Lactate Threshold Training

Lactate threshold training involves specific endurance training that’s focussed on increasing the speed, intensity, or power output, at the lactate threshold.

In this article, we’ll take an in-depth look at the science of lactate threshold training, and why it’s an essential training method for endurance athletes.

I’ll then share some different training approaches that you can use in your own training to improve your lactate threshold and endurance exercise performance.

Table of Contents

WHAT IS LACTATE THRESHOLD TRAINING?

Lactate threshold training refers to prolonged training at, or around the intensity of the lactate threshold.

This can either be completed as:

  • One continuous effort e.g. 20-30minutes sustained tempo effort
  • Two or more longer intervals e.g. 2-3 x 10minutes at lactate threshold intensity.
  • Several shorter intervals e.g. 4-6 x 5minutes at just above threshold intensity.

What is the lactate threshold?

Your lactate threshold is an exercise intensity where blood lactate levels begin to increase at an accelerated rate.

In the image below, you can see how lactate levels change as exercise intensity increases.

  • Initially blood lactate levels remain low, up until a point referred to as LT1 or the aerobic threshold.
  • We then see a linear increase in blood lactate levels up until a specific point (LT2).
  • This second point (LT2) is the point of the lactate threshold (sometimes called the anaerobic threshold)
  • It’s at this point where blood lactate levels begin to accumulate at an accelerated rate.

When we talk about lactate threshold training, we’re referring to exercising at the intensity of this initial acceleration in blood lactate levels (LT2).

Lactate Threshold Training Zones

Why use lactate threshold training?

Firstly, we know the lactate threshold is a key predictor of endurance exercise performance in a range of sports including running, cycling, swimming, triathlon, cross country skiing and rowing.

Secondly, not only is your lactate threshold an important predictor of success in endurance sports, it’s highly trainable. In fact, you can improve your lactate threshold through ‘deliberate’ targeted practice, that focuses on training at intensities close to your lactate threshold.

Importantly, these improvements will transfer directly across to improved endurance racing performance.

As such, the purpose of lactate threshold training is to increase the speed or power at the lactate threshold. In turn, this will allow you to train and race at closer to your full potential.

How much can you improve your LT?

One difference between Elite and less-well trained athletes is their ability to race at high percentages of VO2max. A big factor here is their lactate threshold – when your lactate threshold improves, you are able to race at higher percentages of your VO2max.

Let’s take a look at how lactate threshold intensity differs between the untrained, well trained and elite athletes.

Untrained vs Trained vs Elite

  • In untrained individuals the lactate threshold occurs at ~50-60 % of VO2max – equivalent to ~55-65% of maximum heart rate.
  • Amongst well trained athletes, this increases to between 75 and 85 % VO2max (~80-90% maximum heart rate)
  • In elite athletes this is often nearer to, or above, 90% VO2max (~95% maximum heart rate).
The key point here is…it’s highly trainable.
 

The good news is, the lactate threshold is one of the most trainable components of endurance. And often we see significant improvements following specific targeted training.

Clearly, the level of improvement is affected by your fitness level, with much greater improvements possible in less well-trained athletes. That being said, significant improvements can still be achieved in highly trained and elite athletes.

In fact, even highly-trained athletes can achieve significant improvements following just 6-8 weeks of specific targeted training.

Improvements following Training

One of the main effects of lactate threshold training can be seen in an improvement in your lactate profile.

In the image below, you can see how targeted training, shifts the lactate curve to the right. The blue line shows lactate levels before undergoing a period of focussed lactate threshold training. The red line, shows the improved lactate profile (lower blood lactate levels) following training.

As the training specifically targeted lactate threshold intensity (in this case a running speed of just over 18kmh), it’s not surprising that the greatest improvement in the lactate profile occurred at around threshold intensity – highlighting the importance of specificity in training.

Whilst there was a good improvement in the lactate threshold, we would see greater improvements in an athlete that was less well trained.

Training the lactate threshold
Ok, so we’ve seen how lactate threshold can improve with training, let’s take a look at why you should add in some lactate threshold training.

WHY IS THRESHOLD TRAINING IMPORTANT?

As we’ve seen lactate threshold training is considered a key training intensity. But why is that? Let’s take a look at the how lactate threshold training can improve endurance exercise.

Physiological basis of threshold training:

  • Greatest stimulus for improving the lactate threshold intensity,
  • Strong stimulus for increasing aerobic capacity and conditioning,
  • Increased concentration and activity of mitochondrial enzymes,
  • Strengthens and leads to hypertrophy of type I muscle fibres,
  • Improves efficiency of type I and II muscle fibres,
  • Increased muscle fibre recruitment,
  • Conversion of type IIb to IIa muscle fibres,
  • Increases stroke volume and cardiac output,
  • Greater efficiency of aerobic metabolism,
  • Increases muscle glycogen storage,
  • Greater muscle capillary density,
  • Increases blood plasma volume.

One characteristic of lactate threshold training is how this corresponds with the peak recruitment of type 1 muscle fibres. As such training at this intensity is particularly important for the development of efficiency, and improved muscular endurance.

Not surprisingly, this intensity is often considered optimum for training type I muscle fibres. It also provides a strong stimulus for increasing mitochondrial aerobic enzymes as well as increasing the percentage of VO2max at the lactate threshold.

One effect of threshold training is an increased recruitment of type 1 muscle fibres. In fact one characteristic of elite endurance athletes is increased recruitment of muscle fibres which allows a greater work rate at lactate threshold intensity.

Endurance benefits

So, we’ve just seen the physiological basis of lactate threshold training; but what are the performance benefits of lactate threshold training? There’s actually quite a few…

  • Lifts your lactate threshold nearer to your VO2 max – allowing you to race at a greater percentage of your maximum capacity (Sjodin et al., 1982; Neiss et al., 1992; Franch et al 1998; Carter et al., 1999).
  • Enhances exercise efficiency at lactate threshold intensity (Hopker et al., 2009; Franch et al., 1998;).
  • Increases the velocity, and power, at the lactate threshold and maximum lactate steady state (Enoksen et al., 2011; Philip et al., 2008; Billat et al., 2004; Evertsen et al., 2001).
  • Extends the time to exhaustion at the maximum lactate steady state (Billat et al., 2004).
  • Provides a strong training stimulus for increasing VO2max (Phillip et al., 2008; Billat et al., 2004) and the velocity at VO2max (Enoksen et al., 2011).
  • Improves endurance exercise performance (Priest and Hagan, 1987).

Interestingly, research has shown, that lactate threshold training can be more beneficial, than just ramping up training volume.

In one study (Enoksen et al., 2011), researchers compared the effects of lactate threshold training, against increasing training volume (by 40% – from 50km to 70km). The researchers found threshold training, to be more effective at increasing the velocity at VO2max and the lactate threshold.

It’s also effective for master endurance runners (Billat et al., 2004), where improvements were seen in the time to exhaustion at the maximum lactate steady state (MLSS). In this study, time to exhaustion increased from approximately 44 to 63 minutes (nearly a 50% improvement), following just 6 weeks of training.

And research in cyclists (Hopker et al., 2009), found that gross efficiency, was related to the amount of training time spent at between the lactate threshold, and onset of blood lactate accumulation (OBLA).

Greater training volume compared with HIIT

One advantage of lactate threshold training is the reduced levels of stress compared with HIIT. In practical terms, this allows for a larger volume of training compared with HIIT.

As such, threshold training may be the optimum intensity for raising levels of type I aerobic enzymes, improving muscular endurance and increasing aerobic efficiency. In this way, it’s considered a good compromise between training volume and intensity (Weltman et al., 1990).

Reduced risk of overtraining

Another benefit is a reduced risk of over training, compared with HIIT workouts. One factor here, is the levels of catecholamines (stress hormones):

Compared with HIIT sessions, we see reduced levels of these stress hormones during tempo/lactate threshold training.

Although, we do see a rise in stress hormones at the point of the lactate threshold, this increases more significantly at higher intensities. Making HIIT physiologically more stressful than threshold intensity.

Because of this, training at the lactate threshold is an important intensity for improving aerobic fitness, lactate threshold, and exercise economy, whilst also reducing the risk of overtraining.

So, compared with HIIT there are two key benefits:

  1. Threshold training allows a greater training volume than high intensity interval training (HIIT sessions).
  2. There’s a reduced risk of overtraining compared with higher intensities

That said, HIIT training is still extremely beneficial to endurance athletes and should always form a key part of training.

HOW TO IMPROVE YOUR LACTATE THRESHOLD

Before taking a look at some ‘specific’ lactate threshold training sessions, let’s take a look at how you can improve your lactate threshold.

When it comes to improving your lactate threshold, there are a number of approaches that that you can use.

  1. Developing a strong and efficient aerobic base through a large volume of low intensity training.
  2. High Intensity interval training to develop the upper limits of endurance performance
  3. Strength training to develop efficiency, strength, power and fatigue resistance.
  4. Specific lactate threshold training to lift your LT nearer to your VO2max

And whilst each approach is useful individually, the greatest benefit comes when we look to integrate each of these into a well-structured training plan.

One approach that works particularly well involves developing a strong aerobic base to push up the lactate threshold. And then combining this with lactate threshold and higher intensity training to pull up your lactate threshold.

This approach is often referred to as the push pull method. The idea being, that you push up your lactate threshold using large volumes of low intensity training. And pull up your lactate threshold with higher intensity training.

Let’s take a closer look at each of these.

1. Low Intensity Training

Including a sufficient volume of low intensity training is one of the most important factors in developing your lactate threshold. This set’s the foundational structure for all future training and is vital for long term development of aerobic efficiency. 

Not surprisingly, it forms the bulk of all successful endurance training plans, where it normally makes up more than 80% of total training.

What intensity should you use for low intensity training?

From a scientific standpoint, low intensity training refers to training at intensities that are just below the first initial rise in lactate levels (LT1). And to identify this correctly requires a lactate threshold test.

If you don’t have access to lactate threshold testing, then there are a few options that give a relatively accurate prediction.

  1. The first method is to use a percentage of maximum heart rate – for well-trained athletes, LT1 would equate to approximately 75% of maximum heart rate.
  2. Another option is to use a percentage of your heart rate at your estimated lactate threshold. As a guideline this would equate to around 78-83% of your estimated heart rate at lactate threshold.
  3. A third option is to use a percentage of power, or speed at your estimated lactate threshold. As a guideline this equates to around 70-75% of your estimated speed, or power, at lactate threshold.

As I’ve just mentioned training at these low intensities, should form the bulk of endurance training. And should comprise a minimum of 50% of your total training volume. However, we know that elite athletes typically concentrate 80% of their training in this intensity zone. So, it’s clear that large volume, low-intensity training, is an effective training approach.

Whilst this sounds a lot, don’t forget that this is the intensity used for the majority of your mid to long duration training sessions. It’s also the intensity used during the warm up and cool down periods of more intense sessions, as well as during easier recovery sessions.

So, when taken together you can see how this can easily make up a large volume of training.

Why is low-intensity training important for developing your LT?

Firstly, by keeping the majority of your training volume at lower intensities, this allows for a much larger training volume.

Secondly, a large volume of low intensity training is considered vital for the development of a well-conditioned and efficient aerobic system. In particular, this leads to specific adaptations within your slow twitch muscle fibres.

These adaptations include:

  • Increased mitochondrial size, density and activity
  • Greater muscle capillarisation
  • Increased aerobic enzyme levels and activity
  • Greater aerobic energy production
  • Enhanced fat oxidation

All of these adaptations are important for improving your lactate threshold.

So, now let’s take a look at HITT training.

2. High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)

High intensity interval training (HIIT training) refers to training that’s completed at intensities that are close to, or above your VO2 max (maximal aerobic capacity). To be considered high intensity this should be above 90% of VO2max – normally this would involve completing intervals at an intensity of around 95-100% of VO2max.

This can either be longer or shorter intervals; and is normally combined with an active recovery.

Develops aerobic capacity, lifts your LT

The real advantage to this type of training comes through increasing the upper limits of aerobic capacity, and improving neuromuscular co-ordination.

Effectively, this increases the power, or speed at VO2max. And when this happens it also lifts the power, and speed, at your lactate threshold. So, In effect, this helps to “pull-up” your lactate threshold by lifting the upper limits of aerobic capacity.

Develops fast and slow twitch muscle fibres

Training at these intensities helps to develop, all muscle fibres (slow twitch, fast oxidative and fast glycolytic). Helping to improve fatigue resistance, and co-ordination between the different fibre types.

Interestingly, high intensity intervals are actually one of the best ways to further develop slow twitch muscle fibres. And whilst we often focus mainly on low and moderate intensity training for slow twitch muscle fibres; there’s evidence that sprint interval training brings about beneficial adaptations within slow twitch muscle fibres.

Increased risk of overtraining

One important consideration with HIIT training is the increased risk of overtraining. As such, this needs to be carefully factored into training, using a balanced approach, with an appropriate amount of low intensity training.

As a guideline, including 1-2 weekly HIIT workouts work well for most athletes. Any more than 2 weekly HIIT workouts can greatly increase the risk of overtraining, so this needs to be carefully monitored.

Now, let’s take a look at strength training.

3. Strength Training

Strength training often gets overlooked by endurance athletes, but it’s one of the most time effective ways to improve endurance, exercise efficiency and the fatigue resistance of slow and fast twitch muscle fibres. Interestingly, research has found this to be beneficial for lactate threshold development.

One of the real benefits of strength training relates to an improved ability to recruit muscle fibres. And as I mentioned earlier in this article, improved muscle fibre recruitment is one of the reasons why elite athletes are able to exercise at higher intensities at their lactate threshold.

As a guideline 1-2 weekly strength sessions is sufficient for most endurance athletes. And often one weekly strength session can prove quite effective.

Now let’s take a look at LT training.

4. Specific Lactate Threshold Training

As I mentioned earlier in this article, LT training refers to specific training at the intensity that corresponds with, or is slightly below, your lactate threshold. Normally, this involves either one continuous effort (e.g. 25-30minutes), or it can be split into several longer (e.g. 2-3 x 10minutes) or shorter (e.g. 4-6 x 5minutes) intervals.

We’ll take a closer look at some specific lactate threshold workouts shortly.

So, why train at this intensity? Firstly, in terms of training specificity this is the most specific way to improve your lactate threshold.

And, whilst there are many benefits to training at this intensity, the most significant benefit comes from increasing the percentage of VO2max that you are able to sustain during endurance exercise.

In effect, this allows you to sustain a greater intensity, speed, or power.

Why threshold training is beneficial

One of the reasons, lactate threshold training is so beneficial relates to the intensity you are using: you are training at the point where lactate begins to accumulate at an accelerated rate.

So, why is that important?

Firstly, we need to consider why lactate is accumulating: lactate begins to accumulate, at the intensity where there is an imbalance between production and removal. Or put another way: more lactate is being produced than is being metabolised by your muscle fibres.

When you train at this specific intensity – where lactate begins to accumulate at an accelerated rate (LT2) – you improve your muscles ability to efficiently use lactate as a fuel, during a process called oxidative phosphorylation.

This process occurs within the mitochondria of your oxidative muscle fibres (slow twitch and fast twitch ‘oxidative’ muscle fibres). And the more efficient your muscles are at using lactate, the greater the intensity that you are able to sustain during prolonged exercise.

How much LT Training?

As with any type of training, some individuals will respond differently to threshold training. As such, the optimum level varies between individuals. In part this due to slight differences in our own unique physiology.

Another really important consideration is your current training volume.

If your training volume is low, then the volume of threshold training would need to be lower than someone with a greater training volume. For most athletes, this would make up somewhere between 5 and 10% of total training volume – depending on training experience, conditioning and your targeted race distance.

An important point here: a larger total training volume, would normally mean that threshold training makes up a lower percentage (not volume) of total training.

Another, important factor is your training focus. For instance, if your training focus is 5k or 10k running, then the volume and the approach to threshold training, would be quite different to someone focusing on marathons, or half-marathons.

For this reason, it’s important to use an individualised approach when establishing the optimum percentage for threshold training.

OPTIMIZING LACTATE THRESHOLD TRAINING

To get the most out of lactate threshold training, it’s vital that you’re able to control intensity correctly.

What is LT intensity?

So, what intensity should you use? In terms of specificity the intensity should fall within the range of the second LT turnpoint (LT2) that I mentioned earlier in this article.

Whilst there is individual variation, for most athletes this corresponds with an intensity that can be sustained for approximately 50-70 minutes. However, depending on the training focus, this may sometimes involve training at an intensity that is slightly above or below LT intensity.

  • For most distance runners, this equates to somewhere between 10k-10mile race pace. However, with elite runners this can be closer to their half marathon running speed.
  • In cyclists, this would normally be an intensity that’s sustainable for around 30-40km. Again, this can vary greatly depending on ability level.

The only real way to be sure of lactate threshold intensity is through lactate threshold testing, although there are a number of useful field-based tests.

Lactate Threshold Testing

Elite athletes will often undergo lactate threshold testing to determine optimum training intensities. This can then be used to set training zones, based on speed/pace, heart rate, or power output.

The end result of this is: training becomes much more effective and purposeful.

However, most of us don’t have regular access to a sports science laboratory. In this case, you can gain an estimate of your lactate threshold by completing a time trial, or an FTP cycling test, whilst recording your heart rate, speed, or power output.

You can then use the average power, pace and heart rate data to set training zones.

It’s worth noting that:

Field based tests, do not actually identify your lactate threshold – they provide an estimate, of the intensity, or speed, that falls within the zone that we would expect to find the lactate threshold.

Having said that, they are still a useful way to test and then structure your training intensity.

You can find more information on estimating the lactate threshold here.

Now, let’s take a look at the best way to control the intensity of threshold workouts.

How to control intensity

In terms of controlling intensity, the following approaches works best:

Cycle training: a combination of power and heart rate.

Running training: a combination of pace, power and heart rate.

The advantage of using power to control intensity

Power is currently the best way to control intensity during threshold-based workouts.

Why is that?…

  • Power gives you a real time measure of your work rate.
  • This allows you to achieve a more consistent work rate across all intervals.

So, if your focus is on consistency, then power should be the primary focus.

If you’re a cyclist, then I’m sure you either have a power meter, or are familiar with power meters.

Power meters are less widely used by runners, although their popularity is increasing. If you want to read more about how running power meters can be effective for run training, you can view my stryd footpod review.

Running pace:

Another option for running training, is running pace. This can also be effective, providing that the terrain isn’t too undulating. I’ve given some running pace recommendations, along with power and heart rate, for each of the running workouts listed below.

What about heart rate?

Always pay attention to heart rate

Heart rate monitoring can also be useful for controlling and monitoring intensity, during tempo and threshold intervals.

However, there are a couple of things to consider:

The first factor is something called cardiac drift – a natural increase in heart rate, that occurs during sustained exercise. This upward drift in heart rate can occur even when exercise intensity is kept at the same intensity, or pace. In some cases, it may increase by as much as 10-20bpm after 30minutes of sustained exercise.

So, why does that matter?…If, your controlling intensity by heart rate, then cardiac drift can lead to a progressive reduction in work rate (power) or pace.

Another factor, is the delayed heart rate response. While power gives an instant snap shot of your current work rate; heart rate responds more slowly. In effect, heart rate responds ‘after’ a change in work rate. As such, the response is always slightly delayed.

Having said that, there is one big advantage to monitoring intensity with heart rate…it’s the best way to monitor your physiological stress.

Why is that important?…Physiological stress changes throughout a workout, even when work rate is kept consistent. So, whilst power helps you to achieve a more consistent work rate, it doesn’t provide any information about the level of physiological stress.

The best approach is to use power to control intensity, whilst keeping a check on heart rate, to monitor physiological stress.

Heart rate response during threshold training

Let’s take a look at the heart rate response during exercise.

During this example – some 5minute cycling intervals I completed at FTP intensity – exercise intensity was controlled using power, with average power kept within 1-2% of target across all intervals.

While the average power was very consistent, the average heart rate rose from 154 (1st interval) to 165bpm (6th interval). And peak heart rate rose from 160 (1st interval) to 169bpm (6th interval).

This highlights two key points:

  • Physiological stress increased across the session, even when work rate was consistent.
  • This also highlights, how controlling these intervals by heart rate, would have resulted in a significant decline in work rate (power) across the 6 intervals.

In this case a 10bpm rise in heart rate was within the expected range for me during this workout.

Heart rate during cycling threshold workout

LACTATE THRESHOLD WORKOUTS

As I’ve mentioned lactate threshold training involves specific training at intensities close to the LT2. Mostly, this involves either one long effort (e.g. 20-30 minutes) or may be broken in to a series of smaller intervals (e.g. 3 x 10-minute intervals separated by 2-3 minute active recoveries).

Normally, longer continuous efforts are completed at an intensity that’s slightly below lactate threshold – often referred to as tempo intensity. Whereas, with shorter intervals the intensity can be pushed slightly above threshold.

The five types of lactate threshold workouts we’re going to look at are:

  1. Tempo training
  2. Lactate threshold intervals
  3. Supra-threshold intervals
  4. Over-under threshold intervals
  5. Advanced Threshold Training

So, lets’s take a look at how you can use threshold training to improve your endurance.

We’re going to start with Tempo training.

#1 Tempo training

As the name implies, tempo training involves sustained training. Although not strictly a threshold training session – the intensity is slightly below threshold intensity – these still fulfil a similar training purpose.

So, what is tempo training? Put simply, tempo training involves prolonged exercise at moderately hard intensities. In terms of intensity, training is classified as being tempo intensity when it falls into the range of:

  • 76-90% of FTP, or lactate threshold power – depending on whether you’re using FTP or lactate threshold.
  • 84-94% of lactate threshold heart rate.
  • For running pace, this would typically be 5-10% slower than threshold pace, or estimated threshold pace.

Normally, tempo training is completed as one continuous workout (e.g. 30-60 minutes), with the intensity determined by the length of the workout and your own training focus. As an example, a half marathon runner might include a 30-minute tempo run at half marathon pace. Whereas a marathon runner, might run a longer 60-minute tempo workout at marathon pace.

Tempo training can also be completed as intervals. For example, a triathlete might complete 3 x 20minute tempo intervals at half ironman bike intensity.

Why use tempo training?

Tempo training, is a great way to develop muscular endurance, fatigue resistance and the ability to race at high percentages of VO2 max.

In terms of threshold development, it’s slightly less effective than lactate threshold training. However, if you’re racing in longer events where intensity is slightly below LT2 (Marathon, endurance cycling events, middle distance triathlons etc), then tempo training is actually more specific.

Another advantage with tempo training is you can complete longer duration sessions.

One problem that can occur, is when athletes spend too much time at tempo intensity. It’s generally considered slightly less productive in terms of exercise benefit.

Example Tempo training workouts:

Running:

  • 25-30minutes at half marathon pace
  • Long run with last 20minutes at half marathon pace
  • 60minute run at marathon pace

Cycling

  • 60minute sustained tempo effort at 80-90% FTP
  • 2-3 x 20minutes at 85-90% FTP

Triathlon

  • 3-5 x 20minute at half ironman bike intensity

So, now let’s move up the intensity scale and take a look at how we can use lactate threshold intervals to improve exercise performance.

#2 Threshold Intervals

Lactate threshold interval training involves completing a series of intervals at an intensity corresponding with your LT2. The intervals are separated by short recoveries – ideally these are just long enough to maintain the intensity of the work interval.

As mentioned earlier, the main benefit from using this intensity is to improve your lactate threshold and consequently, your endurance exercise performance.

Here the intensity can range from slightly below, to slightly above threshold intensity:

  • 91-105% of FTP, or LT power – depending on whether you’re using FTP or lactate threshold.
  • 95-105% of your threshold heart rate.
  • For running pace, this would normally be between 1% faster and 5% slower than threshold pace, or estimated threshold pace.

Whether you train slightly above or below LT, depends on the phase of your training, your conditioning and training focus. For instance, if you’re a 35minute 10k runner, it would be more beneficial to complete threshold training at just above LT (100-105% LT, or predicted LT). Whereas, if you’re a 60-minute 10k runner a slightly lower intensity might be more effective (95-100% LT).

Example Threshold Workouts:

Running:

  • 2-3 x 15minutes at 10mile pace, 5minutes recovery
  • 2-3 x 10minutes at between 10k and 10mile race pace, separated by 2-3mins active recovery
  • 5-6 x 5mins at 10k pace, separated by 1-2mins active recoveries

Cycling:

  • 3 x 20mins at 91-95% FTP, 5-10mins active recovery
  • 3 x 10mins at 95-100% FTP, 3-5mins active recoveries
  • 6 x 5mins at 100-105% FTP, 1-2mins active recoveries

#3 Supra-Threshold Intervals

Supra-threshold intervals are completed at an intensity that falls between your threshold and VO2max. In this way they provide a strong training stimulus for both aerobic capacity and lactate threshold.

Of all the threshold-based workouts, I find these to be the most effective for me. However, as I’ve mentioned a few times already – it really does depend on your training purpose and focus.

The real advantage here is that you get the combined benefits of training your aerobic capacity, LT development, improved muscular endurance, fatigue resistance and enhanced lactate clearance and metabolism.

So, what intensity should you use for these?

  • If you’re going by power, then aiming for just above threshold (or FTP) works well ~103-108% FTP.
  • Using heart rate tends to be slightly less effective for Supra-threshold intensity due to the effects of cardiac drifts.
  • For running pace, these would normally be 1-4% faster than threshold, or estimated threshold pace.

For many runners this will likely be close to 10k running pace. A really important point here: this depends on what your 10k time is.

As an example, if your 10k time is around 60minutes, then 5k running pace would actually work quite well for these. However, if your 10k running time is nearer to 30minutes, then you wouldn’t want to be going much quicker than 10k pace for these.

In this way, running at 10k pace can be physiologically very different between athletes, depending on their performance level.

For me, these are most effective when I use an intensity that I can sustain for around 25-30minutes in a one-off effort. With the intensity dependent on the interval length. For instance, shorter intervals allow for a slightly higher intensity, even when using a short recovery. Whereas, the intensity needs to be slightly lower for longer intervals; and recovery duration needs to be increased.

For me that equates to an intensity that falls between 5k and 10k running intensity, or 20-30minute power when cycling.

Example Supra-Threshold Session:

Running:

  • 3 x 8mins at 30minute race pace, 3-5mins jog recovery
  • 6-8 x 3mins at 30mins race pace, 1-2mins jog recovery
Cycling:

  • 3 x 8mins at 3-5% above FTP, 5mins recovery
  • 6-8 x 3mins at 5-8% above FTP, 1.5-2mins recovery

#4 Over-under Threshold Training:

Over-under threshold intervals – as the name suggests – involves oscillating between intensities that are just above and just below threshold.

An advantage here is that the average intensity is very close to LT. And by combining this with intervals above threshold, this can help to push up your lactate threshold and also develop aerobic capacity. It also improves your fatigue resistance, muscular endurance and your ability to clear and metabolise lactate.

Example over-under workouts:

  • 3x12mins (alternating between 3mins at just below LT, 1min above LT), 3-4min active recovery between sets
  • 3x12mins (alternating between 2mins below LT, 1min above LT), 3-4min active recovery between sets
  • 3x10mins (alternating between 60secs below LT, 60secs above LT), 3-4min active recovery between sets

In terms of intensity, you want to be aiming for just a few percent below LT intensity on the “under’s” and a few percent above on the “overs”.

#5 Advanced threshold workouts

A more advanced and challenging approach to threshold training, is to mix the different elements of threshold training (tempo, threshold, supra-threshold) into one workout. As an example, you might combine some supra-threshold intervals with a tempo effort, or you could take this one stage further and add in some supra-threshold intervals between some tempo or threshold intervals.

Physiologically, these are far more challenging, but they can prove extremely effective.

Example sessions:

  • 4 x (5mins Supra-threshold, 1:30-2min recovery) + 5mins easy + 20min Tempo
  • 10min LT + 3-5mins easy + 5 x (3mins Supra-threshold, 60-90second easy) + 3-5mins easy +10min LT

You can view some examples of this within the Half Marathon training plan elite.

So, that’s covered lactate threshold training. If you found this article useful, then please share this article to help support this site.

SUMMARY:

  • Threshold training involves completing either continuous, or, interval based training at the intensity of the lactate threshold.
  • This corresponds with an exercise intensity where blood lactate levels accumulate at an accelerated rate.
  • Not only is the lactate threshold a key component of endurance performance, it’s highly trainable.
  • The LT intensity can increase from around 55-60% of VO2max in untrained individuals to over 90% VO2max in elite athletes.
  • Your lactate threshold can be determined using laboratory tests, or predicted using field based tests or time trials.
  • LT Training increases your ability to race at close to your VO2max, enhances fatigue resistance and time to exhaustion, improves exercise efficiency, aerobic capacity and endurance exercise performance.
  • It’s believed to be the optimum intensity for recruitment of type I muscle fibres (slow twitch) and increasing the levels of aerobic enzyme in type I muscle fibres.
  • Threshold training presents a reduced risk of overtraining compared with high intensity interval training (HIIT). Allowing a greater volume of training compared with HIIT.
  • The optimum volume of LT training is dependent on training status, conditioning and your focus. As a general guide, it should make up ~5-10% of total training volume.
  • You can improve your LT by: developing a strong aerobic base, strength training, high intensity interval training, specific threshold based training.
  • Four key types of threshold training include: tempo training, lactate threshold intervals, supra-threshold training, over-under training.
  • More advanced training involves combining the four types of threshold training.
  • Threshold sessions are best controlled using power and heart rate.

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