lactic threshold

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Definition - What does lactic threshold mean?

The lactic threshold is a performance marker that indicates the optimal intensity at which an athlete can perform before burning out. It is the best indicator of how fast a runner can run, a swimmer swim, or a cyclist cycle. Working just below or at the lactic threshold delivers the peak performance that an athlete can achieve.

Lactic acid or lactate is a substance that performs the dual function of breaking down glucose in the body and eliminating waste products. It is produced when the body is in a state of producing energy anaerobically, i.e. without using oxygen.

The lactic threshold refers to the point when lactic acid production rises so much that its generation exceeds elimination and it starts to flood the system instead. A significant consequence of this excess lactate production is an increase in muscle cell acidity which can then inhibit other bodily functions.

Lactic threshold is also commonly known as lactate threshold or anaerobic threshold.

SureHire explains lactic threshold

In terms of exercise, working aerobically means that as an individual works out their body uses oxygen for energy. But as the intensity of the exercise builds up, oxygen demand exceeds its supply which forces the body to generate energy anaerobically.

Anaerobic activity then generates lactate which is used as an alternate source of energy in place of oxygen. Lactate generation is fine to the point where it fuels energy but when the threshold is exceeded, the balance reverses and excess lactate is no longer used as an energy source.

With too much lactate present in the body, going beyond this threshold can interfere with muscle contractions, which is also why people are no longer able to maintain steady peak performance for long periods. Exceeding the threshold will ultimately cause an endurance athlete to slow down and begin the recovery process for muscles. The threshold tells an athlete when to stop and avoid over exerting the body.

Athletes and coaches use this important benchmark to train to their best capacity. By working at or just below the threshold they can improve performance levels, expand the duration of their training, and even raise the threshold for their personal best.

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