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.