Lactate Threshold Testing Protocol

 Why Test?
A finely tuned and planned training program is a key element in maximizing your training time and improving performance. One of the most important parts of a structured training plan is to train at the correct intensity. Using a heart rate monitor enables athletes to monitor their true intensity during workouts and races, making training decisions based on FACT instead of FEEL.

When using a heart rate monitor, it is crucial to establish training zones based around your lactate threshold (LT), often times referred to as anaerobic threshold (AT). Some athletes use formulas, such as "220-age" or "percentage of actual maximum heart rate" to determine their zones. Truth is, all this guesstimating pales in comparison to the actual data you can generate from a self-test. Note: Getting tested in a lab with specific equipment is often the best option, but you need to make sure the tester knows what he/she is doing…and you need to have the money for the test!

Lactate Threshold 
Technically speaking, Lactate Threshold is the point during increasingly intensive exercise at which lactate begins to accumulate in the blood. Your body can no longer process lactate. This point is characterized by heavy breathing, a deterioration of form (run, cycling, etc) and a slight burn.

Type of Heart Rate Monitor 
Self testing of your LTHR requires that you have a heart rate monitor capable of generating both "splits" and Average Heart Rate for those splits. Models that do this include the Polar S210 and above.

Swim vs Bike vs Run 
Depending on the specific discipline you are testing – or training in – you will have a different set of zones. Swimming is different b/c it is 100% a non-weight-bearing sport and you are anaerobic (holding your breath) for most of the time. Cycling is different b/c while you can breathe more, you are on a bike with gears, so the weight component is reduced. Running has the highest zones as it is 100% weight-bearing…there is no hiding from your effort here! Generally speaking, a fit person who has been relatively active in each of these three sports will see a 10- to 15-beat difference between discipline (Run LTHR is 175, Bike is 165, Swim is 150, etc.). Note: Due to the complexities of wearing an HRM in the pool (not the least of which is looking stooopid!),

INDOORS – Treadmill or Computrainer 
After a warm up of about 15 minutes, where you determine an optimal starting pace OR wattage, you begin the test.

    Treadmill Test: Set your treadmill to a 3% incline. Every 90”, you must:

        * Hit your lap button to note your MAX HR for each interval, AND
        * Increase the treadmill speed by .3-.4 mph.
        * Run to fatigue.
        * Warm down with 5’ of easy walking, drink lots of fluids.

    Computrainer Test: Set your CT to a specific wattage (approx. 100W) and choose an speed to hold (15- to 18-mph is usually good). Every 90” you must:

        * Hit your lap button to note your MAX HR for each interval, AND
        * Increase the CT wattage by 20- to 40 Watts.
        * Ride to fatigue.
        * Warm down with 5’ of easy spinning, drink lots of fluids.

Note that it will take some time to determine your optimal starting pace/wattage as well as the correct increment at which to "bump up" each 90-seconds. Everyone goes thru this learning curve…so don’t get frustrated, the data is still valuable!

OUTDOORS – 30′ Track Run or Time Trial Bike 
After a warm up of about 30 minutes – that included some pick ups at race pace, you will begin your 30-minute TT effort. Note: Please use a pre-approved course if you are doing your TT outside on the open road!!!

        * Start your HRM at the beginning of the race/test – then hit the road @ race pace.
        * Be sure to pace your effort so that you have practically nothing left once you finish – aka the Thirty Minute Mark (don’t surge off the start at a pace you can’t sustain)!
        * At the Ten Minute Mark (10′), hit the lap button on your HRM. This will capture your Average Heart Rate over the last twenty (20) minutes.
        * Finish the test to the best of your ability, cool down with ten to fifteen minutes of easy walking/spinning.

Analysis of Test Results 
For Indoor Testing results, you will need to review the results to determine where your HR plateaued and then jumped up as your body went anaerobic. One easy way to do this is to graph the data (download the PTS spreadsheet sample – an Excel Spreadsheet) so you can see a visual representation of your test. In general, I am conservative when looking at a test for a beginner or "out-of-shape" athlete. Once you have determined the specific LTHR, use the Zone Finder Chart to get the rest of your zones.

For Outdoor Testing results, you can analyze the Average Heart Rate (AHR) for the last twenty minutes of your run/ride. This will be your AT. Once you have determined the specific LTHR, use the Zone Finder Chart to get the rest of your zones.

HR and Your Training 
Once you have tested and set your LTHR according to the Zone Finder Chart, it’s up to YOU to actually follow the protocol and use each zone judiciously. It helps to know what each zone is for (read about them here)! In general, I recommend that athletes get a lab test 1x a year and use self-tests at regular 4-week intervals to guage their progress.


Leave a Reply