Learn about the Lactate Threshold from Lucille Ball

By Jennifer Sage On August 7, 2011 Under Heart Rate Training

Happy Birthday, Lucille Ball!

The I Love Lucy show provides one of the most humorous and excellent analogies for the lactate threshold (LT). In honor of Lucille Ball’s 100th birthday, I want to share this hilarious video. I’ve been using this analogy since my early days as a master instructor for Spinning.

When we speak about exercise intensity, we refer to the lactate threshold or LT. LT can be a fairly complicated concept to understand, but this video should help clarify it for you.

What is the lactate threshold? Lactate is a metabolic byproduct of anaerobic glycolysis. Normally, as lactate is produced, the body clears it from the blood and converts it into useable energy. As long as the body can easily clear the lactate, the effort is still at a level that is aerobic. As intensity increases, lactate is produced at a faster rate.

When the body cannot clear it as quickly as it’s being produced, lactate—and the accompanying H+ ions that are produced concurrently— begin to accumulate in the blood. This accumulation can interfere with muscle contraction, and the increasing pH of the blood (due to increased H+) is assumed to be the source of the “burning” sensation in the muscles at anaerobic intensities. (This is the prevailing theory, though science hasn’t proven it conclusively).

Lactate threshold is the point at which lactate production exceeds the body’s ability to clear it. One way to identify LT is to relate it to the specific heart rate where this occurs. Below the lactate threshold, metabolism is predominantly aerobic, and above it, predominantly anaerobic.

You can raise this threshold when you train wisely around it. When you raise your LT, you effectively “buy yourself” a few more heart beats before fatigue sets in. In other words, you can go further, faster, and longer before you are forced to back off or quit.

Translation: you are fitter than you were before.

Think of the chocolates on Lucy and Ethel’s conveyor belt as the “lactate” and wrapping them as the analogy for the body removing the lactate as it’s produced. As long as Lucy and Ethel can wrap the chocolates without a problem, they are still predominantly “aerobic.” At this point, lactate (i.e. chocolate) is still being produced—but it is at a manageable rate.

Then the conveyor belt starts to speed up. The ladies must work harder to wrap the chocolates, but it is still possible to do it without losing one. With more training, they could go even faster. However, there comes a point when the chocolates arrive at a rate that is too fast, and they begin to accumulate. When this happens, Lucy and Ethel have exceeded their “chocolate wrapping threshold!” In other words,  they’ve exceeded the lactate threshold.

Now, the point when Lucy and Ethel begin stuffing the chocolates into their shirts and mouths—they have totally redlined it and are fully anaerobic! They will surely not be able to maintain that for very long at all!

Imagine different people with various levels of training in wrapping chocolates. Some will be able to go faster and longer before they reach their “wrapping threshold,” but at some point, everyone will be unable to keep up and the chocolates will start to accumulate.

Very experienced wrappers are like highly trained athletes…they have much higher thresholds.

Knowing your LT (or your approximate LT) is one of the more important ways to increase your fitness and performance.

Thank you, Lucille Ball, for so many years of fun and laughter, and most especially for this video!


1 Trackback

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    February 15, 2014 4:12 PM

3 Comments Add yours

  1. KeiferB
    August 7, 2011
    12:56 pm #comment-1

    That has to be the most creative way to describe this topic, and it makes it easier to get new riders to understand the concept.

  2. Doris Thews
    March 12, 2012
    9:37 pm #comment-2

    Brilliant explanation!: )

  3. S Paterson
    October 7, 2016
    7:19 pm #comment-3

    This is absolutely the best and succinct explanation and illustration for LT. LOVE IT! Plus I’m a huge fan of Lucy’s 😉 Thanks!

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