“Lactate training, riding the pain train.” by Nick Scott

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“Lactate training, riding the pain train.”

by Coach Nick Scott (Follow him on Instagram ==> @scottstrengthsystems )

Lactate threshold training (aka anaerobic threshold training) is the staple training stimulus of CrossFit training. In thousands of boxes around the globe people are throwing down in metabolic conditioning (metcon) workouts in the form of the daily WOD (workout of the day). Despite this, very few people actually know much about what they’re doing on the scientific level. Most of them have simply bought into the company line and started drinking the kool-aid. The science of this type of training stimulus is actually very rudimentary and simple. You probably learned the basic principal in middle school science class: For every action there is a equal and opposite reaction, a cause and an effect. So by creating a demand for energy, your body creates by products of energy usage. In this case, the human body has three generally agreed upon energy systems/metabolic pathways.

The first is the Phosphagen/Creatine Phosphate pathway. This is the very first energy system your body uses in any physical effort. It lasts around 10 seconds, at a maximum. Olympic weightlifting, powerlifting, throwing, jumping are all examples of sports and training that primarily use this pathway.

The second metabolic pathway is glycolytic. The glycolytic pathway lasts around 2 minutes (though CrossFit curriculum states upwards of 20 minutes, so there’s some debate here). This is the bread and butter of CrossFit training. The third pathway is aerobic, for endurance events; it kicks in after the glycolytic pathway has been expended and when the intensity of effort is not greater than body’s ability to supply oxygen equal or greater to the demand for it.

The glycolytic pathway is used for lactate threshold training. Now since this is the pathway we’re discussing I’ll explain most thoroughly how this one works. It operates by burning blood glucose (sugar), and using it for energy (ATP). When enough intensity is applied, making the demand for oxygen greater than the supply, lactate/lactic acid is produced.

Lactate is responsible for that amazing burning you get all over your body when you feel like you’re one of the poor SOBs stuck in the temple when it explodes with wildfire at the end of Game of Thrones and your coach watches on like Cersei Lannister. I call this “riding the pain train.”

Now notice how I said when the demand of oxygen is greater than the supply? This is how it gets the term “anaerobic threshold” training. Anaerobic means “without oxygen.” Simply put, it means that oxygen isn’t part of the energy mechanism. It’s a closed system, for lack of a better term. As I also mentioned previously about actions and reactions, this is an example of how our body gives and takes. Lactate training has enormous benefits for ALL athletes.

Think about it, if every time you go into this energy system you experience large doses of pain, you essentially get more comfortable being uncomfortable. The farther you can push this envelope, the more reps and sets you’ll be able to do. Thus, you’ll get more muscle, more strength, and probably just tougher in general. All of these things are applicable to endurance athletes, weightlifters, bodybuilders, strongman, football players, wrestlers, cyclists (especially, really, just watch a spin class), and CrossFit athletes.

In CrossFit at the higher levels, this is somewhat of a lost area of training. The reason being is simple: pacing. When you become experienced in CrossFit, you learn to pace. You know how many sets, reps, how long to rest, etc. Now this make extraordinary sense for a competitor. But seldom do we see “pukie the clown” anymore. Speaking of “pukie,” why does this happen? Well no one actually knows for sure, but there are two prevailing theories on the matter.

#1 – your body is producing so much lactic acid that you can no longer expel it out of your body by breathing fast enough (the burning lungs, and taste of blood or metal in your mouth). So your body makes you puke to try to get it out of the body faster – the basic response to being poisoned.

#2 – that you have pushed so far into your pain threshold that you end up activating your SNS (Sympathetic Nervous System) response, the basic Fight or Flight response. This shuts down blood flow to your stomach among other things. Then after the effort has concluded your PNS (parasympathetic nervous system) kicks in. This restores blood flow to your stomach, causing in some cases, extreme nausea. Do you notice how most people don’t throw up until after they are done training, and rarely during the actual physical effort?

However, in learning to pace yourself, you may have outsmarted pukie, but you can have too much of a good thing. If you don’t do lactate threshold training, you’ll lose your ability to really dig into it when you need to. Sometimes you need to go “full retard,” and just run into a workout until the wheels come off. If you fail to do this, your lactate threshold and capacity in this domain won’t improve substantially after a certain point. You’ll just become a master at pacing and fully understanding your capacity rather than improving it.

You’ve probably known someone who has done a “squat till you puke” session, or prowler push until they lost bladder control. This is the level that’s necessary to push to in order to get full benefit of this training. Supercompensation is not limited to just weightlifting! If you can breathe, talk, or even walk after a round/efforts in this type of training…..well then, you’re not doing it right.

Some of the most effective ways to train this, interestingly enough, have very little to do with CrossFit. As I stated, you want to eliminate pacing, rest, etc., as much as possible. So great implements for this type of training are the prowlers, sleds, airdyne/assault bikes, rowers, and ski ergs. They remove the eccentric component of fatigue, and focus on repetitive muscular contraction. This means that recovery from sessions is much higher as the muscle damage will be minimized. And thus, allowing you to train much harder the following day. But a 20-30 rep max back squat is great example of lactate threshold training that might be more appealing to people who want both muscular hypertrophy and training stimulus.

True lactate threshold training sessions can be extremely taxing on the CNS (central nervous system), so they should be regulated. Start with adding one session in a week for a month and monitor your recovery. I personally never program more than 3 sessions a week for even my highest-level competitors.

Here are a few examples of solid Lactate threshold workouts:

Row: 5x750m w/3 min rest between

Assault bike/Airdyne: :30 max effort standing sprint/:30 easy pedal x 10 minutes

Prowler: 200m max effort push with bodyweight, NO STOPPING!!!

Sled: Reverse sled drag 10x100m w/:60 rest between…pick a heavy load

Squat: EMOM for 10 min, 10 reps pick a moderate weight and do them as fast as possible. You should be on the floor like a baby giraffe after this.

“Grace” – 30 clean and jerks for time (135lbs for men/95lbs for women)…..never stop moving

Hopefully this helps you have more information on the purpose and benefits of this training, and illuminates how it should be done. There is plenty of information out there if you desire to delve deeper into the science of this! Now get out there and add some intensity to your training, the PAIN TRAIN is leaving the station. All aboard!

Mash Mafia is celebrating Christmas and the Holidays with the “12 Days of Christmas” Holiday Specials. Here’s what you get:

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and

Free Domestic Shipping for all of our New Apparel

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