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Lactate Threshold Training Program

Using an Indoor Rower

Lactate threshold is the best overall predictor of endurance performance in athletes and non-athletes alike. It is also a great precursor for the capacity to perform at extremely high intensities for periods longer than 30 seconds. For this reason I believe it is an important aspect of fitness to develop for everyone. With an increased lactate threshold the athlete is able to maintain higher intensities for longer resulting in better performance.

What is Lactate and why do I need to Care About its Threshold?

Lactate is a metabolic bi-product produced by the breakdown of carbohydrates. Ever since lactate has been studied it has been associated with decreased performance because it makes the muscles “burn” resulting in a decrease in one’s capacity to exert the same level of output.

This has recently been proven to be incorrect. Lactate is indeed <I>associated</I> with a drop in performance, however this does not mean that it causes that drop. This drop in performance is actually connected to the build-up of hydrogen ions in the muscles. Lactate has been shown to actually buffer the acidosis in the muscle by accepting the excess hydrogen ions in their biochemical structure. These hydrogen ions would otherwise impair performance. It is the increased buffering capacity that allows lactate/lactic acid to be utilised most efficiently resulting in increased performance.

The lactate threshold is the fastest pace at which a person is physically capable of aerobically sustaining the activity without fatiguing excessively. This means that the person with the higher lactate threshold is able to sustain a higher level for longer. The person with the lower lactate threshold has to maintain a slower pace in order to sustain it over a period of time, otherwise the anaerobic energy system becomes the dominant one in place for that activity and eventually the person is given no choice but to slow down. So it pays to conditioning the lactate threshold in order to maintain higher intensities for longer periods of time.

This program is designed to increase an individual’s lactate threshold primarily for the benefit of increasing endurance performance. I must warn you though; any training at or over anaerobic/lactate threshold is incredibly intense and needs a fair amount of psychological “toughness” in order to make the best use of the training.

For this program we will use the Concept Two rower or a similar indoor rower. These are often found at most gyms and recreation centres or you can simply buy one yourself.  DO NOT under any circumstances use one of those hydraulic rowers. They simply do not provide the same stimulus as an air resisted rower or water rower.

The following program is designed to be followed over a continuous period of time as opposed to a set timeframe. If you choose to though you can follow it for 8-12 weeks for a lactate threshold boost. The program is structured in an 11 day cycle with three days on and one off with a three day rest after each 12 day cycle. 

Be sure to record all your results. This is important to gauge progress.

Initial Fitness Assessment

In order to establish an approximate intensity it is important to test it. The following fitness assessment can be used to assess your approximate lactate threshold.

Set the rower for 2000 metres and row the distance in the shortest time possible. When you feel yourself dropping off, back off the intensity until you are at an intensity that you can only just maintain. Push yourself to a level that you find you just can’t keep pace with then back it off a little. That pace is your approximate anaerobic/lactate threshold.

Workout One: Anaerobic Threshold (Endurance)

Set the rower to 5000 metres. Row the distance at the pace established in the initial fitness assessment. Every 1000 metres increase the pace just slightly for 100 metres at a time.

Workout Two: Anaerobic Capacity (Intensity)

Set the rower for intervals of one minute with 20 seconds of rest between intervals. Perform 12 total intervals at maximum pace. Record the number of intervals rowed in each interval.

Workout Three: Anaerobic Power (Intensity)

This workout follows what is called the Tabata protocol. Set the rower for 20 second intervals with 10 seconds rest. Do eight intervals in this fashion then rest two minutes. Complete a total of five Tabatas. This should be performed using the maximum power that is humanly possible. Keep the pukie bucket nearby because I must warn you that it can make you a little nauseous at first.

HAVE A REST DAY AFTER WORKOUT THREE

Workout Four: Volume Workout

Start by performing a moderate pace row for 2000 metres. Now set the rower for 20 second intervals with 10 seconds rest. Perform one Tabata with maximum intensity. Now set the rower for 5000 metres and row at just below lactate threshold (the intensity you established in the initial assessment). Every 1000 metres row just above that intensity for 200 metres. This is a rather long workout and will take between 40-60 minutes, relatively long considering the intensity.

Workout Five: Anaerobic Capacity (Intensity)

Set the rower for 500 metres. Row 500 metres at maximum pace. Repeat for a total of 10 x 500 metre efforts with one minute rest between each. Record your time for each effort.

Workout Six: Anaerobic Power (Intensity)

Set the rower for 10 second intervals with 10 seconds rest. Complete a total of 50 intervals. Rest for two minutes after every 10 intervals. The idea here is to get as much power as possible for each 10 second effort.

REST DAY

Workout Seven: Volume Workout

Set the rower for 10,000 metres. Row the entire distance in the following pattern; 20 strokes easy, 20 strokes moderate, 20 strokes hard, 20 strokes maximum. Repeat this pattern over the whole distance.

Workout Eight: Anaerobic Capacity (Intensity)

Set the rower for 700 metres. Row 700 metres at maximum pace. Repeat for a total of 8 x 700 metre efforts with one minute rest between each. Record your time for each effort.

Workout Nine: Lactate Threshold (Endurance/Intensity)

Set the rower to 5000 metres and simply row the distance in the fastest possible time. Have three minutes rest and do the same for 2000 metres.

Rest three days and repeat the cycle. This lactate threshold training program will be extremely intense and difficult at times. If you stick to it with consistency and always aim to improve upon previous efforts you will notice an extreme improvement in both endurance and short, high intensity efforts. Fitness assessments should be conducted every four weeks so as to re-establish intensities. Oh, and forget target heart rates and all that rubbish, it really means nothing in terms of overall performance. 

One last thing, this program is not just for athletes. The average Joe can become virtually elite by following this regime. Increasing lactate threshold burns a heck of a lot of calories and increases metabolic rate by approximately 30 percent. This program should be combined with a well structured nutrition plan and supplementary training such as resistance training.

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Chris Lyons is an experienced strength and conditioning coach, having trained athletes of all ages and levels since 2002. Chris specialises in coaching athletes for speed and power specific to fast-moving sports such as rugby league, rugby union, soccer, Aussie rules football etc. Since 2002 Chris has conducted close to 15,000 hours of training and coaching directly with athletes and members of the general population. From this experience comes Sprint Ninja, based on tried and tested training methods combined with up to date research. Chris continues to challenge himself not only as a coach, but also as an athlete, competing in sprinting events, strongman and Olympic-style weightlifting.

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