Average Lactate Threshold Values: Calculate Yours For Improved Performance

We show you how to measure your lactate threshold values according to your fitness level.

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Experienced runners often know that the lactate threshold has some pertinence to their endurance performance and that increasing their lactate threshold is important for improvement.

However, what lactate threshold is, what a good lactate threshold is for runners, and how to increase lactate threshold are concepts not generally well understood by most runners.

So, what is a good lactate threshold for beginners? What is a good lactate threshold for experienced runners?

An average lactate threshold, or “good” lactate threshold, isn’t an exact number but will vary from person to person and depend on your running level:

Beginner runners’ lactate threshold will correspond to around 55-65% of their maximum heart rate, intermediate runners 80-90%, and competitive runners 90-95% of their max heart rate.

In this average lactate threshold guide, we will discuss how to increase your lactate threshold, why lactate threshold training is important to include in your training program, and how to do lactate threshold workouts.

Let’s dive in! 

People running hard on a track.

What Is Lactate Threshold?

Lactate threshold (LT) refers to exercise intensity beyond which blood lactate levels rise significantly with increased exercise intensity.

Below your lactate threshold, your body is able to clear or metabolize lactate, a metabolic glycolysis (one of the pathways to produce ATP (energy)) at approximately the same rate that it is produced.

This means that you don’t experience an appreciable increase in your blood lactate levels.

Your lactate threshold can be graphed relative to the intensity of your workout.

At low effort levels, blood lactate levels remain low, until a point referred to as the aerobic threshold (LT1).

After LT1, blood lactate increases linearly with increasing exercise intensity until the point of the lactate threshold (LT2), which is also your anaerobic threshold for all intents and purposes.1Poole, D. C., Rossiter, H. B., Brooks, G. A., & Gladden, L. B. (2020). The anaerobic threshold: 50+ years of controversy. The Journal of Physiology599(3). https://doi.org/10.1113/jp279963

Above LT2, blood lactate levels start to increase exponentially with linear pace or exercise intensity increases.

Lactate threshold training involves running, cycling, or exercising in some capacity right around the LT2 intensity.

A person running hard across a bridge.

This is because the reliance on anaerobic glycolysis to produce ATP is minimal at lower intensities of exercise because you can breathe easily enough to take in sufficient oxygen for your muscles to generate energy through aerobic pathways.

Moreover, at lower intensities of exercise, the rate at which the muscles are consuming oxygen is slow enough that the muscles have time to meet that demand by generating oxygen via aerobic systems. 

Aerobic metabolism yields ATP more slowly because more steps are involved, but the net yield of ATP is much higher than with glycolysis.

At running speeds or exercise intensity levels above your lactate threshold (high intensity exercise), lactate production in your muscles increases at a rate that exceeds the liver’s ability to convert it into other molecules, causing a notable increase in your blood lactate concentration.

Even at lower exercise intensities, glycolysis still occurs to some degree, but the body can shuttle lactate out of the muscles as it is being produced, keeping the blood lactate levels relatively stable.

During lower intensities of exercise, blood lactate is typically 1-2 mmol/L. 

A person running hard across a bridge.

However, once you start running faster than the pace corresponding to your lactate threshold, your muscles need energy at a rate that is too fast for aerobic metabolism, and you also become unable to breathe steadily and comfortably.

Therefore, your muscles must keep up with the need for energy, particularly in an oxygen-deprived environment, by ramping up glycolysis. 

At this point, the blood lactate levels rise dramatically; in fact, the lactate levels can rise over 20 mmol/L. This is your lactate threshold.

Running at a pace beyond your lactate threshold will cause the rapid fatigue and burning sensation in your legs (acidosis) that every runner has experienced during a race or hard workout.

It isn’t actually lactate that causes the burning sensation, but rather hydrogen ions (acid) that dissociate from the lactic acid molecule (yielding lactate plus free hydrogen ions). 

However, because we can’t easily measure hydrogen ion levels, we can measure blood lactate; instantaneous blood lactate levels during exercise (taken via blood draw) serve as a measurable biomarker of how much acid accumulates in the muscle fibers.

So, the lactate threshold can be used to indicate the point at which the performance-inhibiting hydrogen ions will rapidly accumulate and cause a burning, acidic feeling in your legs.

The pace that corresponds to your lactate threshold is the fastest you can run at a steady state without fatigue.

People running hard on a track.

What Is An Average Lactate Threshold for Runners? 

Unlike many physiological biometrics for endurance athletes, such as V02 max or resting heart rate, there isn’t a table that will provide “good lactate threshold levels for runners” or even “average lactate threshold for runners” with specific numbers as to a definitive lactate threshold level.

Rather, what constitutes a “good lactate threshold level,” “average lactate threshold level,“ or “poor lactate threshold level“ is defined in relative terms with your lactate threshold as a percentage of either your VO2 max or your maximum heart rate.

Ultimately, the higher your lactate threshold, the faster you can run or the greater the intensity you can sustain while using aerobic metabolism before crossing over to relying too much on anaerobic energy systems.

Then, the fatiguing byproducts associated with using this anaerobic energy system will bring you to cross your lactate threshold.

People running on a track.

Therefore, a good lactate threshold will occur at a higher relative percentage of your VO2 max or a higher relative percentage of your maximum heart rate while a low lactate threshold will be reached at a lower relative percentage of these parameters.

According to FirstBeat Analytics, well-trained runners and endurance athletes typically have their lactate threshold around 90% of their maximum heart rate.2Firstbeat Analytics. (n.d.). Www.firstbeatanalytics.com. https://www.firstbeatanalytics.com/en/features/lactate-threshold/#:~:text=Well%2Dtrained%20runners%20typically%20find

‌For well-trained runners, a good lactate threshold occurs at a running pace somewhere between 10k and half-marathon race pace. 

Therefore, because well-trained runners are at the peak of aerobic capacity, we can say that a good lactate threshold is if you can stave off hitting your lactate threshold tipping point or your anaerobic threshold until you have reached 90% of your maximum heart rate.

Or, if you can run at your 10K race pace for an extended period of time without blood lactate accumulation or building up anaerobic metabolic byproducts, you have a good lactate threshold level.

For less experienced runners, the lactate threshold typically is reached somewhere below 90% of the max heart rate and sometimes as low as about 50% of your maximum heart rate.

A person running on a track.

In fact, according to research, average lactate threshold values by level are as follows:

  • Untrained or beginner runners: Corresponds to 50-60% of your VO2 max, around 55-65% of your maximum heart rate.
  • Intermediate runners: Corresponds to 75-85% of your VO2 max, around 80-90% of your maximum heart rate.
  • Elite and highly competitive runners: 85% to 95% of VO2 max or 90-95% of maximum heart rate.

This means that beginners have to run at a slower pace or an easier effort so that they don’t start relying heavily on anaerobic glycolysis to provide energy for their workout.

With these percentages, you can calculate your threshold paces using the indicated lactate threshold heart rate ranges or VO2 Max ranges.

Thus, for distance runners and endurance athletes, your race pace running distance events or power output for cycling is limited by your lactate threshold.

A person running on a track.

How Can I Improve My Lactate Threshold Running?

The good news is that you can increase your lactate threshold through endurance training.

This is why elite athletes have a higher lactate threshold in terms of the percentage of VO2 max, maximum power output, or maximum heart rate at which they can perform before crossing the lactate threshold or anaerobic threshold.

Lactate threshold training or lactate threshold workouts are workouts specifically designed to improve your lactate threshold by training within a specific effort range.

Lactate threshold training can be done in several different ways, including the following:

  • One continuous effort right at your lactate threshold training pace. This would include things like a 20 to 30-minute tempo run.
  • Longer threshold interval training, such as 2-3 x 10 minutes at lactate threshold pace or power, for runners and cyclists, respectively, with 90 seconds of rest between each lactate threshold interval.
  • Numerous shorter intervals add lactate threshold pace or power, such as 4 to 6×5 minutes 4 6×1200 m with 60 to 90 seconds of rest between each threshold training interval.
A runner hands on knees after a workout.

The goal of lactate threshold workouts in your training plan is to get more comfortable training at lactate threshold intensity and gradually allow the body to adapt and become more efficient at clearing lactate and hydrogen ions so that you can run faster or push harder before crossing the anaerobic threshold.3Ghosh, A. K. (2004). Anaerobic threshold: its concept and role in endurance sport. The Malaysian Journal of Medical Sciences : MJMS11(1), 24–36.

‌Lactate threshold workouts can improve your lactate threshold over time.

This is helpful because, again, the higher your lactate threshold, the faster you can run, and the longer you can hold a higher-intensity pace before exhaustion.

Therefore lactate threshold corresponds with your potential running performance in any high-intensity distance race.4Deshayes, T. A., Jeker, D., & Goulet, E. D. B. (2019). Impact of Pre-exercise Hypohydration on Aerobic Exercise Performance, Peak Oxygen Consumption and Oxygen Consumption at Lactate Threshold: A Systematic Review with Meta-analysis. Sports Medicine50(3), 581–596. https://doi.org/10.1007/s40279-019-01223-5

As for a “lactate threshold test,” a VO2 max field test can be very helpful when calculating your lactate threshold training zones. To learn about these exercise tests, check out the following guide:

References

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Amber Sayer is a Fitness, Nutrition, and Wellness Writer and Editor, as well as a NASM-Certified Nutrition Coach and UESCA-certified running, endurance nutrition, and triathlon coach. She holds two Masters Degrees—one in Exercise Science and one in Prosthetics and Orthotics. As a Certified Personal Trainer and running coach for 12 years, Amber enjoys staying active and helping others do so as well. In her free time, she likes running, cycling, cooking, and tackling any type of puzzle.

1 thought on “Average Lactate Threshold Values: Calculate Yours For Improved Performance”

  1. Thank You for your more Explanation. In my opinion 4 to 6×5 minutes 4 -6×1200 m with 60 to 90 seconds of rest between is very small for Elite Marathon runners, that better 10- 12 x 3x400m (pace for male 68”-70” & [recovery 60”- 90”]).

    Reply

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