Lactate Threshold Testing

Admit it.

Somewhere, deep down inside, you have wished that someone will discover some amazing capability that you never knew you had. I know I did. Perhaps I would surprise myself and actually be an alarmingly fast cyclist, or perhaps an extremely efficient swimmer? Maybe the foray into two new sports will yield shocking results. Or not.

On Friday, I met up with my coach to perform my lactate threshold testing that would be the base of my training from that day forward. Maybe the analysis would tell me I have a perfect pedal stroke? Maybe I’ll set a record of some sort…maybe.

My secret dreams were dashed when I realized that no Superman strengths were revealed. Le sigh…just a typical ol’ human. However, I will admit that I almost broke a record, but not a record that one looks forward to breaking.

But first, let’s talk about the testing. I’ll try to explain it to the best of my knowledge (and Internet search capability), but please note that I am no pro in the science of this.

What is lactate threshold? “The lactate threshold is a point during exhaustive, all-out exercise at which lactate builds up in the blood stream faster than the body can remove it. Anaerobic metabolism produces energy for short, high-intensity bursts of activity (lasting no more than a few minutes) before the lactate build-up reaches a threshold where it can no longer be absorbed and, therefore, accumulates. This point is known as the lactate threshold and is usually reached between 50 to 80% of an athlete’s VO2 max.” (Don’t I sound doctor-like? That’s because I didn’t write it. This site did.)

So what does this mean? If you have a higher lactate threshold, the longer you can sustain more intensive endurance activity. Thus, from you threshold test results, you can determine appropriate heart rate zones for training cycling and running (which are different for running and cycling, with running usually being slightly higher) and create appropriate training plans. Given that Ironman is about endurance, you can create plans and training efforts that keep you in the aerobic zones when you want and the anaerobic zones when you need to.

How did we conduct the testing? I hopped on my coach’s CompuTrainer where we analyzed my pedal stroke, did a few quick bike adjustments then got into the test. The test consisted of two minute segments with each segment increasing in intensity, recording your heart rate until you can’t go any further.


I apologize in advance, my iPhone decided to need a hard reset that day and thus I have no photos and will instead give you this.

The funky peanut looking thing on the right is an analysis of your pedal stroke. Let’s just say mine was a sad, sad, sad peanut. I’ll also spare you  my actual results but will share the details on that super amazing record I almost broke: the heart rate record!

That’s right, if my heart rate was only three points higher, I would have broken “the highest heart rate my coach has ever seen” record. Oh joy. I always knew that the first three to four miles were the hardest for me, but that’s because my heart rate was skyrocketing and then it calms back down. Miles five and on for the win!

So tell me, have you ever done lactate threshold testing? Do you train based on heart rate? What amazingly embarrassing record have you broken?

Happy Running!

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16 Responses to Lactate Threshold Testing

  1. Nelly says:

    lol, I would take the high heartrate record as a positive – it means you can hammer it even if your heartrate is high! Mental fortitude!

  2. Angela says:

    I am totally jealous. I’ve really wanted to do this for a long time but never actually have.

    I do like wearing the heart rate monitor for tempo runs, since it’s a more honest measure of effort than pace (especially given hills, wind, etc.). The highest I’ve ever seen my HR is 223 bpm during a speed workout in hot weather.

  3. Kathy says:

    Thanks for mentioning the high heart rate! I’ve got one, too. I hate training with HR monitors because when I look down at the number on the monitor it says I am working much harder than I feel. Result: I panic and start worrying that I am working too hard and all of a sudden a comfortable push feels like a mountain.

  4. Corey says:

    I am curious what else you can take away from the results? Is it anything that you can use on your own in training or more “scientific” so that really only your coach can understand and translate it into something that is helpful for your training?

  5. katie says:

    I’ve done a few LT tests, running. They are NOT fun.

  6. Nicole says:

    I did LT testing less than a month ago and it was great! My heart rate is bizarre too. My LT is 95% of my max heart rate – whereas most athletes come in around 85-88%. So basically I can hold a high heart rate for a really long time! I did a 18 mile training run at a avg heart rate of 185! Crazy. I did my LT testing on the bike as well so I’m not sure w hat my run zones are but my bike ones are really high – 150-170 is my zone 2 on the bike. I’m still trying to figure out if this is right by wearing a heart rate monitor all the time and recording all my workouts. I think this range may be on the high end but he told me to stay close to the bottom of this zone. Apparently it’s all about heart rate maintenance during the Ironman so these numbers will really help you!

  7. Allison says:

    I’ve never done a lactate threshold test, but I’d like to, just to see how I’d do. I don’t really understand what it all means, but this kind of science seems so interesting.

  8. Beth says:

    I’m fascinated by the data! I’m taking my first LT test on Friday and I’m excited to figure out what it all means!

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  10. danica says:

    I remember having lactate threshold running workout days in high school and they were always the most dreaded days because I knew I would have to work out REALLY hard and run fast. :)

    Good for you with the testing, I hope it will yield awesome results for you and your training!

  11. I’ve always wondered what exercise testing like this would be like….and if I would get any good info that would improve my training if I did do it. HR training is something I’ve never gotten into mainly because I don’t think I know the numbers well enough to actually put it into action.

    Does the high heart rate initially that then calms down mean you’re built for endurance? In that case, bring on the Ironman!

  12. CJ Dudley says:

    Did you do a power based LT test? If so, what are the results and what protocol was used?

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