| | Lactate and Training – Part 3: Lactic Tolerance

Author / John

The first two installments of the Lactic Acid and Training series have shown there is more to lactic acid than meets the eye.  The many theories behind the physiological purpose of lactic acid have been discussed, and we learned the implications its release has on maximal intensity and speed.  We’ve established a base level of lactic knowledge and demonstrated how to effectively program and apply Intensity training for your athletes.  This article will continue to build your strength and conditioning tool kit by using your lactic knowledge to not only effectively condition your athletes, but mentally prepare them as well.

Power-Athlete-Lacrosse-Strength-ConditioningLactic Tolerance Training

Objective and Effects: Power Athletes training and playing at high intensities will move throughout the metabolic spectrum throughout competition, never solely relying on one energy pathway over the other.  As noted in Part 2, lactic acid is released after roughly 7 seconds at maximal effort and a full recovery is needed to retain 95% of top speed.  But many plays last longer than 7 seconds and when is full recovery feasible on Game Day?  Never, so athletes need to be prepared for this. Preparation can be accomplished through Lactic Tolerance training.  The objective of this training is increasing an athlete’s ability to perform at hyper velocities with dialed in technique in an acidic state similar to the demand of Game Day.

In Part 1 we learned it was not lactic acid that caused the burning sensation during training, but acidosis.  Acidosis is the build up of H+ electrical charges from the lactate conversion that increases the the acidity of the blood in the muscle cells.  This by-product of the body’s response to the need for immediate energy will lead to muscle failure before oxygen is able prevent it.  Because of this, many coaches take the approach of Lactic Threshold training pushing back the point at which the acidic build up cannot be buffered and failure ensues.  While lactate threshold training accomplishes a lot physiologically, there is a great opportunity for the coach to elicit a psychological adaptation that is often missed.

The physiological benefits for Lactic Tolerance training are endless; strengthen connective tissue, improve sprint posture endurance, improved recovery times (both in-between and during training sessions), reduced injury, raise rate of protein synthesis due to increased muscle and blood oxygen levels, increased Lactic Threshold, and reduced muscle and nerve damage due to faster removal and recycling of waste product to name a few.  But, there is even more to gain implementing this training with a psychology of discomfort approach.
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Lactic Tolerance Training Implications

For the last century, the approach to Lactic Acid training has focused on improving the physiological mechanisms that reduce lactic acid production and accumulation.  Increased VO2max, cardiac output, and buffering capacity were the primary focus of coaches.  Although misguided to fight off lactic acid, these training approaches have worked for helping athletes prevent muscle failure due to acidosis.  Paired with an alactic training framework, we can learn from these approaches and safely implement them without losing our ‘Train Fast, Be Fast” Power Athlete philosophy.

Lactic Tolerance is not simply training an energy system, it is training an athlete to perform and execute in the fatigued, lactic environment they will face in their sporting arena.  The aim is to saturate the muscles in lactic acid in order to educate the body’s buffering mechanism to deal with the acidic environment more effectively, while still maintaining a technical proficiency through each rep/task performed.  The volume should be determined by the athlete’s ability to properly execute and the energy available to do so at high velocity.

Lactic Tolerance training takes many forms, and understanding the demands of the sport you’re training for is key to the success of this tool.  We will discuss two of these forms and prepare you to use them as tools.
Charlie-Francis-Tempo-Runs-Power-AthleteTempo Runs

Volume runs made famous by the late, great Charlie Francis are an incredibly effective tool for Lactic Tolerance training.  They are extensive, meaning they’re low intensity with incomplete recovery, promote CNS recovery, and increase general physical preparedness. Things to consider when implementing these are the rest periods along with the time and distance of the runs.

  • Rest Periods: The work to rest period ratio should be short enough to ensure the athlete’s are running at or below 75% of their maximal effort, but not too short as to not be able to finish close to the pace each athlete starts with.
  • Distance: The distances should be those of requirements and demands for the sport training for.  Runs that are too far from athlete’s training may cause too much acidosis.  This will not be productive to educating the body effectively processing lactic acid between runs within sports domains and negatively affect recovery. Gradually increasing the distance of each run and the total volume of runs is the most effective approach of integrating tempo runs.
  • Time: Pay attention to the speed of the athlete for each of the runs.  Tempo runs are a supporting means for the more demanding work in the weight room, speed days, and especially sport practice.  If their tempo runs are inconsistent efforts ranging from 85%-55%, they are doing more harm than good.  The CNS is not allowed to fully recover and the catabolic physiological reactions are undoing all the good done in both the weight room and the field.

Chaos Training

Fatigue makes cowards of us all, and simply focusing on increasing work capacity without addressing the mental aspect of sport is setting your athlete up for failure on the field.  The goal of chaos training is to put the athlete in a fatigued and acidic state similar to where they will find themselves in their competition, and then have them perform a task that requires full attention and control of their body.  Combining a mental approach to the physiological goals of lactic threshold training.

An example of chaos training is found every weekend at our CrossFit Football seminar during the benchmark Day 1 CFFB seminar workout ‘Blaster’.

  • Blaster
  • 9, 6, 3 reps of:
  • Deadlift
  • 15 yard Resisted Runs 1, 2, 3
  • Strict Pull Ups

Complete deadlifts and pull ups for reps of 9, 6, 3.  After the 9 deadlifts complete one resisted run.  After 6 deadlifts complete 2 resisted runs. After the 3 deadlifts complete 3 resisted runs.

10076635023_0bbedf2ee4_bThe purpose of this workout is to tax the posterior chain while progressively fatiguing the athlete, bringing them into a lactic state.  The task the athlete must focus on in this workout is perfect execution of the resisted band sprint, one rep at a time.  Maintain aggressive arm swing, tall posture, and the lean required to sprint at maximal force. Often lost on the group is the focus on execution the task in a fatigued state.  Most go through the motions with more effort put into getting from the band to the pull up bar than they put into the banded sprint itself.

Like the Blaster workout, chaos training has been misinterpreted and applied incorrectly by many coaches as more reps, more time, more random shit!  More isn’t necessarily always better.  The same regulation of Rest, Time, and Volume as the Tempo Runs apply to the chaos approach.  If more begins to prevent hyper velocity in a lactic state or affects recovery between sessions the coach must regulate accordingly.  As with all of our psychology of discomfort tools, be sure that the chaos training and required tasks do not put your athlete’s or their teammates in a position to hurt themselves.

The terms random and variation have been used interchangeably in the strength and conditioning world, but just to clarify, there is a difference between the two.  Variation is using different modalities to accomplish the same specific training goal without allowing the athlete to accommodate to any single mode.  A clear purpose is present with each task working towards a specific goal.

Random is just that, random.  No purpose behind the selection and a general goal in mind.  It is not a matter of having the athlete just DO random tasks to prepare for the ‘unknown and unknowable’.  The value is in teaching an athlete to perform any task with the presence of mind required to execute that task in a fatigued state as close to perfection as possible.  Remember, we don’t ‘do work’ for doing work sake.  Have a purpose to the chaos.  An athlete’s ability to reframe and recenter under stressful and fatigued conditions is invaluable, no matter what they are training for.
Power-Athlete-Adventure-Races-CarnivoreWhat are you training for?

Lactic Acid and Training’s Part 2 and 3 discuss essential training components for building Power Athletes: maximal intensity efforts and sub-maximal volume efforts.  Both of these components have a specific goal of increasing performance.

Effective conditioning tools like the ones listed above are raw, intense and most importantly balanced to continue to allow for progress for the athlete, no matter the sport. If you have sports objectives, ALL training components must be balanced against each other. The balance is demonstrated with the intensity and volume conditioning listed above, ensuring progress in adaptations essential for athlete’s success.

Lactic acid is 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.  Monitor this balance very closely, and learn to listen to your athlete’s performance.  Remember, the goal of Intensity training is to expand the athlete’s maximal abilities, for both speed and strength.  The goal of Volume training is maintaining technique and mental focus in a fatigued and acidic state.  If either of these begins to negatively effect the other, take a close look at the placement of these in your program and ask yourself, “Is there a better way?”

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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. Tuesday 040114 on March 31, 2014 at 4:00 pm

    […] part in the series on “Lactic Acid and Training: Part 3″, by Power […]

  2. James Reynolds on April 7, 2014 at 1:32 pm

    I want to view this article in it’s entirety. I’m guessing that my “Official Member” access does not grant me access to the article.

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