Coach Pete

Expert advice for Swimmers, Triathletes, and Coaches

Lactate Testing at the Club Level


I would like to hear the opinion of you coaches out there on lactate testing on the club level. Do you think it’s worth the effort? Here are some points of interest to read on the subject.


Lactate is the unique metabolic variable that indicates the capability of the muscles for an athletic performance. We emphasize “unique” in the preceding sentence because no other metabolic parameter provides the same information. Lactate 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. No other parameter provides this same information.

The ability of the muscles to reach a peak performance during an athletic event requires that the energy systems providing energy be “fine tuned” or “balanced” properly so the athlete can generate the highest amount of energy per unit of time during a race. Proper training is what accomplishes this fine tuning or optimal balance and it is lactate testing that lets the coach know if the balance has been obtained or how each energy system must be trained in order to obtain the balance.

Coaching is a profession requiring both art and science. The building blocks for an optimal performance are many and must be constructed in a proper sequence and must recognize that each individual is different. Some of these building blocks are correct technique, positive mental attitude and a proper diet. However, the cornerstone for this building is precise physiological training. That is the main reason an athlete spends so much time in the water, on the bike, on the track or the road, in the weight room or wherever training is best conducted. Ask yourself, do you know if all those miles/hours of training are paying out?

But what is appropriate physiological training? It is not volume or else those who put in the most hours/miles would be the winners. It is not intensity or else those who pushed themselves the hardest would be the winners. It is not someone’s favorite workout or else everyone would be copying the magic workout or training pace. It turns out that each individual has their own way of adapting and any smart training plan must recognize this. This is a fact of life. Each has to find his or her own way to the proper balance of the energy systems and peak conditioning on the day that counts, race day.

With proper protocols a portable lactate analyzer enables the coach to measure both the aerobic and anaerobic conditioning of each athlete. Information about both is necessary for the coach to optimize the conditioning of each athlete whether they are a 50 meter freestyle swimmer (about 22 seconds plus per race) or an Ironman triathlete (over 8 hours per race for the world’s best). With information on each energy system the coach can plan, control and monitor the training of athletes with a precision not available before. Lactate testing provides the important information that enables the coach to individualize the intensity of each athlete’s workout and control their training so they reach performance objectives. No over-training and no surprises come race day.

How Does Lactate Testing do This?

Provides a multi-dimensional profile of conditioning. Because lactate is produced by the anaerobic system and used by the aerobic system it is the only marker available for measuring each system. The amount of energy an athlete can produce per unit of time depends on the development of both systems which is why they have to be balanced. (Essentially this means training the anaerobic system to a level that is appropriate for the athlete’s aerobic capacity.) This balance will depend upon the event for which the athlete is competing and will also depend upon which part of the training cycle the athlete is in. The closer the athlete gets to the “big” event the balance will have to be “fine tuned” for a peak performance.

Show adaptation in each system. Over time changes in blood lactate levels tell the coach what physiological adaptation has taken place in each system. It tells the coach which forms of training are working or not working. Training time becomes much more efficient as the athlete performs only workouts that work. Your analyzer becomes a “training compass” that “steers” each athlete in the right direction. It is much more relevant than heart rate monitoring which reflects a general overall body response to stress and doesn’t necessarily reflect what is happening in the muscles or with the anaerobic system. It is much more versatile than VO2 testing which requires very expensive equipment and requires experts to administrate the test properly.

Teaches coaches and athletes what is required for a peak performance. Lactate testing is also a learning and motivating experience for coaches and athletes as they become much more aware of the interactions of variables and the other nuances that affect workouts as well as performance. Since the emphasis will be on training energy systems and not the use of very broad training zones, coaches will understand what works best for each energy system and why, what may be counter-productive and when and in what sequence various types of training are appropriate


November 8, 2008 Posted by | Coaches, Masters Swimming, Triathlons | Leave a comment