in your body.

Light to moderate exercise produces lactate in quantities that are easy for your body to remove. However, with high-intensity workouts, your body produces lactate so quickly that it can no longer remove it at the same rate as the lactate is being produced.

Therefore, your body becomes overloaded with lactate, causing what athletes know as “the burn,” bringing on fatigue and reduction of power in muscle contractions (which causes an inability to continue working with the same intensity).

Because of this, lactate threshold is considered by most coaches and trainers as the most accurate measurement of endurance.

How Is Lactate Threshold Measured?

Lactate threshold is usually measured as a percentage of your VO2Max, which is your body’s maximum potential for workout intensity. There are 2 ways to estimate your lactate threshold.

One way is through tests conducted in a laboratory. You begin the test by performing a workout at 50 to 60 % of your VO2Max on a treadmill or stationary bicycle. Every 4 to 5 minutes, your heart rate is measured, blood samples are taken, and the intensity of the workout is increased. At some point before VO2Max is reached, your levels of lactate in the blood will spike, meaning that the current level of intensity is beyond the lactate threshold.

Another method of determining lactate threshold is by performing a high intensity workout for 30 minutes. Make sure to warm up for 15 minutes first, and use the first 10 minutes of the workout to steadily work your way to your highest intensity for the final 20 minutes.

Measuring your average heart rate during the last 20 minutes of the workout will give you your heart rate during lactate threshold. You can also use a power meter to measure your average power of this last 20 minutes to determine your power output at lactate threshold.

Typical Lactate Threshold Values

  • An average untrained person can reach lactate threshold at around 50 to 60 percent of VO2Max.
  • The average athlete can reach lactate threshold at around 65 to 80 percent of VO2Max.
  • Elite or high endurance athletes can reach lactate threshold at around 85 to 95 percent of VO2Max.

How to Increase Your Lactate Threshold

  • Interval training. Perform 3 to 5 workouts for 10 minutes at 95 to 105 percent of your lactate threshold 2 times a week.
  • High intensity training. Weekly, perform 1 workout for 20 to 30 minutes at 95 to 105 percent of your lactate threshold.
  • Diet. Proper nutrition is required if you want to do lactate threshold training without running out of glycogen stores.

If you want to perform high intensity aerobic exercise, it is important to understand your lactate threshold. By knowing what your threshold is, you know how long you can perform a workout for a specific intensity. If you want to train longer and more intensely, you will need to train to increase your lactate intensity.


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