.: Ski XCOttawa.ca :: Skiing in Ottawa and Gatineau Park

Lactate Testing
By:  Gavin Hamilton   (2007/07/01)

Training to obtain maximal results is what all athletes strive to accomplish. In principle this sounds relatively easy, if you want to be the fastest skier possible, all you need to do is work hard and listen to your coach. In practice, this is not the case. I wish that it was that easy but when it comes down to it, it is the unknown variables that make sport so alluring. Although I am relatively new to competitive skiing (a 4-year veteran), I have been introduced to a multitude of training practices which have been sworn to me to be the secrets of success. I have found this quite interesting as there is no one out there, save Mr. John Suuronen, who could possibly know the exact formula to create a super athlete (in our case a blistering fast cross-country skier). Everybody will react differently to different training methods, what works for one skier might be the worst possible idea for another. It is important to listen to alternate training ideas and then try and figure out the combination of which workouts will be the best for you (a coach is integral in this process). Some things will work and others won't, but it is only through this individual testing process that one will learn how to train themselves for maximal results.

The majority of training plans for endurance skiers are based on similar concepts. In the summer you want to do the majority of your long distance work, heavy strength, and some zone 2/3. Then in the fall you start adding in some zone 3/4 and sprint specific workouts to gear up for racing. Then come winter, your zone 1 will drop off and racing becomes the main "training" portion of your program. This is a brief overview as I see it, although there are many different things that one can do for training the underlying principles are largely the same. Like building a house, you must start from the ground up, it is impossible to start interior decorating before the foundation is laid.

I find the scientific part of ski training very interesting and just last week I did a lactate test to try and figure out my training zones. Wayne has had quite a bit of experience in this type of testing and XC Ottawa is fortunate enough to have its very own "lactate tester". Since my joining of XC Ottawa 2 years ago, Wayne has been kind enough to come out twice to perform a test to try and figure out my training zones. My first test was done on a track in 2005 and this last one in 2007 was done rollerskiing. You will have different lactate levels at varying heart rates depending on the type of training you are doing. This is why it makes it important to have tests done in different training activities although these tests are quite costly and time consuming. I choose to rollerski for this most recent test because the test should be done using the mode that the majority of your training is done in (if you are only doing one!).

In the track test two years ago, I ran 350m laps (at Immaculata track) at increasingly faster paces. At the end of each lap, Wayne was waiting with his finger pricker (to get a small blood sample) and the drop of blood was read with the "lactate machine" (see http://www.lactate.com/lactatescout.html for a couple of examples of these). This instrument measures the lactate concentration of the blood at this time. My heart rate is also tracked throughout the test and the heart rate is then correlated with the lactate readings at the end of the test. I continued to run lap times decreasing by about 5 seconds at a time until I was at an all out sprint and my heart rate was close to maximum. By plotting the lactate levels against the heart rate the point when the lactate levels jump will give you the heart rate level when you reach your lactate threshold (this usually happens at a lactate concentration of around 4mM/L). My most recent rollerskiing test was preformed on the hill to the left of P5, and this is about a 4 minute climb from the bottom. This test was not based on the time of my ascents, it was based on my heart rate. I was expected to do each climb at a constant HR, which was told to me by Wayne before each ascent. I started the first hill repeat at a heart rate of 150 and then each successive climb was done at a heart rate 5 beats/minute faster. At the top of each hill my blood lactate level was taken and measured. A similar graph to the running test is plotted to find the threshold point. Interestingly, my heart rate zones seemed to be 10 beats lower this time than they were in 2005. In 2005, I had done very little structured training and this probably contributed to the fact that my zones were much higher. It is also possible I was slightly more tired than usual at testing time or that my lactate levels are different in rollerskiing than in running. Although I do not know the reason for my lower lactate threshold, it is helpful to have this data as extra information.

Lactate is a metabolic variable that indicates the capability of the muscles for an athletic performance. It is an output of the anaerobic process and a fuel for the aerobic process and levels of it in the blood during exercise is indicative of the strength of each system. There is a maximal lactate steady state of exertion where an individual is in equilibrium, and this is the point that the individual is burning lactate at virtually the same rate as the lactate is being produced. At this level, the athlete can perform a set activity for an extended period of time, around an hour or so without having to slow down. If this exertion level is increased, you will reach what is called the lactate threshold (or anaerobic threshold). This is the point that your body slowly produces more lactate than you can get rid of, this occurs at the upper end of your Zone 3. Within a short amount of time, ranging from 10-30 minutes, you will be forced to slow down or stop. The lactate test is designed to find out the heart rate level where this lactate threshold occurs, or when your body makes the slow transition to aerobic (with oxygen) to anaerobic (without oxygen) activity levels.

The whole purpose behind training is to enable your body to obtain faster speeds without going above the lactate threshold point. This can be done in a variety of ways that include; efficiency of movement, greater specific strength of movements and even the efficiency of your body in metabolizing lactate. This lactate threshold level is used to determine your training zones but it is important that you do not try and do all your training at or above your threshold level. To get your body to this level of exertion is very taxing on your system and overtraining is very easy if too much training at this level is done.

The principle behind the lactate test is to find your training zones (heart rate ranges) that you should be doing your training in. Training zones play a large role in an elite athlete's training program. Our programs consist of a certain amount of training in Zone 1, 2, 3 and 4. These zones could be roughly described in the following ways:
Zone 1: (60-70% of Max HR) - Recovery
Zone 2: (70-80% of Max HR) - Aerobic
Zone 3: (80-90% of Max HR) - Anaerobic
Zone 4: (90-100% of Max HR) - Red Line

Each individual has different training zones, and it is impossible to obtain accurate zones by only looking at an individual's Maximum Heart Rate. This is why the lactate tests are a regular occurrence in the majority of elite athlete's training habits. Some people will have really large Zone 2 range, a small Zone 3 and 4 whereas others might have a small Zone 2 and really large Zone 3 before their Zone 4 starts. Again, it is the individual variations that it is important to know before going out and training 700 hours at a wrong exertion level!

Hopefully this gives you a snapshot of some principles behind our training. I should probably go to sleep so that I do not reach my lactate threshold faster than I want to in the HBC 10km run tomorrow! If you have any further questions or comments I would be interested to hear what training practices or theories you have that are "proven to bring success"...

Video of me rollerskiing:

Interesting Reading. . .
Interested in supporting XC Ottawa or advertising on our site? Email: info@xcottawa.ca.
Copyright 2001-2006, www.xcottawa.ca. All Rights Reserved. Contact us before re-publishing anything seen here.