Everyone is talking about lactate threshold these days, from the girls on the treadmill to the bros in the pool. But how many people really know what it is?
What is your threshold?
To understand lactate threshold better, let’s compare our body to a race car in one of those retro arcade racing games. Said race car has two modes: regular mode and turbo mode. While in regular mode it can go fast and it burns regular fuel. However, to accelerate quicker or hit higher top speeds it needs to keep on using regular mode and enter turbo mode on top of that.
So why not race in turbo mode all the time? Well, there’s a catch. As soon as our race car enters turbo mode it starts burning turbo fuel, and it starts rapidly creating a gunky build up that will eventually halt the engine. So, in order to win the race, the car needs to operate in regular mode as much as possible and only use turbo mode when needed.
And so it is with our bodies.
Like our friend the race car, our bodies have two modes: aerobic and anaerobic. Most of the time our body functions primarily in aerobic mode, burning oxygen, carbs, and water. However, in times of vigorous exercise, our bodies may not be able to suck in oxygen quick enough to provide for our hungry muscles. To make up for the lack of oxygen, our body supplements aerobic metabolism with anaerobic metabolism. This provides an extra boost of speed, strength, or duration; however, it is not sustainable. When our body turns on anaerobic metabolism, it also increases production of lactate and other byproducts which lead to fatigue.
Well, this is all great but where is the lactate threshold?
So lactate threshold is the point when the body begins producing more lactate than it can process and the lactate starts building up. Put simply, lactate threshold is the “line between aerobic and anaerobic,” said Dennis Barker. He’s the head coach of Team Running USA. In our race car analogy, it’s the line between regular mode and turbo mode.
So know that we understand lactate threshold, how do we use it for the win?
How to Leverage It.
Well now that we understand lactate threshold, leveraging it is the easy part. Referring back to the race car analogy, the main principle is to increase the power of regular mode so the car can race as fast and as long as possible in regular mode, reserving turbo mode for the last resort. In other words, building our aerobic ability.
Well, how do we build our anaerobic ability?
Building our anaerobic zone breaks down to three main points.
- Exercise more
- Exercise often at lactate threshold
- And sometimes do interval training above lactate threshold.
In the end, it’s pretty simple, and your game–whatever it may be–will thank you for upping your lactate threshold. Check out the original research by Len Kravitz, PhD for more insights.