A reader asks
I recently had a lactate test done and it said that when I am at 150HR I am also at 150 watts and that was the furthest I had to erg to reach my top lactate threshold. My question is, if I go above a HR of 150, am I only working anaerobically and not benefiting? Thanks
Rowperfect’s friendly expert David Dearlove answers
I will assume the results given to you said that your lactate threshold was 150 watts (02:12.6 500m split) with an associated HR of 150 bpm? In short, the answer is no, if you go above your 150 watt/HR threshold you will still be benefiting. I will try and explain why in easy to understand terms, but let me know if you have any questions.
Physiologists talk about two energy zones – aerobic and anaerobic. When working aerobically you are predominately metabolising (breaking down) fat as your fuel source. You require oxygen to break down fats, hence it being aerobic. Fats are a very good fuel source – they will not run out quickly and create lots of energy. Aerobic exercise is associated with low intensity, long duration sessions.
As you work at an increasingly greater intensity you will start to use proportionally more glucose (sugar) to fuel your exercise. This is primarily because of a shortage of oxygen, which is required for metabolising fats. Glucose is a readily accessible fuel source that the body can break-down quickly, but a consequence of burning glucose is the creation of lactate in your muscle tissue and blood. It is this that causes the burning pain when you are exercising at a high intensity. The point at which lactate production increases exponentially is called the lactate threshold. This is an important marker of fitness and endurance athletes should spend time trying to improve the wattage (for you, 150 watts) at which this point occurs.
Training above this point is essential for rowers. You are still training your aerobic system when you go above 150 watts. It is not the case that it turns off and the anaerobic system takes over. In fact, you will make some of your biggest aerobic gains when training at max intensity. However, training above this intensity should be done sparingly, especially in early season. If done correctly it should be exhaustive and require ample recovery time. Too much training above the threshold and illness/overtraining/injury awaits. That said, if you never trained above the lactate threshold, you’d be very good at moving a boat at rate 18-24 (ish) but never be competitive in races.
I hope this makes sense. I have a few blogs on my website that talk about rowing specific training that might be of interest – www.deflectionpoint.co.uk. [now defunct 2018]