Threshold Training Rehashed

Since I've covered the topic before, no point simply re-writing the same stuff. With a bit of copy and paste, some extra editing, I present my rehash of the post I wrote last year: Threshold?

What exactly is this threshold concept? The short answer is that it depends on who you ask. There are so many different definitions, slightly different names and different testing procedures to define the threshold. It is no wonder people get confused.The list of names include: anaerobic threshold; lactate threshold; onset of blood lactate accumulation (OBLA), aerobic threshold; ventilatory threshold; aerobic threshold1 and or 2; maximal lactate steady state (MLSS); threshold 4.0; lactate turn point and plenty of others.

I like to accept there is an area of intensity at which the body's production of anaerobic byproducts (lactate) is greater than the body's ability to absorb these byproducts. The biggest problem with understanding this is that most people assume it is a set point to be defined as an exact heart rate or blood lactate reading. This is not the case. Lactate dynamics is a very complicated process in the body, is influenced by blood supply to the working muscles, substrate availability, muscle fibre types recruited, fatigue levels, muscle buffering capacity, blood buffering capacity, ambient temperate, core temperate, hydration status, hormone levels, duration of exercise and many other factors.

Why do people get their lactate threshold tested in a lab? Because if you follow a standardised test each time it can be a good indicator of improvement. As long as you do the test under the same conditions every time. Different testing protocols can give different results so the test must be the same each time. These test will probably only be of value if you do regular testing, to compare your training interventions. A one off will only provide some nice to know information that probably isn't that practical.

How do I measure the threshold? In short I don't. Instead, I accept that my threshold occurs somewhere in the range of 80-90%HRmax. It is roughly the pace you could hold for about 1 hour. It is often marked by a noticeable increase in breathing rate due to the increase in acidosis from increasing lactate levels. I should feel a very slight burn in the exercising muscle after working at this intensity for over 5 minutes and the effort should feel just above what I would call comfortably hard. It is a feeling.

The method isn't exact, but based on the time when I was often in an exercise lab, it seems to just as accurate. Plus it is the most practical method. I can head out and run, without a watch, heart rate monitor, measured course, and simply go by feel. Works for me.

However you define the threshold, it is still an important element of training. Speeds at threshold are often considered a better indicator of potential race performance than VO2max or running economy on long distance events. The reason is that it gives an indication of the speed you run at without accumulating excess anaerobic byproducts that induce fatigue. Running at or below your threshold will allow you sustain the effort for a considerable amount of time. Running at speeds over your threshold will bring about fatigue a lot faster. A few seconds per kilometre can be the difference between holding the speed for only 40 minutes or for 90 minutes. This is why I dedicate 4 cycles to directly improving this variable.


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