In our last blog post, we discussed what lactate threshold is, and the different terms you may come across when reading about it. We also discussed the different adaptations that occur in each of the training zones. In this post we will look at different ways of distributing your training time in each zone and how this might change over the course of a CrossFit season.
The graph above shows what’s known as the lactate threshold training model. In this model of training as you can see, most of your training is at or around your maximal lactate steady state (see our previous post for a recap on what this means). A small amount of time is spent below this exercise intensity and a small amount of time is spent above this exercise intensity. So, what are the advantages and disadvantages to this method of training distribution?
This is a great training model for a beginner athlete, or someone whose training time is more limited. There sessions may last for 40-60 minutes, and they are working at a level of intensity that allows them to maintain a consistent effort throughout the session, but they still feel like they are having to work hard. For beginners who have not spent time trying to develop their lactate threshold, this is an effective method to improve it. Their relatively low training volume means they can work at this level of intensity daily without running the risk of overtraining, and the level of intensity is sufficient to stimulate adaptation.
The second model of training distribution is known as the polarised model of training, and as you can see in the graph below, involves little to no time at maximal lactate steady state, with the majority of training below lactate threshold and above lactate turn point. This is model of training typically involves a 75-5-20% training split. This training model is normally what is seen in high level endurance athletes. Spending 75% of training time at or just below lactate threshold allows for the accumulation of large amounts of training volume with little accumulation of fatigue reducing the risk of overtraining. These sessions will last anywhere from 90 minutes to 2 hours, so a considerable amount of training time is needed for this model of training to be implemented.
The 25% of training time above lactate turn point would look like repeated high intensity efforts lasting from 3-5 minutes in duration, with similar amounts of rest and repeated for multiple bouts. This level of training intensity stimulates adaptations that improve lactate clearance and the bodies ability to tolerate lactic acid without a decline in muscle function. These sessions lead to a much greater accumulation of fatigue, hence why they only make up 20% of the athletes training. This model of training is particularly common in athletes training multiple times a day, where training needs to stimulate adaptation but not lead to excessive fatigue. The interspersed low intensity activity also means the high intensity sessions can be performed at the desired intensity.
As we mentioned in our previous post different adaptations occur in different zones of training. Adopting a polarised training approach will allow exposure to the full range of training intensities and in theory allow the greatest range of adaptation to occur. However, the disadvantage to this method of training is that it requires quite a large amount of training time.
If you are a CrossFit athlete looking to implement this method of training then it can be done over the course of a season, as opposed to on a weekly basis, if your training time is limited. At the furthest point from competition, when the need for specificity is low and you are looking to develop a base level of aerobic fitness, is the time to be working at or below your lactate threshold and developing the adaptations that occur in this zone of training. Using the percentages mentioned above, up to 75% of your pre-competition period could be spent working at this intensity. As you get close to competition (the final 20-25% of your training period) you would then begin working at a training intensity above your lactate turn point. This allows you to develop the adaptations occur in zone 3 (see previous post) as well as increasing the specificity of your training to CrossFit competition performance where you would expect to be working at a level of intensity above your lactate turn point. The appropriate planning of the use of this training distribution will allow you to develop the full range of physiological adaptations to endurance training, help prevent you from becoming over trained, and allow you to effectively peak for competition.
If you’ve participated in endurance sports in the past, lactate threshold is probably a term you’ve heard before. It is widely used in endurance sports as way of determining training intensity. In CrossFit it isn’t as widely used with people preferring the go hard or go home method of training. Whilst this is fine if your training is relatively low volume, as you get more serious as a CrossFit athlete and your training volume increases this isn’t necessarily the best way to go. Besides the accumulation of fatigue, there are also physiological adaptations that don’t occur when you go all out all the time, which are beneficial to improving your fitness capabilities.
At this point let me explain what lactate threshold is. There are three different terms you need to be familiar with and many different terms to explain essentially the same thing. Your lactate threshold is the point at which your blood lactate rises 1 mmol/l above your resting blood lactate levels. This point may also be referred to as the onset of blood lactate accumulation (OBLA) or your lactate turn point 1 and fuel dependant you should be able to maintain this level of intensity indefinitely.
Your maximal lactate steady state is a happy medium where your blood lactate is elevated but your body can buffer or remove the lactate at an equal rate, you can generally maintain this level of intensity for up to 90 minutes depending on your glycogen stores.
Finally, your lactate turn point is the point at which lactate production exceeds lactate removal. How long you can maintain this level of intensity depends on your bodies ability to tolerate the decrease in PH and the associated decline in muscle function, and how willing you are to tolerate the pain! This point is sometimes also referred to as lactate turn point 2. These three different levels of intensity are illustrated in the graph below.
Finding your lactate threshold, maximal lactate steady state and lactate turn point are ideally done in a lab setting, on either a rower, bike or treadmill depending on your sport, using blood sampling. Whilst we can do this easily enough, it involves you travelling to us which with remote clients isn’t the most practical. What we can do instead is gym based testing, and with CrossFit being a multidimensional sport we can do it on as many different pieces of equipment as you have available to you. This information, combined with your heart rate data from the tests will allow us to prescribe specific work intensities for each piece of equipment, as well as amalgamate the data to get a good idea of your training zones when we put you into a mixed modality workout aka CrossFit. Once we have this data, we can use it in your training programme to allow us to manipulate the intensity of your workouts to get the adaptations we are after.
As mentioned previously those adaptations are different depending on the zone of intensity you are working at. In zone 1, around your lactate threshold, the primary adaptations are increased glycogen storage and improved utilisation of both fat and glycogen as a fuel source. In zone 2, around your maximal lactate steady state, the main adaptations are improved metabolic efficiency, improved lactate clearance, an increase in capillarisation of muscle fibres and an increase in aerobic enzymes. The main adaptations that occur at or above your lactate turn point are improved lactate clearance, as well as an improved ability to tolerate acidosis – the decrease in Ph that occurs as muscle and blood lactate increases. Once we can identify where each point is for you, then we can tell you how hard you need to be working in each zone, so we can make sure your training covers the whole range of adaptations, making you as fit as possible.
This information is also useful when it comes to the time around competition or your periodic deload weeks. Knowing where these zones lie for you can allow us more specifically to determine what really is recovery pace for you, so when it comes to tapering and making sure your ready to compete we can do this as accurately as possible.
In the next post we will discuss what your training may look like in each of these zones, the different approaches to training distribution and how we periodise it over the course of a season.