| | Lactate and Training – Part 2: Alactic Threshold

Author / John

Lactic-acid-training-sprinting-power-athleteIn the first part of the Lactic Acid and Training series, Power Athlete shed some light on the theories behind the effects and purpose of lactic acid in the body.  The scientific search for answers continues, but the strength and conditioning world cannot afford to wait for a clear answer!  Our athlete’s are on the clock, and their season will start no matter if a new theory comes out disproving another we all once thought to be true.

This series will continue to take a close look at lactic acid and its implications for building Power Athletes.  We will introduce essential training components, the proper application to each and why other components fail to drive optimal adaptation when training in and around the glycolytic pathway.

Lactic acid accumulation during practice and games is inevitable.  Athletes need to be prepared to perform at maximal velocity in this acidic environment.  Many old school strength and sport coaches take the approach of more volume is better for teaching your body to ‘deal with it!’  Speed training then takes the back seat. Although the athletes may handle lactic acid better during games, they play slow…and their defense gets a conditioning test every game.  This article will examine intensity, speed training and how our knowledge of lactic acid can be applied to building a highly effective program.

11800013745_29091820b5_bAlactic Threshold Training

Objective and Effects:  The objective is for the athlete to train maximal speed or power in optimal conditions, for a distance, time or repetition/s that do not put the athlete into a lactic state.  Full recovery is essential for each repetition performed.  The alactic threshold occurs when an athlete’s maximal speed begins to drop mechanically and biologically, roughly after 7 seconds of maximal effort depending on the athlete.  This threshold is initially marked by the release of tryptophan in attempts to slow the athlete down.  Simultaneously, a pH change occurs in the body with lactic acid release, although the athlete will not be able to feel this until roughly 45 seconds of intense work, when oxygen is released in the blood stream.  The chemical reactions and pH change made at the onset of the alactic phase will affect the Central Nervous System by inhibiting the ability of the nerve to send an impulse across the muscle cell to keep firing on all cylinders.  This will slow the muscle down before it reaches its actual limits in which, crazy enough, death would result.  So when an athlete enters the lactic state, their muscles are entering self preservation.
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Alactic Threshold Training Implications

Similar to VO2max, alactic capacity has a very low trainability and there is a genetic ceiling that determines the alactic threshold point.  There are still factors coaches can impact.  For example, an athlete’s ability to push themselves to levels of physiological trauma and regulating rest periods ensuring full recovery.  The most important piece to this form of training!

Attention to training an athlete’s alactic capacity will not be necessary until your athlete approaches the NCAA championship level and beyond.  Training this capacity becomes important at the championship and professional level where a very small margin of error exists, such as the alactic threshold.  Improving an athlete’s 100m by .132 seconds through delaying his alatic threshold that much more than his opponents means Gold or go home.   Until then, invest in the attention to detail with your athlete’s mechanics and flexibility to improve speed and/or power.  You can however take what we know about the alactic threshold and apply it to the speed training you subscribe to your athletes.


Improving speed requires repeated exposure in conditions of complete recovery. Athlete’s must run at 95-100% of their fastest times in order to stimulate speed improvement during these sessions.  Most coaches have a hard time grasping this concept of REST and FULL recovery during training sessions.  To help put this in perspective, take the same 95-100% Intensity and apply this to weight training.  Calculate 95% of your 1RM back squat, put the weight on the bar, then perform 1 rep every 2 minutes.  How long will you survive at that intensity?!  Not long at all.  Welbourn has a great write up on Intensity from a couple years back, click here to check it out.

You will see these prescribed as Intensity Runs on CrossFitFootball.com and Field Strong program with a range of maximal efforts, followed by full recovery.  Not all of these runs will be straight ahead.  Very few times in sports we have an opportunity to run straight ahead, so be sure to include Intensity change of direction work.  For example:

Perform 4-7 Reps of the 20 Yard Pro Short Shuttle
*Rest as needed between efforts.

This range of efforts is important for coaches to understand when working with athletes and teams.  If an athlete falls out of their 95% Intensity, even with full recovery, the session is over.  They will no longer be driving an anabolic adaptation, and anymore runs will negatively affect their recovery for the next session.  The most optimal training approach for Intensity runs is starting an athlete with 1 maximum effort the first speed session, and then gradually build their ability to tolerate more reps at maximal speed.  Almost like a linear speed progression; 1 the first session, 2 the next, and so on, slowly building their ability to replicate maximal speed.  As you move the athlete along through training you will need to identify the limiting factor/s that prevent the increase and replication of speed. Stride length, stride frequency, mechanics, VO2max, or Lactic threshold.

Resisted-band-sprints-lactic-acid-power-athleteWhat are you training for?

Speed is a weapon in every sport, and an athlete’s ability to replicate it determines their success.  Common mistake coaches make is sprinting with shorter breaks, but this trains lactic tolerance, not speed.  Above is a quintessential training component for building Power Athletes, maximal intensity efforts.  These maximal effort sprints with full recovery focus on expansion of the athlete’s speed and the ability to replicate maximal intensity.

Part 3 of our Lactic Acid and Training series will dive into the psychology of discomfort, sub-maximal efforts in the acidic environment, and the importance of balancing Intensity and Volume conditioning.  You will learn how lactic acid can become the looking glass into regulating this balance through athlete improvement in lactic tolerance, replication of speed, and recovery from run to run and session to session.


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John Welbourn is CEO of Power Athlete and Fuse Move. He is also creator of the online training phenomena, Johnnie WOD. He is a 9 year veteran of the NFL. John was drafted with the 97th pick in 1999 NFL Draft and went on to be a starter for the Philadelphia Eagles from 1999-2003, appearing in 3 NFC Championship games, and for starter for the Kansas City Chiefs from 2004-2007. In 2008, he played with the New England Patriots until an injury ended his season early with him retiring in 2009. Over the course of his career, John has started over 100 games and has 10 play-off appearances. He was a four year lettermen while playing football at the University of California at Berkeley. He graduated with a bachelor's degree in Rhetoric in 1998. John has worked with the MLB, NFL, NHL, Olympic athletes and Military. He travels the world lecturing on performance and nutrition for Power Athlete. You can catch up with John as his personal blog on training, food and life, Talk To Me Johnnie and at Power Athlete.


  1. Slager on March 11, 2014 at 6:15 pm

    Great stuff Tex.

    This got me thinking about blood pH during exercise. My biochem and physic professors have both said that blood pH decreases during exercise because CO2 + H2O –> HCO3- and this may even cause a bigger problem than lactic acid dissociation. High [CO2] also stimulates the respiratory rhythm generator to tell us to breathe and inhibits recovery. With that in mind, are there any specific breathing mechanics that you normally use with your athletes between sprints? My coaches would just yell at us if we bent over.

    • Tex McQuilkin on March 11, 2014 at 7:12 pm

      Thanks for the feedback. There are a ton of chemical reactions that occur during intense exercise, so it is tough to tell which exactly are more of a problem versus the other. A few of the studies I found fought for lactic acid as a hero, but many more continued to blame it for fatigue, damage, and muscle failure. I am no scientist, but I can take what these studies have found then compare and contrast with what effective strength coaches like Charlie Francis and Raphael Ruiz have found to help build an understanding.

      I can definitely see where your professors are coming from as CO2 is a byproduct nearly every step of the way of anaerobic and aerobic glycolysis that it can easily build up during intense exercise. During these demanding sessions, you will start breathing rapidly in attempts to bring more oxygen into the blood, but this will more likely send the body into panic mode. The last thing you want to do is enter a panic when you’re in an oxygen deficit. When this occurs you will need to slow that breathing down into calm, deep breathes to get as much oxygen with each breath as you can. If you have some materials to share with PANation, please don’t hesitate.

      Part 3 will go more into the style of lactic training and sprinting you are asking about. Until then, start collecting some questions to ask your professors about intramuscular muscle physiology and the expansion of abilities that come with Intensity training.

  2. Slager on March 12, 2014 at 6:06 am

    Thanks for the response Tex. I’ll keep an eye out for part 3.

  3. Taylor Smith on March 15, 2014 at 8:16 pm

    Awesome article Tex.

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