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Spinning® and indoor cycling instructors: It’s time to get that “lactate thing” right!

By Jennifer Sage On September 10, 2012 Under General Fitness and Health, Heart Rate Training

While I’m not an exercise physiologist (and I try not to play one on the Internet!), I do want to bang my head against the wall at times when I read articles that state, or hear commentators on TV (or worse, fitness or Spinning® instructors) say things like, “lactic acid makes you sore” or “lactic acid makes you slow down” or “you’ve got to spin the legs to get rid of the lactate.” I can only imagine when a scientist reads or hears these things—to them it must be like someone saying the earth is flat.

Alex Hutchinson, a scientist whose blog I avidly read (and whose book I refer to like the bible), just wrote a post called “The Unkillable Lactate Myth” in which he speaks about how this myth just refuses to go away, no matter how much research to the contrary is published. In his post, he is referring to another much more in-depth article from Letsrun.com called “Why is Everyone Still so Confused About Lactate?” by Mathew Goodwin, PhD. Goodwin was responding to the number of references during the recent London Olympics made by ill-informed journalists on what was happening to the athletes on a physiological level, such as when they fatigued. Too often they got it wrong, which perpetuates the misinformation to an even larger audience. You can see why this myth won’t go away!

In the fitness industry, we should know better than to spew antiquated or unproven theories, especially more than these journalists on television. Sadly, that is not always the case. I have a feeling it’s because instructors and trainers—especially those without a formal science background—had to work so hard to try to understand aerobic metabolism, glycolysis, and lactate threshold, that they don’t want to spend the time to unlearn those things they convinced themselves they should know! We want so badly to believe that what we learn is black and white, set in stone, so we don’t have to take the time to try to understand it again.

It’s futile, believe me! Not the learning of these things—as instructors we must must MUST learn muscle physiology in order to truly understand how to increase strength, endurance, and power, and to know how the body burns calories, so that we may correctly guide our students to greater success in fitness and weight loss. What is futile is to think that our understanding of how the body works will not change. There have been some great strides made in the past decade, even the last few years, of our understanding of exercise physiology, yet there is still so much we don’t know. The knowledge of the exercise science community is in a constant state of flux. Don’t let that hinder you from learning more; instead, welcome the opportunity to continue learning. The body is fascinating! Read! Keep learning! Enjoy the new information, and try not to be so adamant about sticking to unproven theories or dated methodologies (such as maximum heart rate equations, another pet peeve of mine).

My suggestion is to read the above two articles several times, especially the Goodwin article on the lactate confusion. Even if your background isn’t in science, but you are a trainer and/or Spinning instructor (or instructor of any other indoor cycling program), try to read it as intensely as you can muster. Spend extra time on paragraphs four and five (muscle cell metabolism) and the part about cooling down to “flush lactic acid.” The second to last paragraph on whether lactate causes fatigue is also very interesting, but he admits that what they know now is just a theory, and not 100% proven, so as a scientist he cannot say for sure. However, they do not believe that lactate causes fatigue, rather that it is likely caused by increased acidosis caused by the accumulation of protons created as lactate is formed.

Then go back and read it all again.

Why? So you can get it out of your head that lactic acid is bad, or that lactate slows you down, or that it is something you have to get rid of.

At the Indoor Cycling Association, it is my goal to provide the most current knowledge of how to optimally train your students to be stronger, more fit, and to lose more weight, based on proper application of exercise science training principles. It is articles like these on which we base our education. But believe me, I am learning new things all the time, right along with you—this article by Goodwin is one I’ll be printing out and referring to for a long time as it greatly enhanced my understanding of muscle physiology! And when I am in doubt of something, I’ll call my number one resource, Dr. Jennifer Klau, exercise physiologist and former Spinning® MI. If you are an ICA member and have a specific exercise physiology question that you need answered, feel free to send your question to Ask the Expert at info@indoorcyclingassociation.com. If I can’t answer it, I’ll call Dr. Klau and pick her brain for you!

EDIT: An ICA member sent me another good article to add to the list on how (and why) lactate builds up. It’s from Scientific American.

1 Comment Add yours

  1. Bob casement
    February 9, 2014
    6:02 am #comment-1

    Great information.

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