Climbing & Training Helpful Hints & Suggestions (1): Lactate Threshold Training (A)

Smart lactate threshold training starts with establishing a solid base of consistent and challenging climbing.

Smart lactate threshold training starts with establishing a solid base of consistent and challenging climbing efforts.

Continuing last week’s discussion about lactic acid and lactate, this week’s entry turns to practical advice based on the concept that lactate is an athlete’s friend, not foe. And it turns out that despite having the science behind lactic acid/lactate incorrect (i.e. it’s a help rather than a hindrance to working muscles), lactate threshold training – something that has long been employed as a sports training tactic – still holds great value for athletes, but for a different reason than used to be assumed.

“The aim is to teach your body to consume lactate more quickly, not to avoid ‘poisoning’ your muscles with too much lactate,” as Alex Hutchinson explains in “Which Comes First, Cardio or Weights?: Fitness Myths, Training Truths, and Other Surprising Discoveries from the Science of Exercise.”

To put this very simplistically into climbing terms: If you train your body to use lactate faster, you can potentially resist fatigue for longer when you’re climbing, meaning you can do more moves at a higher percentage of your maximal ability level for a longer time, and you can recover and do this again with greater ease – a major goal for most sport climbers out there.

I don’t want to get into a nitpicky, overly analytical prescription here involving target heart rates and training zones and such. What I want to do instead is to give a few general, highly employable training tactics that you might find will help you increase your body’s ability to use lactate for fuel – or in other words, to avoid the pump for longer and longer periods of time/numbers of moves.

Lactate Threshold Improvement Preparatory Training: Lactate threshold training is quite uncomfortable and taxing (you’re working on getting pumped on purpose!), and it should not be pursued without a solid training base. Establish a solid base level of climbing/training volume that you can manage in every week, with a rest week thrown in once every four to six weeks. One of the biggest reasons that new training regimens fail is the “too much, too soon” paradigm, in which the excited climber (or other athlete) jumps full-on into a new, more difficult training regimen without taking the time to establish a solid base level of sport-specific fitness. Note that for climbing, this does not include cyclical endurance exercises like running, cycling or swimming; you want to build a fitness base for climbing – so CLIMB!

Developing a suitable base for more structured/intense lactate threshold training for climbing involves a regular amount of time spent climbing or training for climbing in each week (2 to 4 days, depending on intensity of sessions), and, please, not just climbing laps on routes that are easy for you. Your workouts should include challenging moves and challenging series of moves that take you out of your comfort zone. You may already have a base like this – but if you don’t, it’s a good place to start before taking on a more regimented plan to push beyond your comfort zone.

Up Next Week: Climbing & Training Helpful Hints and Suggestions (1): Lactate Threshold Training (B)

This multipart series of articles starts here, in case you have to catch up – you’ll also find a full table of contents, complete with links, in that entry. This information and advice is based on my 20+ years of climbing along with observations I’ve made as a climbing coach/certified personal trainer. You might not agree with me or my take on things. That’s fine – feel free to take it or leave it as you wish! Also, remember that the information I provide here is purely offered as advice and that no exercises or training program should be undertaken without receiving medical clearance from a healthcare professional.

One other caveat: As will be true for all of the entries and articles in this series, if you’ve already mastered or maxed out the topic at hand to the best of your ability level, you’ll reap far fewer benefits or none at all from my suggestions – good for you that you figured it out, but sorry I couldn’t help you out more. Happy climbing and training!

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