Lactate Plus - Some Testing Examples

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An Olympic Champion Male Swimmer and Lactate Testing


A very popular use of lactate testing in swimming is to indicate whether the swimmer is ready for the next heat. A competitor often swims as many as 3-4 times in a single session as he or she competes in preliminary heats, semi-finals and finals for individual events as well as relays.

The following are two charts which show how a world class swimmer uses lactate testing. This athlete has swum in several world championships and two Olympics; he holds several international records. In preparation for the London Olympics, he measured his lactate levels using the Lactate Plus in important meets to determine if his lactate levels were low enough to swim optimally in the next event. A reading was taken within a couple of minutes of the finish, and then additional readings were taken after recovery swims prior to the next event. Since he often has more than one event in a given session, he needs to lower his lactate levels to around 2.0 mmol/l before his next event.

Lactate Plus and World Class Swimmer 2012

The above chart indicates that it takes 800 m or more of a cool-down swim to lower the lactate levels to near resting levels. And in some occasions, more than one cool-down swim is required. For example, for the highest reading in the above chart, it was necessary to do three cool-down swims that totaled over 1600 m. These swims are easy. If they are too fast, then the athlete may generate additional lactate instead of clearing it.

The lactate levels would return to resting levels in an hour or more on their own. But this may not be in time for the swimmer’s next heat. The aerobic system eliminates nearly all the lactate as it prefers it as a fuel. The cool-down swim accelerates lactate removal from the muscles because the aerobic system uses the lactate more quickly than it would at rest.

Another useful bit of information is the lactate level after the swim. Maximum lactate levels after an important event are very good indicators of the anaerobic capacity of the swimmer. Usually higher lactate levels are associated with faster times and more utilization of the anaerobic system, but there are times when this is not quite true. Research has shown that swimmers usually swim faster in semi-finals and finals than in preliminary heats and most of the time will generate higher lactate levels. This indicates that they have probably utilized more of their anaerobic capacity.

Here is another chart from past years using different analyzers .

Lactate Plus and World Class Swimmer 2008-2011

This swimmer also monitors his training sets after various workouts to make sure that lactate levels are not too high. This is a control test used to ensure that specific sets are not more intense than planned.

As an aside, Jan Olbrecht who has worked with the Dutch swim team for several years and some of their world record holders and Olympic medalists, has told us that a competition swim with the long cool down afterwards is an aerobic capacity exercise. But because a swimmer usually competes in several of these events during an important meet the effect will be a loss of aerobic capacity over a long meet. But one way to motivate a swimmer is to have him or her swim in their best event during a local swim meet and then do a long cool down swim. This one competitive swim and cool down will enhance aerobic capacity as the competition replaces an anaerobic set during a weekly workout schedule as it also indicates the progress of the swimmer.


A Cycling and Triathlon Coach and Lactate Testing


A Shift in Lactate Threshold over a Training Season


Rob Lockey - Cycling Coach

In the current state of endurance training and technology, data is a major factor in performance improvements. To analyze performance gains, a coach needs a starting point or baseline of the client. The information gathered can set the tone for where to focus the bulk of heart-rate and/or power training. Having an understanding of physiology assists the coach in prescribing quality work over quantity. It also provides a platform to discuss human physiology, which forms a foundation of education between coach and client. This gives the athlete a good reason to follow a prescribed workout. After all, the focus is a change in the body, an increase in capacity, and an improvement in performance. These are all things that should come out of a structured workout.

Demonstration #1 a baseline at the onset of training for the season

Presented below is a graph from a lactate threshold test. This test was performed early in the year and was around the client's onset of training for a late summer event.

A quick summation of how the graph is set up: The grey line is heart rate; the black line is blood lactate readings, these items along with rate of perceived exertion and watts on the bike or pace for a run are listed out in columns. This data is gathered during a graded exercise test in which the level of effort is increased at regular intervals, generally a ten minute warm up with 3 minute stages thereafter. Notes on this first of season test are as follows:

  1. The red circle highlights a gradual reduction in blood lactate below resting levels as the effort increases, as well as a return to resting levels. This is a sign of not enough lower intensity training in the recent past.

  2. The yellow rectangle highlights the steep increase in blood lactate prior to threshold and the continued exponential growth. This is a sign of little to no time at higher intensity, which would be expected for early season training

Lactate Plus and cycling

Demonstration #2 mid-season retest after four months of structured training

The mid-season test below highlights changes in performance following four months of structured training which included an early focus on lower intensity base work and a movement towards higher and longer intensity training sessions. Notes on this second season test are as follows:

  1. Red circle highlights the improvement in below resting level blood lactate as test time increases, staying basically even across the first half of the test. A sign of lower intensity training or "Active Recovery" being focused on for most, if not all, workouts in the form of warm up and cool down phases as well as complete rides in this area. This shows that an athlete can 'Go slow to get fast'

  2. Yellow rectangle highlights a reduction in the rapid increase of blood lactate prior to threshold and the continued exponential growth. A sign of more time near or around threshold and a noticeable increase in the reduction of blood lactate produced for the same workload, i.e. 220 watts in test #1 4.6mmol/L and test #2 1.6mmol/L

  3. This test represents an improvement in work at threshold of 18% from the previous test. This is considered a big leap in performance. The typical change seen from 4 months of structured training is often 7-10%.

  4. Notice the difference in the blood lactate profile between these two tests. The profile from this mid-season test is starting to form more of a 'J' shape, an indication of improvement in efficiency.

Lactate Plus and cycling

Demonstration #3 end of season test

This graph shows data from a test following another three months of training and gives the picture of this athlete's capacity for change throughout a full training season. Notes on this end of season test are as follows:

  1. Red circle highlights the continued use of recovery training all the way through the season. This still shows that an athlete can 'Go slow to get fast'

  2. Yellow rectangle highlights a continued reduction in blood lactate production after threshold, which shows a higher level of intensity during training a. A sign of more time above threshold and a noticeable increase in the reduction of blood lactate produced for the same workload, i.e. 300 watts in test #2 8.3mmol/L and test #3 7.0mmol/LL

  3. This test represents an improvement in work at threshold of 2% from the previous test a. This small change is normal as an athlete nears their upper ceiling for change. This is referred to as the law of diminishing returns. In other words, a high level of work over a longer period of time is needed for a small amount of change.

  4. Final steps would be to discuss goals for next season and to set real expectations for what may be able to be accomplished. Graphs and data like this help compile paths to higher performance.

Lactate Plus and cycling

Rob Lockey, CSCS, ACSM/HFS and a USA Cycling LII Certified Coach, provides testing and coaching through Optimize Endurance Services.

Contact him at 303-356-9893 or rob @


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Last update June 18, 2012 All contents © Sports Resource Group, Inc.