Lactate Threshold Testing, an email response to a client

I was asked by a client about lactate threshold testing. The following was my response (please understand that this was my advice for this specific individual; my advice may vary among each individual):

“Hey ______,

 thank you for the question. Having a Master of Science in Exercise Science, I love measurements, but having also had experience with coaching, practicality comes to mind.
So I gave it a bit of thought, ok a lot of thought:
I like to use measurements that can be remeasured on a regular bases.  I am guessing everyone has heard of the S.M.A.R.T.E.R.  thing but in different ways.
  • Specific and Simple
  • Measurable and Manageable
  • Attainable
  • Relevant
  • Track-able
  • Evaluate
  • Reevaluate
Now, I do love a lactate threshold test, and have been the subject of a VO2max test before in the past. It gives a glimpse of where an individual is at that time. This is done in a near perfect environment.
The measurement has to be Specific/RelevantAs you see there are two different tests that are made for two different forms of exercise; running and cycling, because they are using different percentages of each muscles, the tests are becoming specific to the form of exercise.
But then again,
  • The bicycle at the testing facility may not be set up to the exact set up you have on your bicycle.
  • The testing protocol may not account for the shift of the body on the saddle or coming out of the saddle as during cycling outdoors/indoors during training and events.

These factors can influence the percentages of work in the muscles being used .

  • Now we are comparing cycling on testing equipment to cycling on your bike in training and events.
  • The heart rates being identified on that testing equipment and your bicycle can be different because of different muscle percentages being used as a result of
    • different set up
    • shift in saddle
    • out of the saddle…

Running on a treadmill is more closer related to the real thing (what you are used to when running in training) in comparison with Cycling on testing equipment is to you riding on your bike. Minor things:

  • Smaller factors such stability of the body running in different environments influences an overall amount of muscles being used thus increasing amount work required and increasing heart rate and breathing to compensate.
    • treadmill tend to be a bit more damping then running outdoors.  Less energy required.
    • in theory one does not have to run on a treadmill but simply bound upwards and (maybe slightly forward). possible different biomechanics
    • the ground surface is usually great on a treadmill, while running outdoors you have slipping gravel/dirt to contend with.
    • turns, uphills, down hills, combination of all of this.
So what I am trying to say is Testing Environment/Equipment is not the same as Daily-Training/Event Environment/Equipment. and with that Heart Rates can be different. Really more for the bicycle test.
If the test is specific for the sport, because of the specific movement patterns, it should really mirror what one does in training/events
Submaximal tests: often the following formula is used: 220 – age = Age Predicted Max Heart Rate (APMHR),
  • I don’t see 220 minus your age as a great way to start identifying heart rate zones.
Attainable: I want to make sure a training session is attainable.
  • The heart is not the only muscle working.
  • When you have a training week focused on Intervals and/or intense Strength and Conditioning, your legs may not be able to work as hard as that heart rate zone wants you to.
This is one reason why using a Rate of Perceived Exertion Scale can be useful. With Cardiovascular work you take your whole feeling of exertion, leg pain, shortness of breath…
  • Lactate Threshold is closely related to Ventilatory threshold. There is a sudden increase in breathing rate.
  • Rate of Perceived Exertion can be used with this.
  • Lactate Threshold and/or maximal lactate steady state can improve. So this changes your heart rate zones. You need to be retested to get an updated lactate threshold
  • Rate of Perceived Exertion is adapting over time with your fitness. Ventilatory Threshold is still marked with a sudden increase in breathing rate
So, having said all this:
   Lactate Threshold tests must be specific to your bike training, specific to your running training, use your actual heart rate max for each of the sports, and repeated regularly to keep updated. So check that out if this is likely.
If not it can still help get a glimpse of your general fitness for bicycle riding on test bikes and treadmill running at that moment, and be a quite interesting experience.
I believe it would be good to develop a clear overall picture of training using a history of measurements when you are training and participating in events. In this sense we use every training session as an evaluation with the history in mind:
  • The scale-out-of-5 questions in the morning
  • For cycling
    • Rate of Perceived Exertion
    • Heart Rate
    • Power
    • Cadence
    • Speed
  • For Running
    • Rate of Perceived Exertion
    • Heart Rate
    • Cadence
    • Speed
  •  For Swimming
    • Rate of Perceived Exertion
    • Heart Rate
    • Cadence
    • Speed

One thing you may want to consider is a Power meter for your bicycle. …”

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