Setting rowing training intensity with lactate testing

We all know how much time and effort professional athletes put into their sports, rowing in the GB squad for example is now a full time job with most of them training 7 days a week in order to reach their peak. For the rest of us amateur athletes, we also have aspirations to reach our peak, but as we have to fit sport in between working hours, it means we have considerably less time to spend training. Therefore, for amateur athletes, it would be fair to say that improving the efficiency of the training is essential in order to make sure we are not wasting any of our valuable time with junk miles, and one of the best ways to improve the efficency of your training would be to tailoring the workouts to focus on your own weaknesses.

But what is the best method to work out what you need to work on? We’ll It’s pretty well known that you have two main energy systems in the body, the anaerobic and aerobic systems, and the best way of understanding how “good” your aerobic and anaerobic systems is to understand how your body produces lactate and also do lactate testing. Now there are a lot of other sites that explain why understanding how your body produces lactate is important, but a rough summary of all this science is that there is a lot of evidence to show that the most effective way to train your aerobic energy system is to train at a wattage where your blood lactate is at or below 2.0mmol and the most effective way to train your anaerobic system is to train at a wattage where your blood lactate is at or above 4.0mmol, and the only accurate way to find out what ergs splits/wattage relates to those two zones are by doing a lactate test.

Lactate testing has been used at the international level of sport for a number of years, but in the last couple of years smaller and cheaper hand held testing devies have been developed which means that cheap/easily available testing is beginning to filter down into the amateur levels, so to get some experience of performing a lactate test and understanding the results I got in contact with Deflection Point, a company set up by David Dearlove to offer lactate testing at a reasonable price, to organise my own test.

A lactate test is done is by doing a number of  pieces (usually around 4 mins each with a min rest between the work) at increasing intensities, until you do an all out piece at the end. Blood samples are taken in the rest between pieces in order to measure the lactate levels from each of the pieces, and then once all these values are graphed it will give you your “lactate curve”. This is a curve by which you can see how your lactate levels increase as your power output (wattage) increases over time. In order to track my improvement over time, and to work out a good training plan, I did a first test as a “benchmark”, details of which are below

lactate curve 1

As you can see, along the bottom is the power being put out (wattage), and along the side is the lacate value and also my heart rate. The Blue curve is the lactate value, and the pale red line is the heart rate. As you can see with my lactate, it slowly curves upwards as the power increases, and it crosses 4mmol at 307.4W or 1:44.5. Also marked out is the 2mmol value of 267 watts (1:49.5) because 2mmol has been shown to be the important aerobic training zone (sometimes called UT2), the idea being that if you’re wanting to train aerobically, then you should be training at around 2mmol.

Once the curve has been tested, then David was able to accurately set my training boundaries as below

Training zones

All this means it much easier to train with the right intensity, need to gain aerobic fitness? You can set an hour on the ergo and know for sure that you are training in the right zone, and you can be sure that you are working in the right intensity and won’t burn out. However you shouldn’t stay at this wattage forever since as you train your body adapts and improves, meaning that after a couple of weeks you will find that your body will be producing less lactate than it was previously as the same wattage, so with effective training after a few weeks you will find that your step test produces better wattages for the same lactate values, which is referred to as “moving your curve to the right” as the lactate curve will be further to the right on the graph.

With this In mind after 6 weeks I did a second test was and the results are shown below, note that it has moved to the right as you expect, and the 4mmol wattage is now 311 rather than 307 in the first test, showing an improvement and shows that I am now able to maintain a higher wattage at the same lactate level than I was before so in a race I’d be able to race harder than I was before, this is a nice “low impact” way of testing and tracking improvements and is certainly less stressful/open to environmental pressures than a 2k or 5k test so is a nice way to train the effectiveness of your training without frequent erg tests.

test curve 2

To summarise its important to remember that each one of us is different, so training that works for one person may not be as effective for another, therefore ideally we should all try and tailer our own training to what we need to do to improve. Training using lactate is one easy and cheap way to identify and train the areas where you are weakest, and also track to see how effective the training is that you are doing, and change it if you’re not seeing the improvements you want, meaning you’re able to fit in the highest quality training in and around a busy working life.


About stelph82

I am a rower who is a lot of a technology geek as well!
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5 Responses to Setting rowing training intensity with lactate testing

  1. Ali says:

    Your heart rates seem so high. What is your max HR?

    • stelph82 says:

      When I did this test it was around 190bpm, it’s a little lower now.

      Main thing about HR tho is that it’s pretty individual, which is another reason why training to HR can be a little inaccurate because HR limits that work for one person may be too high/low than another, plus it’s affected quite strongly by the environment, hence why lactate testing is thought to be a more accurate measurement than just HR

      • Ali says:

        Yeah for sure. So do you do all your UT2 between 47s and 51s? Or whatever the new numbers are? They are really good splits if you are able to hold them for 100k+ a week!?

      • stelph82 says:

        Yes I was, tho mostly at the 1:51 end of the spectrum and the sessions on the erg we never more than an hour on the plan that I was given

  2. Pingback: C2 static watts vs NK Empower Oarlock watts – A personal comparison | rowingmusings

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