Project Alexandria Week One: The Lowdown on Lactate Testing

Written by Concept2 NZ on November 29th, 2017.

Project Alexandria: Week One Update

This week, Project Alexandria athletes Alistair Bond and Leah Lassche undertook lactate testing, a test sports physiologists’ use to measure the rate of production of lactate in the blood during exercise, in order to gauge fitness levels and prescribe appropriate training for an individual athletes’ needs.

While lactate testing is common practice at the top levels of sports training and testing, it is not so easily accessible to everyone. For this week’s update, we thought we’d take you behind the curtain of this particular test as experienced by our athletes, and bring you up to date on their training so far…

What is lactate testing?

Lactate testing is used to measure the levels of lactate in the blood over a steady increase of exercise intensity, providing a profile of lactate production which can be used to identify an athletes lactate threshold, as well as correct training intensity levels for aerobic, intense and recovery exercise.

The lactate threshold is marked by the point where blood lactate production is exponentially increased, indicating an intense, and ultimately unsustainable, level of exercise stress. Lactate profiles are specific to each athlete, training can help improve the point at which an athlete reaches lactate threshold.

How did the Project Alexandria lactate test work?

For our lactate test we measured three things: blood lactate level (via blood taken from the ear), heart rate (heart rate chest strap), and perceived exertion (on a scale of 0-20). Heart rate was measured and recorded throughout the test, with blood taken at each interval, as well as before and 3mins after the test. At each interval our athletes were asked how hard they thought they were working, based on the 0-20 scale.

The test itself involved 7 x 4min stages with 1 min of rest in between. Each stage was guided by a set wattage, with the levels increasing through to the final stage which was at maximum effort. The wattage (power output) set for each stage is prescribed specifically to each athlete to enable a gradual progression in intensity, read on below to see how the test levels were set for Alistair and Leah respectively.

By measuring heart rate alongside blood lactate, physiologists can prescribe training based on heart rate (which is more easily measured) that will reflect the level of lactate production they can expect in the blood at that rate. Likewise, the lactate and heart rate measured against the increase in watts (power) at each stage, can also indicate workout targets referenced to exertion, providing athletes a target split of wattage to exercise at in training.

Why did we do a lactate test?

The lactate test for Alistair and Leah was conducted to indicate their current fitness levels, and set a benchmark for the training program they will work off as they prepare for the world indoor rowing championships. When the results are made available next week, they will indicate the power outputs and heart rates that Leah and Alistair will look to train at for varying training intensities, ensuring they are training at the correct level for optimum progress.

Athlete Update: Week One

Alistair Bond
alistair lt-646

What training have you done this week and how are you feeling about the level you are at right now?

I did just under 12 hours of training this week, either on the rowing machine or bike. This was my hardest week of training in the past year and I definitely felt like I needed a break by the end. But I feel like it is a good place to start from.

What were the wattage stages in your lactate test? How did you find them?

The wattage stages in my test were 160, 200, 240, 280, 320, 360 and MAX. I think I managed to hold 417 for my last stage. With these steps, it goes from being easy to hard really fast! I always hate the last step before the max step, because it is difficult, but you know you have another stage to go, so you don't want it to feel too difficult.

What was the last 4 minutes of the lactate test like?

The last 4-minute stage is always pretty brutal. The goal is always to go as far as you can so you need to pace yourself to some extent. Since I haven't been doing so much training lately, this is something that I am struggling with. I often find I have something left in the tank at the end of hard efforts, as I am having to relearn my limits again to some extent.

We were very lucky that we were able to do lactate testing, as it is not something that is readily available to everyone. If you can organize it though, I find it very beneficial as a way of working out how what intensity you should be training at.

Any goals for next week?

No specific goals for next week, but I would like to increase my training time again compared to last week.

Check out Alistair’s Instagram for a clip of his lactate test:

Leah Lassche
leah lt-475

What training have you done this week and how are you feeling about the level you are at right now?

I have built up to 45min workouts on the erg this week, broken down into 20min, 15min, 10min pieces. it’s been a long time since I have trained repetitively on the erg, so I am being careful to slowly increase my training to avoid getting stiff or injured. I have supplemented training on the rower with some sessions on the stationary bike which is also great for the legs and something I am a bit more conditioned to coming out of triathlon. I am probably at about 7 hours of training this week (feeling lazy compared to Alistair!) but I am happy with the way things are going and hope to take on more progressively.

What were the wattage stages in your lactate test? How did you find them?

My watt levels were 100, 130, 160, 190, 220, 250, MAX. Such is the nature of lactate testing, I found the initial stages almost painfully slow, but by the last two I would have gladly taken them back! I was a bit apprehensive about my targets to start with as I had no idea how easy or hard they would be, but by the time I got to the MAX stage I was starting to struggle so it would seem they were spot on.

What was the last 4 minutes of the lactate test like?

The last four minutes was tough, I had to keep telling myself that 4 minutes isn’t that long and that I can suffer through to the end! The biggest challenge for me was rating. This was my first attempt in many years at rating over 24spm, so 28spm seemed to be my limit for now and felt very awkward. I am looking forward to doing some more practice training at higher ratings, which I think will help me familiarize and relax with it a bit more. I’m really glad to have done the lactate test as it gave me important exposure to the kind of effort that will be required at worlds and what that will feel like.

Any goals for next week?

I have some technical focuses for this week. I will be working on staying relaxed and letting the rhythm of the stroke flow a bit more. I have a tendency to tighten my shoulders at the catch a bit, so I want to work on staying loose and connecting through my core muscles. Moving the handle around the back of the stroke is another thing I’m working on to help the movement flow a bit more and get up to those higher ratings more easily.

Check out Leah’s Instagram for a clip of her lactate test: lasscheleah

Stay tuned for next weeks video update where we look at the upcoming training program, and discuss the different types of cross training that can be used to complement training on the indoor rower.


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