Lactate train­ing

Trainer Jonathan Francis from One Per­for­mance UK ex­plains how you can feel the burn and use it to go faster for longer

Triathlon Plus - - Welcome - Words Jonathan Francis

We ex­plain how you can go harder for longer

I’m cer­tain ev­ery triath­lete, whether am­a­teur or pro­fes­sional, has hit the wall dur­ing train­ing or in com­pe­ti­tion. It’s that feel­ing when they are close to com­plete fa­tigue and un­able to sus­tain a given pace or level of ex­er­tion. The reach­ing of “the wall” for each in­di­vid­ual com­peti­tor will oc­cur at a dif­fer­ent point, and it would be fool­ish to be­lieve that you can com­pletely re­move the chance of this oc­cur­ring. How­ever it’s im­por­tant to recog­nise how you can shape your train­ing to de­lay this as much as pos­si­ble. This will al­low you to per­form to your max­i­mum and be the best triath­lete you pos­si­bly can be.

Of­ten, par­tic­u­larly when start­ing out, triath­letes as­sume they need to run, swim, and cy­cle for long pe­ri­ods of time. While it is un­de­ni­ably use­ful and nec­es­sary to build an en­durance base across all three events, it is im­por­tant to recog­nise that lay­er­ing with lots of en­durance train­ing is only one part of the plan. A house isn’t con­sid­ered com­plete when the foun­da­tions have been laid, it needs to be built upon. This is also the case for your train­ing lead­ing up to an event.

Triathlon train­ing is not just about how far you can go, it’s about how hard you can go for how long. It’s about both en­durance and in­ten­sity, and both need to be trained in­de­pen­dently. While en­durance train­ing is about find­ing a com­fort­able pace, stroke rhythm or cy­cling ca­dence, in­ten­sity train­ing is about rais­ing the level of ex­er­tion to points of dis­com­fort and train­ing the body to per­form at this level for in­creas­ing amounts of time.

This brings us on nicely to the con­cept of thresh­olds and in par­tic­u­lar the lactate thresh­old and how it plays a key role in triathlon per­for­mance.

EN­ERGY SYS­TEMS

All ex­er­cise re­quires en­ergy. The en­ergy re­quired to move is sup­plied from the break­down of adeno­sine triphos­phate (ATP). The body has lim­ited stores of ATP and would use it up very quickly if our bod­ies didn’t have ways of resyn­the­siz­ing it.

Sim­ply ex­plained there are three en­ergy sys­tems that pro­duce en­ergy:

1 ATP – PC (phos­pho­cre­a­tine). Typ­i­cally as­so­ci­ated with very high power, ex­plo­sive, short du­ra­tion ex­er­cise. 2 Gly­colytic. Moder­ate power over a rel­a­tively short du­ra­tion. 3 Aer­o­bic. Low power for a long du­ra­tion.

Re­mem­ber all these sys­tems are avail­able and “turn on” at the on­set of ex­er­cise. The level of ef­fort re­quired will de­ter­mine which one (or two) is used. In the case of a triathlon, we are talk­ing about the gly­colytic and aer­o­bic sys­tems.

While the aer­o­bic sys­tem may be the dom­i­nant sys­tem at play, huge amounts of en­ergy is de­manded across the course of a triathlon and when this de­mand can’t be met by the aer­o­bic sys­tem alone, the gly­colytic sys­tem picks up the slack. Tech­ni­cally termed “anaer­o­bic” (with­out oxy­gen) the gly­colytic sys­tem is fast but it’s less ef­fi­cient and pro­duces less en­ergy per unit of fuel burned than the aer­o­bic sys­tem.

THRESH­OLDS AND BA­SIC EN­ERGY ME­TAB­O­LISM

Sim­ply put, a thresh­old de­fines the point (or ex­er­cise in­ten­sity) when the en­ergy source (car­bo­hy­drates and fats) your body is us­ing to fuel that ac­tiv­ity sig­nif­i­cantly changes. There are typ­i­cally two thresh­olds or break­points that are passed dur­ing in­cre­men­tal ex­er­cise.

1. AER­O­BIC THRESH­OLD

This is typ­i­cally marked by the up­per limit of ex­er­cise fu­elled al­most ex­clu­sively by aer­o­bic me­tab­o­lism (burn­ing fat as fuel). Ex­er­cise in­ten­sity slightly above this level be­gins to in­crease con­cen­tra­tion of lactate, how­ever this typ­i­cally stays at a con­stant level. Ide­ally for triath­letes this oc­curs at a rel­a­tively high work­load and would in­di­cate a solid aer­o­bic base.

All those miles on the road and me­tres in the pool will re­sult in an in­crease to the aer­o­bic base of a triath­lete, this di­rectly in­flu­ences and im­proves the aer­o­bic thresh­old. These im­prove­ments are sig­nif­i­cant as it would rep­re­sent a greater abil­ity to burn fat as fuel, spar­ing car­bo­hy­drate me­tab­o­lism.

2. ANAER­O­BIC THRESH­OLD

This is typ­i­cally the point where there is a sud­den and sus­tained in­crease in blood lactate con­cen­tra­tion. Once you cross over this thresh­old and rely more heav­ily on anaer­o­bic me­tab­o­lism (fu­elled by car­bo­hy­drate), you are es­sen­tially ex­er­cis­ing on bor­rowed time as more lactate will be pro­duced than can be cleared.

Im­prove­ments in anaer­o­bic thresh­old will con­trib­ute to­wards greater rates/ amounts of lactate buffer­ing or lactate clear­ance. This es­sen­tially is why ap­pro­pri­ate amounts of train­ing in and around your lactate thresh­old is so im­por­tant. You are train­ing your body to pro­duce sus­tained amounts of power and ef­fort while in­creas­ing the abil­ity of the mus­cu­lar sys­tem to re­sist fa­tigue.

LACTATE, EX­ER­CISE AND FA­TIGUE

Let’s take a look at what hap­pens as blood lactate con­cen­tra­tions be­gin to peak in the blood.

Dur­ing anaer­o­bic me­tab­o­lism, car­bo­hy­drates are metabolised by the body. This break­down of glu­cose pro­duces lactate and hy­dro­gen ions. The in­creased pres­ence of hy­dro­gen ions in the blood in­creases its acid­ity. This acidic en­vi­ron­ment af­fects the per­for­mance of your mus­cu­lar sys­tem, ul­ti­mately to the point where you have to slow down or stop. The more work you can do be­fore

reach­ing this point (anaer­o­bic thresh­old) the bet­ter.

Es­sen­tially be­ing able to do more work at or un­der this thresh­old means sus­tain­ing a pace is eas­ier and you will rely more heav­ily on the aer­o­bic sys­tem. Ul­ti­mately this helps you save valu­able en­ergy for when­ever you may need to in­crease ex­er­cise in­ten­sity.

Hav­ing a tremen­dous aer­o­bic base is crit­i­cal to any triath­lete. How­ever, hope­fully now it be­comes clear that it is also im­por­tant to pay at­ten­tion to and, where nec­es­sary, im­prove the lactate thresh­old as a means of sig­nif­i­cantly im­prov­ing over­all per­for­mance.

The aim there­fore of lactate thresh­old train­ing is to sat­u­rate the mus­cles in “lac­tic acid” to train the body’s buffer­ing mech­a­nism to deal with it more ef­fec­tively. Through this process (and with con­sis­tent ex­po­sure) we are also train­ing the body to con­tract mus­cles re­peat­edly with force and quick­ness with­out build­ing up too much lactate. If mus­cles can in­crease work­load or stress while main­tain­ing a faster pace at aer­o­bic lev­els you can stay un­der your anaer­o­bic (lactate) thresh­old and per­form at greater speeds for longer. A po­ten­tially win­ning com­bi­na­tion.

LACTATE THRESH­OLD TRAIN­ING

Know­ing how to im­prove anaer­o­bic thresh­old all starts with the ac­cu­mu­la­tion of data dur­ing some form of lactate test­ing pro­ce­dure. This gath­er­ing of data will help pro­vide a start­ing point and also some­thing to mea­sure your suc­cess against, show­ing an in­creased pace or power at thresh­old or an im­proved heart rate re­cov­ery.

You can as­sume that your anaer­o­bic thresh­old typ­i­cally falls be­tween 75-85 per cent of Max Heart Rate (MHR). There­fore, a sim­ple heart rate mon­i­tor might be the only thing you might need to help con­struct some train­ing pa­ram­e­ters.

TRAIN­ING

Con­sis­tency is the key to im­prov­ing per­for­mance at lactate thresh­old. Triath­letes should aim to ac­cu­mu­late a lot of in­ter­vals com­pleted at steady work­load, which helps place the ap­pro­pri­ate amount of stress or load on the sys­tem. Since you can’t spend a lot of time work­ing above thresh­old, these train­ing in­ter­vals have to be at an in­ten­sity just be­low your thresh­old (5-10%).

In­ter­vals, for run­ning and cy­cling should progress from rel­a­tively short (5min) to longer (20min) du­ra­tions over the course of a train­ing cy­cle with re­cov­ery in­ter­vals set at ap­prox­i­mately one-third or half the time of the in­ter­val. The ini­tial fo­cus of the train­ing should be cen­tred on ac­cu­mu­lat­ing time with shorter in­ter­vals and mul­ti­ple re­peats be­fore mov­ing on to longer in­ter­vals with fewer rep­e­ti­tions.

Pro­gress­ing your train­ing ses­sions through­out the train­ing cy­cle is de­ter­mined by the in­di­vid­ual triath­lete. Length of in­ter­val and re­cov­ery time are the two most com­monly ma­nip­u­lated vari­ables. Both could be ad­justed over the course of a train­ing cy­cle, al­though it’s ad­vis­able to fo­cus on chang­ing just one.

It is worth record­ing, chart­ing and analysing all thresh­old runs. Dis­tance cov­ered, peak/aver­age heart rates, re­cov­ery heart rates as this is all use­ful data when as­sess­ing the suc­cess of the train­ing cy­cle.

It re­quires phys­i­cal and men­tal ex­er­tion to main­tain the qual­ity of in­ter­val and work be­ing done. As a re­sult of this, some com­mon phys­i­cal char­ac­ter­is­tics might be ex­pe­ri­enced. These shouldn’t be chased but may sig­nify that ex­er­cise in­ten­sity is ap­pro­pri­ate.

Ex­am­ples in­clude, men­tally tax­ing, sen­sa­tion of moder­ate-high leg ef­fort/ fa­tigue and con­tin­u­ous con­ver­sa­tion dif­fi­culty due to the depth and fre­quency of breath­ing.

Re­mem­ber adap­ta­tion (progress) is un­likely to oc­cur with­out the pres­ence of suf­fi­cient re­cov­ery. This type of train­ing is tax­ing on the body, there­fore it’s best to put a light en­durance/ac­tive re­cov­ery day in be­tween lactate train­ing days.

Train­ing to im­prove your thresh­olds is a valu­able and some­times nec­es­sary process. It helps all triath­letes un­der­stand, em­brace and utilise the train­ing meth­ods that can limit their com­pet­i­tive per­for­mance. While im­prov­ing your per­for­mance at lactate thresh­old might make a dif­fer­ence if at some point the race comes down to a sprint, the real im­por­tance of all the train­ing is an in­creased re­sis­tance to fa­tigue along­side and in­creased abil­ity to buf­fer the ef­fects of in­creas­ing lactate pro­duc­tion.

Don’t hit the wall, drive right through it.

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