Thresholds: What & How
Thresholds are an essential way for athletes to monitor their progress. As our coach Brent Perkins explains, thresholds enable you to see where your maximum performance output is, and how to train to your optimum to both increase your threshold and train effectively. Pushing too hard in every training sessions could land you an injury and set you back, whilst an all too easy set won’t push your progress. Here Brent talks through thresholds, what they are and how we can use them to improve our performance.
Thresholds what are they?
Probably the most frequently asked question during our Q&A on Training camps and in our Coaching clinics, is about thresholds. Many times we’re asked what the term Threshold stands for, what it means, and why it is important as part of an athletes training profile. This article sets out to explain, in brief terms, a simple description of thresholds and their purpose. Challenge Tri Camp coaches, as part of any coaching plan, will complete a set of baseline tests to establish a starting point threshold for your training plan, using this to determine the sessions ahead.
The most commonly used terms when looking at thresholds include, Lactate Threshold Pace, Heart Rate, and Power, all of which refer to the maximum effort you’re able to maintain while your body can still remove the lactic acid being used by the muscles. For most well-conditioned of athletes, this is similar to the maximum effort they can maintain for an hour. Going above this threshold effort will result in a “lactate burn” in the muscles and, after a few minutes, require stopping or slowing in order for the body to clear the lactate acid.
As endurance athletes, our aim is to go as fast as we can for as long as we can. Staying under or right at the lactate threshold this allows us to go hard, but not so hard that we have to stop and recover.
Lactate Threshold (LT) is also referred to simply as threshold, whilst Lactate Threshold Power is also referred to as functional threshold power (FTP). I see lots of athletes undertaking field FTP tests during the UK winter as athletes are getting ready for the upcoming season. Once you have established a baseline it’s good to check that your training is having a positive effect. FTP field tests can be repeated on a turbo or a watt bike as required, maintaining the same conditions on each re-test.
Why is Threshold Important?
Briefly, VO2 max largely relies on an individual’s predisposed physiological characteristics such as lung capacity and body mass. This can be trained and improved providing adaptations to the respiratory and cardiovascular systems as well as other peripheral adaptations, resulting in an increase in aerobic capacity which in essence explains what VO2max measures. Garmin now provide a VO2 max estimator as part of the 920xt set up, a very useful training tool, in my view not very accurate but all the same a good yard stick.
By training slightly below and above threshold, your lactate threshold can be improved consistently and in turn improve the body’s ability to clear, as well as tolerate, higher concentrations of lactate acid. As you gain fitness, your threshold increases.
Your threshold is the basis around which your training, HRT or Power Zones are established – they are determined as a percentage of your threshold, set them up and work within them.
How is Threshold Determined?
Option 1 Lab testing.
This can be expensive but is a great way to determine your threshold power, pace or heart rate you can go to a lab and do a graded test where blood or oxygen exchange samples are taken to determine the effort when you’re no longer able to clear more acid than you’re producing.
Option 2 Field Testing
If you cannot get access to your local Uni or cannot afford lab testing then, the next best approach is field testing, its accurate enough and works well. The test is a 1-hour full on effort such as a time trial on a bike weather dependent, alternatively a turbo or watt bike session is great in the winter and very repeatable. If doing a maximal 60 minute test is not possible, an athlete can do shorter, maximal test and extrapolate their threshold.
Many examples and methods can be used. Joe Friel recommends running hard for 30 minutes, and using the average pace or heart rate of the last 20 minutes of your effort, as your lactate threshold. Such methods of “field testing” provide a sound estimation to base training zones on, as well as measure fitness improvements over the pre season and during the race season.
Once you have the results you can set up your HRT zones, power zones and start to train effectively. Keep the results safe so when you re test you can compare the results over a period of time. It’s also worth noting your weight, and how you felt on the day you do each test so you have an insight into your fitness progression.
Once you have set your training zones based on your baseline tests and start working within your training plan and set goals, recording your data on a Garmin or other device and in turn linking this to Training Peaks (TP) makes analysing your data straight forward. What’s more, as you get fitter and improve, TP sends you nice little messages;
“Hello Brent ,
Congratulations, you recently set a new threshold heart rate value. We recommend you update your zones in Training Peaks for optimal analysis.
New Threshold Heart Rate Value
It’s like getting a chocolate, without the weight gain!
I am not keen on junk training, consistency is key, using a good coach and some simple tests will help you get the best from yourself. If you are thinking about working with a Coach or want to know more please contact www.challengetricamp.co.uk/coaching
Article Brent Perkins, Brent Is a Certified Coach, a Challenge Tri Camp Elite Coach, and is a BTF Team Manager.
If you are in the market for lab testing, live or are able to get to Northampton, I have used and worked with Dr. Tony Baross, Tony is the Senior Lecturer in Sport & Exercise Physiology at The University of Northampton he can be contacted on 07951 743403 or firstname.lastname@example.org and is well worth a ring or sending an e-mail for information and costs.
When we’re not on camp, we offer coaching via online and face to face contact. We have been delivering 1-1 bespoke triathlon coaching to triathletes at all stages of their triathlon career for over 10 years. Challenge Tri Camp coaching headed up by Nick Dunn is proud to have worked with everyone from complete novices to professional triathletes across all distances of events.
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