Cycling: Seven ways to increase your lactate threshold

By Edmund R. Burke, Ph.D.

Increasing one's lactate threshold _ the point where lactic acid begins to accumulate in your body _ is important for maintaining higher speeds, whether racing up the Alp d'Huez as Lance Armstrong did at his lactate threshold, or trying to maintain a place in a faster paceline during a century ride.

Lactate threshold training is hard, but cyclists who train at or near this intensity (often measured by heart rate and the point where you have a hard time talking, or feel a burning sensation in your muscles) see great improvements in their cycling performance.

Here are seven tips for boosting your power with lactate threshold (L.T.) training.

1. Structure your L.T. rides according to experience, not formulas. Formulas can offer only broad guidelines. Begin by taking a period of time to warm up, and at the end of your workout, take a nearly equal period to cool down. In between is the heart of your L.T. workout, which should probably vary somewhere between 15 and 30 minutes.

2. Ride at a pace that is comfortably hard. Chris Carmichael, coach to Lance Armstrong and others, recommends a pace that is about three to five beats lower than your average heart rate during a 10 mile time trial.

3. Ride solo. Unless you have an identical twin, you may have difficulty finding another cyclist whose lactate threshold matches yours. Even when you can, you should be cautious and try to ride according to your ability, With others, it's too easy to become competitive and push the pace too hard, even in noncompetitive situations.

4. Don't measure your level of intensity by time. It's too easy to fool yourself into thinking you're improving because you did this week's ride faster than last week's. The overload principle works with some forms of training, but not here. It's too easy to cheat by riding the warm-up and cool-down sections progressively faster, which defeats the purpose of the workout. By riding easily at both the beginning and the end of each lactate threshold workout, you eliminate any danger of comparing one workout with another.

5. Ride an L.T. workout anywhere. The road. The track. The woods. Even on a stationary bike in your basement. The important factor is intensity, not how (or where) that intensity is achieved.

6. Maintain a steady effort, not a steady speed. If you ride out with the wind at your back, then return into the wind. Your actual pace may drop, but not your effort. The same is true on hilly courses, where your heart rate may actually rise or drop, depending whether you are going uphill or downhill.

7. Concentrate. You'll find you are able to ride more effectively if you focus on what you are doing rather than allowing your mind to drift, as is common among cyclists on more purely aerobic rides. Because of the speed at which you are moving, L.T. rides offer a good opportunity to pay attention to how you can maintain good cycling form. This body awareness will help you improve your racing later.