Presentation of a Shift in Lactate Threshold over a Training Season

In the current state of endurance training and technology, data is a major factor to assist with performance improvements. For future analysis of performance gains, a coach should consider getting a starting point or baseline of the client. The information gathered can set the tone for where to focus the bulk of heart rate and/or power training. Having an understanding of the physiology of the body assists the coach in prescribing quality work over quantity. It also provides a platform to discuss human physiology, which forms a foundation of education between coach and client. This gives the athlete a thoughtful direction when following a prescribed workout. After all, the focus is a change in the body, an increase in capacity, and to bring about an improvement in performance. These are all things designed to happen when performing a structured workout.

Demonstration #1 – a baseline at the onset of training for the season

Presented below is a graph from a lactate threshold test. This test was performed early in the year and was around the client’s onset of training for a late summer event. For background information on Lactate link to this Article.

A quick summation of how the graph is set up. The grey line is heart rate; the black line is blood lactate readings, these items along with rate of perceived exertion and watts on the bike or pace for a run are listed out in columns. This data is gathered during a graded exercise test in which the level of effort is increased at regular intervals, generally a ten minute warm up with 3 minute stages thereafter. Notes on this first of season test are as follows:

  1. The red circle highlights a gradual reduction in blood lactate below resting levels as the effort increases, as well as a return to resting levels
    • This is a sign of not enough lower intensity training in the recent past
  2. The yellow rectangle highlights the steep increase in blood lactate prior to threshold and the continued exponential growth
    • This is a sign of little to no time at higher intensity, which would be expected for early season training

Demonstration #2 – mid-season retest after four months of structured training

The mid-season test below highlights changes in performance following four months of structured training which included an early focus on lower intensity base work and a movement towards higher and longer intensity training sessions. Notes on this second season test are as follows:

  1. Red circle highlights the improvement in below resting level blood lactate as test time increases, staying basically even across the first half of the test
    1. A sign of lower intensity training or “Active Recovery” being focused on for most, if not all, workouts in the form of warm up and cool down phases as well as complete rides in this area
    2. This shows that an athlete can ‘Go slow to get fast’
  2. Yellow rectangle highlights a reduction in the rapid increase of blood lactate prior to threshold and the
    continued exponential growth

    1. A sign of more time near or around threshold and a noticeable increase in the reduction of blood lactate produced for the same workload, i.e. 220 watts in test #1 4.6mmol/L and test #2 1.6mmol/L
  3. This test represents an improvement in work at threshold of 18% from the previous test
    1. This is considered a big leap in performance. The typical change seen from 4 months of structured training is often 7-10%.
  4. Notice the difference in the blood lactate profile between these two tests. The profile from this mid-season test is starting to form more of a ‘J’ shape, an indication of improvement in efficiency.

Lactate Test

Demonstration #3 – end of season test

This graph shows data from a test following another three months of training and gives the picture of this athlete’s capacity for change throughout a full training season. Notes on this end of season test are as follows:

  1. Red circle highlights the continued use of recovery training all the way through the season
    1. This still shows that an athlete can ‘Go slow to get fast’
  2. Yellow rectangle highlights a continued reduction in blood lactate production after threshold, which shows a higher level of intensity during training
    1. A sign of more time above threshold and a noticeable increase in the reduction of blood lactate produced for the same workload, i.e. 300 watts in test #2 8.3mmol/L and test #3 7.0mmol/L
  3. This test represents an improvement in work at threshold of 2% from the previous test
    1. This small change is normal as an athlete nears their upper ceiling for change. This is referred to as the law of diminishing returns. In other words, a high level of work over a longer period of time is needed for a small amount of change.
  4. Final steps would be to discuss goals for next season and to set real expectations for what may be able to be
    accomplished. Graphs and data like this help compile paths to higher performance.

Lactate Test

Written by: Adam Fivehouse

Adam Fivehouse, USA Cycling LII Certified Coach, provides testing and coaching through Optimize Endurance Services. Contact him at 720-270-6876 or email Adam with training, coaching or testing questions. Or feel free to join us on one of our OES Training Rides. Ride details can be found on our Training Calendar.