Methods of Lactate Training

Lactate training is a hard but effective workout that benefits half and full marathon runners who are looking to achieve their racing potential. Reference to training at or within the lactate zone holds many synonyms including threshold training, anaerobic threshold training(AT), steady pace or lactate balance training. For distance runners, all have the same training goal: to train the body to sustain an increasingly aggressive running pace without excessively accumulating lactate by pushing up the point of lactate accumulation. Lactate training is most beneficial for half marathon and full marathon distance runners to reach their racing potential.

Blood lactate, both when the body is at rest as well as within a predominantly aerobic state is actually utilized as fuel but as running intensity increases, the fuel demands of the working muscles gradually exceeds the rate at which the body can properly convert and utilize lactate and so accumulation commences. This quicker pace along with quick energy demands occurs in an increasingly anaerobic environment.

Due to the taxing nature of this workout, timing for the athlete is important and so these workouts don’t typically occur in the early stages of distance training programs. Here building a solid base of aerobic development is the main focus. Lactate training essentially involves spending prolonged amounts of time at a point which the body can adapt and learn to deal with all of the metabolic changes that accompany a higher intensity pace that results in the excess accumulation of lactate in the blood. There is quite a lengthy description about how and why it's so important to perform workouts that stimulate your lactate accumulation zone in the page on tempo running , but doing tempos is not the only way that lactate training can be successfully performed. So while tempo runs seem to be the most common way that runners carry out their lactate training, there are other methods to achieve the same training goal. The specific training strategy is really up to the individual runner or their running coach. However, it makes sense to combine both methods into a well-balanced training program.

Interval Based Lactate Stimulation

Stimulating your lactate zone can be done by performing longer intervals with short periods of recovery or through a steady paced run where the runner must aim to keep their heart rate within the pre-determined lactate training zone. Here are a couple of examples of this approach to training:

Method 1 – Intervals with Recovery

  • Begin with a 2 mile warm up – the first mile can be easy with the second mile gradually increasing in speed.
  • At the beginning of the 3rd mile increase running pace to achieve heart rate that corresponds to balance point (zone 3 – commencement of lactate accumulation). Once the zone has been reached, attempt to stay at bottomof zone i.e. if lactate zone is 160 to 166 bpm, aim to keep a HR of 160 for 1 mile. Heart rate will typically creep up.
  • At end of 3rd mile reduce pace to allow heart rate to gradually decline 10 to 20 beats – this may take up to 5 minutes.
  • Once heart rate has come down, repeat increase in pace to achieve bottom of zone and hold for a mile before another recovery
  • Repeat this routine with a workout goal of at least 3 miles and eventually up to 8 miles spent within the lactate zone

Method 2 – Playing the Zones

  • See Method 1 but with a key difference of alternating spending time at the top and bottom of the lactate zone for each repeat

Because this type of workout requires a runner to bring his or her heart rate up (and hold it) to the point where metabolic changes occur which trigger a steady accumulation of lactate in the blood, this heart rate and corresponding running pace is intense and so uncomfortable for a runner. It’s this time spent while the body is exposed to the gradual lactate accumulation however that causes the eventual adaptation. It’s also why lactate training is a physically taxing and immune compromising workout.

With this risk in mind, excellent running training involves preparing the body for the desired goal event without causing injury so if done correctly, the benefits a runner can realize from regular lactate training are immense. While the lactate zone is very responsive training so too does it become quickly untrained (occurs at a slower pace) if a runner goes too long without stimulating it. So enjoy your marathon recovery but don’t take too much of a holiday!

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