Is lactate threshold training needed?

I got a great question from a client of mine regarding the idea of lactate threshold training and if it is needed in a program. Listen in to hear why the whole concept of lactate threshold training is based on outdated ideas and why mountain bikers need to work on getting stronger with their anaerobic energy system, not training themselves to avoid it.

You can download the MP3 file at

-James Wilson-

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  1. Karmen says:

    Thanks for the great answer! Not seeing the lactate threshold as the boogie man is a helpful picture for me. I was a college basketball player and the idea of staying below the lactate threshold never even crossed my mind – as is appropriate b/c it isn’t possible to play a b-ball game with the goal of staying aerobic b/c it just isn’t the nature of the game/sport. I think mountain biking can be likened to basketball in that regard. So with that in mind it does baffle me how I would think that road cycling concepts would apply to mountain biking b/c I would have never thought that cross country running concepts would best prepare me for the requirments/demands of a basketball game. And as I think back, those players who werent’ able to play ball over Christmas break and just put in miles running had a much more difficult time when practice resumed than me and others who could play ball during break/train the proper systems.

    Reply • March 10 at 3:27 pm
  2. James — nice and informative as always.

    Last night I did a super-high-end indoor cycling class at the Boulder Center for Sports Medicine, and we spent a lot of time at or above LT. While I usually crush these serious road racers in the sprints — and I would, no doubt, on technical trail — I got WORKED!!! They are much better trained to maintain that pace.

    If the ride was sprint/recover sprint/recover I’d do fine, but I gotta say — if we started the ride with a long climb at LT, 1) I’d be off the back. 2) I wouldn’t have much left for the good stuff. So … it seems … increasing LT and endurance at LT would be handy …

    What thinketh ye?

    Reply • March 11 at 11:17 am
    • bikejames says:

      There is no way that you would start a ride exactly at LT. You would be above or below it, trail riding simply does not lend itself to the ability to control your pace.

      Since you would probably be above LT (which may not even be a valid term anymore) you want to train to be strong at those paces. You want to increase your ability to sustain whatever pace you need to be successful on the trail with. Often that is above, sometimes way above, LT.

      Training done at paces above LT will also benefit paces below LT, but paces at or below LT won’t benefit those above LT. Again, purposefully training yourself to go at a constant pace at LT is not going to help you on the trail as much as intervals will.

      Of course, you also have to look at training time available. If you have a lot of time and you have got your intervals out of the way and you want to do some sort of other training ride and you have determined that the sub-max paces are a weak spot (which they rarely are as much as max paces are) and you are sure that you can recover from the extra workload then you could probably do some LT type rides. Thats is a lot of “ifs” and few riders really need to worry about it.

      Reply • March 11 at 12:59 pm
  3. Suzanne says:

    James, Your podcast is playing at supersonic speed! I can’t hear any of it but would love to hear what you have to say. I can’t comment until hearing the rest of the information, but in general, those with the highest LTs are going to have more reserve for efforts above LT. Training both above and below is needed, but if course its difficult to simplify training in a few short paragraphs. I have my MTBers focus on both LT and VO2 sessions in the early part of the season adding supra-VO2 work closer to race time. It’s been workign for my athletes.

    Reply • March 11 at 1:32 pm
  4. bikejames says:

    You can visit the website to hear it or download it. Not sure why it is not playing for you but downloading the MP3 file from that website should work.

    I’ll be interested in your comments, but in short I point out how the whole idea of lactate threhold training is based on a faulty paradigm (lactate is bad and should be avoided) and that the whole idea of lactate threshold is being questioned in some circles. I’ve read some coaches saying that the term “ventilitory threshold” is better and that it is a more accurate predictor of performance.

    And while a program may work, is it best? I ask myself that all the time which is why my programs have evolved a lot in the last few years. I won’t argue that the traditional VO2Max and LT training doesn’t “work”, as many riders have had success with it, simply that it may not be the best way to view a training program for mountain biking which inherently does not allow for a controlled pace like road cycling does. Just some food for thought…


    Reply • March 11 at 2:07 pm
  5. Omer says:

    Thanks for the great podcast, James.

    Now I am curious, what would be the best way to prepare to XC race, provided I have a phisique of a match sprinter?

    Reply • March 11 at 2:10 pm
    • bikejames says:

      Exactly how far (distance and time) do you race? What type of terrain do you mostly deal with?


      Reply • March 12 at 10:10 am
  6. Suzanne says:

    I love dialogue like this! Yes, the paradigm that lactate is what causes fatigue and muscular failure IS bad…but in real world practice, the effort at which an athlete reaches anearobic threshold, lactate threshold (any one of the 32 definitions for it) or ventilatory threshold are very close to one another. There is “something” that happens to athletes at this point regardless of what terminology you use. The biggest “aha” moment happened for me when reading a summary of a study that discovered that the self selected pace of marathon runners, regardless of their speed, was right around their OWN lactate threshold. The mystery is to figure out exactly what that is, and maximize it…resulting in faster endurance activities. May not apply to pure sprint efforts or all out power like a downhill event or even BMX. But certainly it applies to XC and endurance mtn bikers…raise the threshold, ride faster, fatigue less and have more reserve for hills, muck and technical riding (other spokes of your wheel…)

    I don’t subscribe to the “traditional” view of aerobic base training, but rather to a newer, “cutting edge”, physiologic based approach to training!

    Reply • March 12 at 1:13 pm
    • bikejames says:

      @ Suzanne

      Thanks for your input. I whole heartedly agree. I am not suggesting that there isn’t something that happens at that pace/ intensity level, simply that looking at the lactate threshold may be the wrong way to go.

      Since there are so many things that can correspond with that intensity level (the 32 terms you referred to) and all of them are simply predictors of performance, I think that key is to concentrate more on the “self paced” aspect with longer “threshold” rides.

      I think that one of the reasons that some people do well with a certain type of training program while others do not is that the physiological markers looked at by that program may be the wrong ones for some people. By forcing themselves to go at a different pace than they would normally simply to satisfy some pre-set notion of how to measure training intensity results in less than desirable performance gains.

      There is a fine line between “self paced” and “lazy” so I do think that measuring something (speed, power, heart rate, etc.) in order to establish a base line to stay above is good but the idea of trying to manipulate heart rate levels to delay and minimize the production of lactate is, i think you’ll agree, pretty old school.

      Thanks again for your input both on and off the site, I do appreciate it.


      Reply • March 14 at 7:35 am
  7. HoleLa says:

    Fantastically informative as well as amusing post cast.

    I am feeling relieved after reading “Leave the skinny tires to the Roadies” I was considering enduring road riding,in order to increase my staying power rides with the guys. I want to decrease there periodic break time.(and increase mine).

    Thanks James.Cheers.

    Reply • March 15 at 6:34 pm
  8. Ted says:

    Hi James,
    That’s a very interesting take on the whole “LT debate”
    I have tried the below “LT” training method with very little success. My question for you is: How do you use interval training for endurance Mt biking, without destroying your body. For example, if I have a 4 hour race with lots of climbing, would I perform super long intervals?
    Thanks man

    Reply • March 28 at 2:21 pm
    • bikejames says:

      The first thing to figure out is what your true weak point is. If your mobility is worse than you “cardio” then that will be the thing that makes the biggest impact on your riding. Arbitrarily working cardio because everyone else does may not be the best way to get faster.

      If you do figure out that you do need better cardio, you need to figure out what type of cardio you need. If you are having trouble making it up tough climbs then focusing most of your training time on stuff that will help you out in that area are what you need to do. That is where intervals and strength training come in. Base your intervals on the average length of the climbs you need to conquer.

      I think that for the average rider 2 trail rides of 1-2 hours, 3 interval sessions and 2-3 strength training sessions with daily mobility work are plenty.


      Reply • March 30 at 7:28 am
  9. Not that I’m impressed a lot, but this is more than I expected for when I found a link on SU telling that the info here is quite decent. Thanks.

    Reply • April 15 at 5:21 am

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