Anaerobic Threshold

by Question by Ali, Answered by Marius

The anaerobic threshold in any distance running event is the one single key in understanding how to perform better.

If you have ever seen the Kenyan runners, dominate distances from the 1500 through the 5/10k up to the marathon, you should pay particular attention to the anaerobic threshold.

I got this question from one of the readers (the article he is referring to is located at my mariusbakken.com page and is about Kenyan training principes.

Marius, i read your section on heart rate training. My question is: The junk zone (70-80%) is a zone you would use in training as listed in your practical guide to kenyan training? or am i confused, it seems you would progress through that zone on an LT run. Thanks Ali.

Thanks for the question, this is a very good observation. My personal experience from training with the Kenyans (having spent over a year of my life up there at altitude in Rift Valley) is that they have a unique "feeling" of what intensity they are training at.

And very often, this intensity is between around 80%/high 70 and high 80 % of maximum heartrate - or exactly at the anaerobic threshold.

Anaerobic Threshold In Continous Work

The continuous LT runs you are referring to is very, very interesting. What I saw in the Kenyans, that is a bit different compared to what many non-Africans are doing, is the way these runs are set up. Usually, these are run 6 am in the morning and start of at about 7 min mile pace (walking,jogging,warming).

Then it starts going faster and faster BUT the "zone2" you are referring to - between 70 and 80 % of max heartrate is usually being more or less "skipped" on the way. No more than 5-10 minutes there.

Then they start to float - for about an hour or so right around the anaerobic threshold - 80-90% of max HR.

Very potent training - giving them maximum effect.

So in the LT runs - it is ok to start off a bit easier, acutally it may even be smart, but aim to quickly run through the zone 2 before getting in gear in zone 3. This is the most effective way of increasing performance and you'll see a great long term improvement in your running if you manage to make it right.

One Expection - Marathon + Anaerobic Threshold

The only exception to this is for a pure marathon training schedule - where you for parts of the periodization plan you want to combine alternating zone 3 anaerobic threshold with zone 2 within the sessions (sort of going into fast "active recovery" between the reps)

But this only refers to about 5-8 weeks of the total training program working towards a specific marathon.

Best wishes,

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Lactate Threshold

Lactate threshold training, that is specific training around the lactate turnpoint is the # 1 factor to increase the speed at which you start to accumulate lactate acid.

Which will eventually be the determining factor for performance in distances over 5k (I am simplifying this now - I do know the physiology behind this and the discussion concerning the "actual" lactate threshold. But leaving that for now ;) )

However, what leads to a big misunderstanding in terms of effective training, is that training slightly slower, which means 70-75/80 % of max HR (whereas "optimal" training is between 80 and 87/88 %), also gives a positive effect on the threshold.

Problem is, the effectiveness is much less for the same amounth of work when you compare the two of them.

The ultimate goal for any runner should be to do the most effective type of training. Regardless of level.

I got this email from Andi ;

Dear Marius

I´ve got a question about your heart rate zones. Zone 1 is absolutly clear. Keep your heart rate under 70 % of maximum.

But zone 2 is so controversal in all of the training books and information of the western hemisphere. I was always adviced to the do the bulk of my work in this so called aerobic conditioning zone between 70-75%/80% of maximum heart rate. So I was always doing around 60 % of my work in this zone+ 20% in your Zone 1 and for the rest I ran some tempos or intervalls.

I´ve to admit that I absolutely like your idea on working on the anaerobic threshold in order to raise it. But if you absolutly skip zone 2 you aren`t doing any work at the aerobic threshold(2mmol) which seems to be so important in all the populistic literature.

Have you any literature or studies that make this zone a no go zone, or are the zones based on personal experience with the kenyans ?

When using this zones how would you split them up?

Is it possible to attack Zone 3 4-5 times a week, with a easy Zone 1 35 minute run every morning, and 1 long run (zone 1)in the general preperation. In specific preperation I`ll add zone 4+5 work.

Please help me Marius,the whole running market is so confusing.

I also want to thank you for providing all the good information.

Lactate Threshold Explained

Andi, Thank you for your questions.

1. Bulk training at 70-80% of max HR

I know that in training literature you find some support on this kind of intensity. Though, if you actually do some tests on the top runners in the world - especially the Kenyans, you'll find out that almost all of them do their training either above this or below this.

And most of them have actually found this out through experience and "been through" the running at 70-80 % but understood that training is more effective above it. And recovery more effective below it.

2.Number of lactate threshold training runs weekly

You can certainly to 4-5 of these weekly. In my own training I did something like that, in addition to that 1-2 harder sessions (going above the threshold - in my opinion you should at least have 1-2 sessions above the threshold for about 9 months of the total training year : with season in the summer, that means January until Sept.)

But a very good tip here is to double it up on the hard training days.

Which means, if you want to do 4-5 threshold runs weekly, don't do it on 4 different days.

Instead do for example morning and evening threshold work Monday and Wednesday. Easy on Tuesday, easy on Thursday, harder ; above the threshold Friday or Saturday. As an example.

3. The aerobic threshold

You should not be concerned with training specifically to get this higher unless you are in the middle of a marathon cycle. Even then, it should only be a focus for about 5-7 weeks at the most(approx from 4-5 to 10-12 weeks pre-marathon)

Point is - training the lactate threshold itself will give you more effect on the aerobic threshold than just working around that intensity in training.

So by running lactate threshold work you get the best of both : higher lactate threshold and higher aerobic threshold.

Hope that answered your questions and good luck with your training.

Best wishes from Marius

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Running After An Injury

by Question by JOHN DUKE Answer by Marius

Running after an injury can be quite a challenge - but the main thing to focus on is the functionality of the movement. And let that be the guide to how much you can do.

I got this question from John :

in 2003 I was struck by a car while training for a marathon. I injured my knee and during the recovery my quadraceps atrophied somewhat and it hasn't come all the way back. Can I still run a marathon despite this?

Thanks for the very good question. The big question here is your functionality. That is what determined running after an injury. How well is your quadriceps actually functioning and how can you find out ?

Actually it is real easy to know.

What you need to do is to get on a treadmill and have someone take videoshots of you while running. From the side, from behind.

Now, when you watch this afterwards look to see if you run symmetrically - that you do not limp too much. The treadmill is flat and quite hard so you cannot "cheat" on it. You will see your functionality real clear.

If it is ok - at the different speeds - then just go for it no problem :)

If you do see a problem, go for eccentric workouts of the quads (meaning you put on weight in the lengthening direction of the tendon/muscle - you want to strengthen the tendon which should be first priority) combined with some uphill running for dynamic quad strengthwork. Which means 10 x 100 meter hill after three weekly workouts - "dancing" up the hill, not straining.

Do this for 6-8 weeks and repeat the treadmill test. When you finally (and you will get there, if atrophy is the only main problem) can see it looks normal when running you are ready to go (no matter how much different the visual view of your quads is)

Best wishes,


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