Learn More About Lactate Threshold – my goal for the industry since 2007!

By Jennifer Sage On March 5, 2012 Under Heart Rate Training, Outdoor Cycling

I have been teaching and coaching my indoor cycling classes using lactate threshold-based zones for a long time. In the early 2000’s I was very active in metabolic testing and encouraged my students to have the tests done. That got a little expensive for many of them, so I began to research how field tests were performed outdoors and translated it to the indoor environment. I was using field tests indoors for a few years before deciding to propose it to Mad Dogg Athletics and Spinning as one of my sessions at the next year’s conference.

So, in 2007 I was the first to introduce the concept of field testing to estimate lactate threshold in a Spinning® (or any indoor cycling) class at a major fitness conference*. (First introduced at WSSC in 2007, and later ECA and Can Fit Pro) My goal then was, and continues to be, to utilize the methods used by endurance coaches and physiologists in outdoor cycling to continually improve the level of instruction in the indoor cycling environment so that it is more based on science. The fitness world unfortunately is very slow to change, especially when it comes to cardiovascular training.

Lactate threshold and ventilatory threshold (two very different things but which happen at approximately the same time) are the basis for teaching heart rate and training zones at the Indoor Cycling Association. It is one of my goals to increase the number of instructors who move away from maximum heart rate-based instruction and zones to those that are based on threshold.

But the fact of the matter is that it still continues to be confusing for some instructors and students. That’s why every time I find something that might help you in your understanding of LT, and therefore make it easier for you to explain it to your students, I will post it here on the blog or at ICA.

You are in luck! Bicycling magazine just posted an article on Lactate Threshold 101 which I think may help your understanding of the subject. I so agree with the second paragraph:

“For the longest time, everyone focused his or her training around max heart rate,”says USA Cycling expert coach Margaret Kadlick. “Now we know lactate threshold is much more important. When you raise your LT, you can produce more power at a comfortable heart rate, and that makes you a better rider and racer in every situation.”

For you instructors who are not cyclists, or who have a lot of students who are not cyclists, I will translate that so it is applicable to non-cyclists. It means the following:

When you raise your LT, you can produce more power at a comfortable heart rate, and that makes you a better indoor cyclist who is more fit and burns more calories in every situation.

So, training by LT is not just for cyclists; it works for non-cyclists too. Spread the word!

*clarification: I am sure some wise indoor cycling coaches might have employed field tests in their own clubs long before that, but no mainstream program had introduced them at major conferences for the purpose of exposing a large number of instructors to the concept. CycleOps has always based their training zones on power at LT, though it was to a much more limited (but very lucky) population of instructors.


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4 Comments Add yours

  1. Gary
    March 11, 2012
    12:36 am #comment-1

    Stop wasting time and only train with power.
    The general population will never get it until you put them on CycleOps. Or go to one of Hunter Allen’s work shops.

  2. Jennifer Sage
    March 11, 2012
    1:41 am #comment-2

    Hi Gary,
    I’ve been to a workshop with Hunter Allen. And I do teach instructors how to work with power (in the Indoor Cycling Association), if they are indeed lucky enough to teach where there are power meters on the bikes.

    But remember, this is the fitness industry, not cycling (although my goal is to merge the two in such a way that more and more instructors understand good training science that is employed and perfected with endurance athletes). Unfortunately, it will be a very very long time before power becomes ubiquitous in indoor clubs. Its starting…..but there is a long way to go. So in the meantime, it’s important to continue to teach instructors and students to train with heart rate, and very important, in my opinion, for instructors to understand the physiology of exercise. Hence, even if you do have power, one should know about LT and what it means on a physiological level. I’m just trying to get them to switch from MHR zones – endurance cycling and other athletes ditched it a long time ago! Fitness industry is very slow to respond….

    However, to your point about “only train with power”….I believe that even if you do have a power meter, whether indoor training or outdoors, you should still use a HR monitor. Very few top level coaches completely ditch HR. Surely it’s secondary, because power (as you know) is so much more valid and reliable of an indicator of effort. You probably know that most of the TDF riders still wear HRMs, not to determine their effort level – that is via their power meter (as a percentage of their FTP). The HR tells them how their body is responding to that particular output and can indicate when there may be problems, such as illness, stress or potential over-reaching. The “heads-up” it gives you can help avoid potential problems (for example, at a given power output, the HR responds in a different way than it normally does – either too high or too low). Thus, the combination of the two (actually, combining perceived exertion as well) are the key to excellent training information.

    • Christine
      March 12, 2012
      11:49 am #comment-3

      Completely agree Jennifer! Just wanted to add my 2 cents worth to Gary’s comment too. I’ve been running my cycle participants through field tests ( based on yours, thanks :)) that determine their power and HR at LT. We give them cards with their zones ranges for both, using the Keiser M3 bikes. We’re finding that the power is most useful on the bike that the test was done on, but you can’t always get that same bike each time in IC classes. Because the power is only an estimate with these bikes, linked to the gears as I understand, they change over time. We find that we have a bunch of bikes that ride easy, some normal, and some hard – for the numbers that come up. We can at least tell participants what kind of bikes read similarly to the one they did their test on, but it’s not as reliable. So, upshot of all that is that I agree that power is best, but in IC classes, even with bikes with power we still need HR to back it up, on the Keisers at least.

  3. Gary
    March 11, 2012
    3:26 pm #comment-4

    Yes Jennifer,
    I agree with all of this. I too have spent a lot of time training with heart rates( Sally Edward) and her work shops and the Olimpic training camp CS. God luck on your goal with the fitness industry.

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