Lactic Training Basics

Last week, we covered a little bit about the lactic threshold and what it means to you as an athlete. We also talked about how you can find your own lactic threshold (the point at which your body produces lactate more quickly than it can use it) with an easy at-home test. For this installment, though, we’re going to focus on how you can improve your lactic threshold.


What’s The Point?

Just by means of review, let’s take a look at what a low lactic threshold means. Lactic acid is produced by your muscles all day, every day. Usually, though, it appears in small enough quantities that your body can get it away from your muscles and convert it back into fuel. During short bouts of high intensity exercise, though, like a sprint, lactic acid is produced at much higher rates. At this point, it can’t be shuttled away fast enough and your muscles become acidic. This is where that burning, cramping exhaustion comes in.

Now that you know what too much lactic acid does to you, and it’s probably a feeling you know all-too-well, let’s consider what you can do to improve the situation.


Lactic Threshold Training

Before you can start working to improve your lactic threshold, you have to know what it is. Refer back to last week’s post to read about the self-administered test. For lactic acid training, a heart rate monitor would be extremely useful. Or, if you don’t have one, you can use a 1-10 scale where 1 is very easy and 10 is your absolutely maximum effort.

There are several different approaches to lactic acid training but, the theory behind them remains the same: Flood your muscles with lactic acid for extended periods and force them to adapt.

  1. Interval Training – This includes the ever-popular High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) and requires you to rotate between periods of high intensity with low intensity active rest. Since your lactic threshold is highly individual and cannot easily be measured without specialized equipment, fartlek training is a great way to improve your lactic threshold. The basic idea is to gradually increase the amount of time you’re about to spend at or just above your lactic threshold, at about a 7 or 8 out of 10. Start slow, with sprints of just one minute and work your way up.
  2. Tempo Runs – More clinically called “maximal steady-state exercise,” this approach has you run at your lactic threshold for the entire workout. Because of the inherently challenging nature of these runs, experts recommend that they should account for no more than 10% of your weekly total workout time. So, if you run for 200 minutes each week, your tempo run would only be 20 minutes long.
  3. Volume Training – This approach takes a longer view and involves gradually increasing your total workout time for the week. To do so safely, lengthen your runs by 10-20% each week and keep the intensity at about a 5 or 6 out of 10.

Ideally, all of these techniques should be used together to complement each other. For example, start out by increasing your volume. Then, add in a tempo run. Commit one day per week to be your interval training day and use it to work on your sprints.

What techniques for increasing your lactic threshold have you tried? Please share your experiences in the comments.





Test For Your Own Lactic Threshold

Anything that holds you back and makes you slow down – or, even worse, stop – your training can be a huge source of frustration. After all, as an athlete, you are all about pushing yourself past your limits. When you start to feel that burning exhaustion in your muscles, though, it can feel like your body is turning on you. What is that terrible internal roadblock and what can you do?


What’s Really Going On

At any given time, your body is using a mix of two different processes to create the ATP your muscles need. The first method, aerobic respiration, uses oxygen to break down glycogen and fat. The other approach, anaerobic respiration, doesn’t require oxygen at all to produce that valuable ATP.

When exercise intensity gets high enough, though, you start to use up more oxygen then you’re breathing in. For example, short but intense activities like sprinting generally fall into the anaerobic category.

But problems happen when demand exceeds supply.

At this point, anaerobic respiration becomes your body’s primary fuel source since it can’t count of a steady oxygen supply. As a byproduct of ATP production, lactic acid is also created. Usually, lactic acid is produced at a slow enough rate that your body can get rid of it without much fuss but things change when anaerobic respiration takes over. Lactic acid is produced too quickly and it quantities that are too high for your body to efficiently clean up.

This point, when your body switches to anaerobic respiration and lactic acid production speeds up, is called the lactic (or anaerobic) threshold. It’s this acidic build-up that your muscles start to burn and shut down because they can’t work as efficiently in the newly-created high acid environment.

The good news is that you can train for this and improve your lactic threshold, allowing you to exercise at higher intensities for longer periods of time.

But first, you have to know what your personal lactic threshold is.


Testing Your Limits

Traditionally, finding your lactic threshold was a big ordeal that required specialized equipment and trained operators. Usually, you would have to pay a laboratory to conduct the test for you.

To try to come up with a inexpensive and more accessible alternative, some coaches have come up with field test that are designed to estimate an athlete’s lactic threshold. While these tests have been shown to be fairly accurate, they also tend to be extremely difficult. For example, one test involves running as far as you can in 30 minutes and taking the average heart for your last 10 minutes of the run.

Fortunately, researchers at Munich Technical University have recently experimented with a test you can do on your own without completely killing yourself. Start out by strapping on a heart rate monitor and setting yourself up to run. You can also cycle if you prefer. After a 2 or 3 minute warmup, gradually start increasing the intensity of your workout. Each time you step it up, note your perceived exertion on a scale of 1 to 10. When you hit 6 on the exertion scale, note your heart rate. That’s your lactic threshold.

Knowing this number for yourself is key in designing endurance training programs. In a future post, we’ll talk more about how to improve your lactic threshold.






Breakfast of Champions

 Image courtesy of rakratchada torsap/

Image courtesy of rakratchada torsap/

We all know breakfast is the most important meal of the day. As you starved your body while sleeping, you need to provide energy soon after waking by taking in healthy calories. Especially if you’re a morning runner, you need to feed your body with the proper amount of complex carbohydrates and protein. Here are a few breakfast options for runners:

Turkey bacon

Adding 12 grams of protein to your breakfast and a tasty change from a standard protein shake, turkey bacon is the perfect addition to a breakfast sandwich. Toast two pieces of whole wheat toast and add two pieces of turkey bacon and a lettuce and tomato. It’s a breakfast BLT, and the lettuce adds in some necessary ruffage for digestion.

Steel cut oatmeal

Oatmeal sticks to your insides and makes you feel fuller longer. It will tide you over to lunch and provides the complex carbohydrates runners need. But to make it a little more flavorful, try adding in craisins, cut up apples for ruffage, and raisins. You’ll add a little fruit to your diet as well as sweeten up the otherwise dry steel cut oats.


As the standard go-to breakfast and by far the most popular, cereal is the easiest to eat–just toss it into a bowl. However, just perusing the grocery aisle, you’ll notice how sugary your choices. Instead, look for cereal with high protein and high fiber content. They are often a little more pricey, but worth the extra money–it’s your health after all. Instead of adding in milk, try switching out to rice or soy milk. Millions suffer from lactose intolerance and don’t even know. Switching out your dairy choice may make your running better because you won’t be suffering from gastrointestinal problems.

Egg whites

Cook an egg white omelet and add in spinach and any other vegetables you like. Spinach will make this even more protein packed.


Benefits of Peanuts for Breakfast

Peanuts or, more specifically, peanut butter, have long been part of the athlete’s bag of tricks. High in protein, healthy fats and fiber, peanut butter is a nearly perfect food to fuel your training. A new study, published in the British Journal of Nutrition, has found yet another reason to find some way to sneak peanuts or peanut butter into your diet.


What they found

Over the course of the study, the researchers observed something that they referred to as the “second meal effect,” wherein peanuts showed an amazing ability to regulate the subjects’ blood sugar even if they ate a carb-loaded lunch.

A peanut-based breakfast also helped to keep the subjects feeling fuller late into the day, therefore restricting the amount of calories they ate. For up to 12-hours after they ate peanuts, the subjects showed elevated levels of the hormone peptide YY, which makes you feel full.

While the exact mechanisms at work here aren’t completely understood, the researchers theorized that it’s most likely the combination of protein, fat and fiber that gives peanut butter all these benefits.


Why It Matters

Researchers are only just starting to fully understand the importance of blood sugar control for the athlete and casual exerciser alike but, it’s clear that the effects of this reaction are far-reaching. Besides the terrible, frustrating, sometimes debilitating blood sugar crashed we’ve all experienced, your insulin reaction can have a huge impact on your fitness levels.

Insulin, the hormone that’s released when sugar enters your body, acts a messenger to let your body know that it’s time to use some nutrients and store others. That means that, under insulin’s direction, any calories that don’t have an immediate use get stored as body fat. If your insulin levels are consistently high, your body will continue to build up more fat reserves.

You don’t want that.

On the other hand, healthy insulin levels make sure that your muscles get all the nutrients they need to recover and rebuild from exercise. Clearly, then, maintaining balanced blood sugar levels throughout the day is important to, not just your energy levels, but your overall health.


Picking The Right Butter

It’s true that the above-noted study said that you could eat either peanuts or peanut butter to get these benefits, but chances are pretty good you’ll want to opt for the butter since it’s easier to pair with other foods or mix into recipes. When selecting your peanut butter, go as natural as possible. Avoid low-fat options, since these typically have unreasonably high levels of fat and sugar. Plus, the fat in peanut butter is highly beneficial and partly responsible for the benefits we’ve discussed. As unattractive as it might sound, or look, you want a butter that has a layer of fatty oil collected at the top of the jar.



IDEA Fitness Journal: Peanuts Can Curb Appetite


Superbowl-Sized Running Workouts

race-day-720x288In honor of two massive sports events happening in the same week: the Superbowl and the Olympics, I asked a few running coaches for a super-sized workout. A FARTLEK is best completed once or twice per week for long-distance runners. However, sprinters will run them at almost every workout. Try these out for a month or two and see if your times start to decrease:

Track Workout:
800m warm up
4 x 400m pick ups every 400m; all out sprint on last 400m
2 x 400m resting jog
4 x 400m pickups every 400m; try to sprint as hard as possible on last 400m.
800m cool down

Total distance: 3.5 miles
*To make it as challenging as possible, try for a negative split on the last 400m sprint against the first 400m sprint.

Treadmill Workout:
6 min. warm up
4 minute increase in speed
1 minute rest. Do not stop. Just lower the speed.
4 minute increase in speed, at least .2 miles/hour faster than previous increase
1 minute rest. Do not stop. Lower speed to jog.
4 minute increase in speed, at least .2 miles/hour faster than previous increase
1 minute rest
4 minute increase in speed, all out sprint
5 minute cool down. You can walk the cool down if you need.

Total time: 30 minutes
*To make it more challenging, try adding .4 miles/hour faster with each pick up. This will shock your body and build your lactate threshold.

Cross-Train Workout
We all know we can’t run every day. We need a complete day off at least once a week to rest the muscles, but it is a good idea to add in a cross training day and switch it out for running. You’ll work different muscles while still keeping up your cardiovascular shape. One of the best ways to cross train is swimming.

250m warm up
5 x 50m pick ups, start out slow
Rest 1 minute
50m all out sprint
200m at your regular speed
250m cool down

Total distance: 1000m

Good luck on your training!