Understanding and Raising the Lactate Threshold, Part 1

For years, lactate threshold (LT) has been referred to by athletes and coaches as one of the most useful metrics to determine the upper limits of sustaining high-intensity power, endurance, and, ultimately, performance. It is useful to think of lactate threshold as a glass ceiling—an invisible barrier that once raised will increase performance potential. Understanding what LT is and how it fits within your training plan, and knowing how to describe it in the context of an indoor cycling studio, will go a long way in helping your riders conceptualize what their bodies are experiencing.

This is the first part in a series on lactate threshold training. This series will define the different energy development systems and lactate threshold, discuss the benefits of training at lactate threshold, and then explain how it benefits our typical indoor cycling participants. It will cover some of the most effective types of field tests and highlight the relationship between FTP and threshold. Finally, we will conclude with the best ways to cue and train to improve LT so that you may start working with your members right away.

Physiologically, the factors determining LT are complex. So complex, in fact, that it is often referred to and used in training incorrectly. Essentially, blood lactate levels serve as an indirect marker for biomechanical events within exercising muscles. An individual’s LT determines the ability of their muscles to match energy supply to energy demand and determine at which point muscle fatigue is imminent, leading to decreased performance. By understanding LT, an athlete—or an exerciser (in the case of our class participants who do not compete)—can learn to stave off fatigue, allowing them to extend their workouts and do more to increase their fitness.

Energy development systems of the body

2 Responses to “Understanding and Raising the Lactate Threshold, Part 1”

  1. Jacqueline Maniscalco says:

    Love the analogy and look forward to the rest of the series! One of the frequent questions my riders ask is about HR and power zones, as they are familiar with “anaerobic” and “functional” thresholds as terms but would like to understand how they are related or different.

    • Karyn Silenzi says:

      Glad you liked the article Jacqueline! Parts 3&4 will go into field tests and more analogies you can quickly describe and cue that address those shifts of energy systems.

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