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.