Aerobic, anaerobic, thresholds

A little confused over aerobic vs anaerobic training. What does it mean? When should I do them, how do I know when I am doing them....

I'm and aging half and full marathon runner who is desperate to get quicker....doing 35 miles a week and heading up to 50..


  • Afternoon Trin,
    Aerobic means running at a level that demands oxygen and fuel and can be met by the bodys intake. Lactic acid isnt produced during aerobic exercise.

    Anaerobic means the body is working so hard that the demands for fuel and oxygen exceeds the rate of supply.

    Check this link out it has some really information on there that should help.

    I wouldnt be able to say when to do them for the marathon or half as im a middle distance runner. Hope this helps
  • also forgot to say that lactic acid is produced during anaerobic exercise
  • Thanks Chris..

    Can anyone help me with the mix in training for long distance, particularly in getting faster....

    Why would I want to go anaerobic at all?
  • Chris - actually that's wrong...

    Don't think of aerobic vs anaerobic exercise - as if you are training aerobically and then hit a threshold and are now anerobic. As if if you haev triggered some kind of lactate switch!

    Think of it as aerobic and anaerobic respiration - two different means of producing energy. It's as if your body has two power stations producing energy - and they both are working ALL THE TIME!

    Power station A (aerobic) produces no pollution and is incredibly efficient. Power station B (anaerobic) produces tons of pollution (lactate) and is very inefficient. But power station A produces insufficient fuel alone - power station B is needed to produce sufficient energy. And (here's the clever bit) power station A can USE power station B's pollution as fuel!! Neat, huh?

    At rest you will have a blood lactate of 1 - 1.5mmol. The fact that lactate is there tells you that the anaerobic system is pumping away. The thing is that it is doing very little work and the aerobic system is doing sufficient work to "mop up" the "pollution" (lactate) of the anaerobic system.

    When you start to run very slowly, if you are very AEROBICALLY fit, the lactate levels can actually drop lower than at rest - the aerobic system is kicking in in response to increased demand for energy, mopping up the lactate produced by the anaerobic system.

    As you get faster and faster the anaerobic system is called upon more and more to produce the energy required. As a result the lactate levels are going to rise. To around 2.0-2.5mmol at marathon pace (= "aerobic threshold"). To around 3mmol+ at HM pace. And to around 4mmol at the magic "lactate/anaerobic threshold".

    It is at this latter threshold that the anaerobic system is being called upon to such an extent that the aerobic system (which is maxed out) can no longer "mop up" the "pollution" (lactate) produced by the anaerobic system. As a result the lactate levels will rise continually until the pace is lowered - blood lactate will be increasing even at a CONSTANT pace.

    So lacate threshold is not when "anaerobic exercise" begins, rather it is when the aerobic system becomes unable to manage the lactate produced by the heavily used anaerobic system.

    Not a perfect analogy - but conveys what is going on sufficently well.
  • Trinirunner - with regards to training, consider this...

    When Paul Tergat ran sub 2:05 for the marathon, the bulk of that time his lactate would have been around 2mmol. At that level of fitness he could have gone out and run at 4:45 pace and produced very little lactate - not much above resting levels.

    Now if you were wanting to get faster at marathon running, you want to be faster at around 2mmol or so. It is pointless being fast at higher levels of lactate as you cannot maintain that for 26 miles. You don't want to be able to run fast, rather you want ot be able to run fast and still produce minimal lactate.

    If you go out and run at lactate threshold 4mmol or faster ("anaerobic speed work") you are teaching your body to produce lots of lactate - the opposite of what you want to do. It is pointless saying, "I want to run a marathon at x pace and so I'll train at x pace - that's specific!" as in fact you may be training at a higher level of lactate than you need to race at so you are not training specifically at all.

    Lots of miles at a lower HR will teach your body to run faster with little lactate. It should be the bulk of your training.
  • Wow Pants, good stuff, I understand!

    I know you are a great distance runner, so should I be doing anaerobic workouts as part of as build up to faster HM and ful Mara?
  • Posts crossed, cheers Pants
  • Trinirunner - there is DEFINTELY a place for LT runs and even anaerobic speedwork in the quest for a good marathon. BUT I have got to around 2:30 shape with about 10 of the former and none of the latter over the last 2 years.

    My big emphasis is not to do away with faster running, but simply to put it in its place. You wouldn't have an 8yr old do A-Level work - everything in it's time...

    If you want to progress in the HM/M distances and you are slower than, say, 1:45/3:30 - I cannot see the point of doing threshold runs, let alone anything faster. Lots of miles is the key to a good foundation - all run sub 75% maxHR.
  • Will do, 1:45 and 3:30 are this years goals.
  • Found what I was looking for...

    Baldini, prior to his Oly Gold, did a series of tests consisting of 6 x 2000m at set paces: 6:20, 6:15, 6:10, 6:05, 6:00, 5:55. Cones were laid out to mark every 25m and a computer emitted a beep for each 25m mark - this ensured perfect apcing throughout. Lactate was analysed after each rep.

    The idea is to see lacate levels getting lower throughout the season. On the last test before Athens, after the final rep (5:55/2K = sub 30min 10K pace = 4:44 pace) his blood lactate was 1.8mmol!!! His coach reckons he could have beaten Tergat's WR by a minute on a fast course in that condition!
  • See your point there pantman, and agree with your point more than mine to be honest with you now youve explained it but what i said is what i found on the brianman website above.
  • Chris - this is why I think higher volume in the winter is of benefit to middle distance runners. Most MD training is all about PRODUCING lactate. If you, over the winter, can increase the speed at which you can run at low lactate levels, then your "starting point" for faster running is higher.

    This is why guys like Sodahead and BR are running about the same times as Micksta over 1500m, despite his "specific" preparation. They have a MUCH higher starting point. Micksta's specific MD work makes him MUCH faster RELATIVE to low lactate running than they are, but because their "starting point" is much higher the lack of increase in pace above that brings them all out at about even on race day.

    There is only so much you can squeeze out through constant high lactate repetitions. Raising the "starting point" by higher volume running is another way to progress in MD.
  • Pantman - good series of posts explaining all that. Only one point to add, the 4mmol lactate figure isn't really magic and is now known to be an average, athletes' lactate curves can suddenly pick up anywhere between 2 and 7 mmol. Coe and Martin stress this point in their book as elite athletes could end up either over- or under-training if they focussed on their 4mmol pace. For most of us who are using non-lab methods to determine our LT point eg sudden changes in ventilation, it doesn't make any difference of course!

    Chris - don't forget if you are doing middle distance on the track you are dealing with very challenging combinations of aerobic/anaerobic - the distance at which they contribute 50% each is considered to be the 1500m which is why many of us like to consider the 1500m the ultimate track event!!
  • Joe - good point. All I would add to that is that, like most things, people tend to go to "knee-jerk" extremes. In response to the suggestion that LT is always excatly 4.0mmol some have gone too far the other way and suggested that it varies more than it does. 4mmol, as I understand it, is a fairly accurate figure for the vast majority.

    Even reading stuff by Renato Canova, for example, he often refers to 4mmol as AnT/LT.

    But like you say, it's not as if we are all using lactate machines on trackside every week... :-S
  • Cheers Pantman and Joe.

    Pantman - I see your point and its very well explained, i will take it on board.
  • Chris - another thing to consider is that for shorter distances the threshold that really matters is "MaxLass" which is a stabilising of lactate levels AFTER AnT/LT.

    Not being a MD guy I do not know much about it. My kids will be doing some 800/1500m work next summer, so I'll have to be an expert by then! ;-)

  • Pantman - I'm sure you know that there has been tons of controversy amongst scientists about how to define the threshold we are talking about and even what to call it!

    I did actually have mine measured in the lab but it is very fiddly and its not like you can plot an instantaneous graph like with an hrm. My plot looked like this

    13.1 kph 142 bpm 1.0 mmol
    14.0 kph 149 bpm 1.9 mmol
    15.1 kph 156 bpm 2.1 mmol
    16.0 kph 163 bpm 5.1 mmol

    and even to get this poor granularity I had to keep hopping my legs off the side of a treadmill belt travelling quite fast at each stage whilst some guy stuck a needle in my ear!!
  • Another question 8o)

    At what sort or heart rates (perhaps as percentages of maximum heart rate) do you expect to see these thresholds in beginner athletes and 'well aerobically trained' athletes?
  • Pantman - it sounded earlier like you are telling us to not do LT sessions and that training at this pace doesn't improve our threshold pace? Do you agree with this: again from Coe/Martin

    'Working at a pace slightly faster than lactate/ventilatory threshold pace optimally stimulates the kinds of adaptive physiological changes that eventually quicken the pace at which this threshold occurs'. The key word in there was *optimally*.

    And again, the consultant who did my test and produced my training recommendations set my LT sessions to be in the hr range 158-163 ie exactly at the turning point in my lactate curve.
  • ATMF - my max HR was approx 180 when I did that test so that would have made my LT point about 90% of max-hr. The test administrator said at the time that he was mildly disappointed in my LT figures although the written report didn't repeat that. But as I was trying to illustrate it, for those who will quote you precise figures down to 1% granularity, it is difficult to extract those from a lactate test - we only know mine occurred somewhere between 158 and 163 = 87-90%.
  • Joe - agree with all of that. Training just below or above LT is the "best" way to improve it.

    I just don't think that raising LT should be the primary goal for an "aerobically challenged" runner. They do not need to work at that level YET.

    I am very fit aerobically and can run at around 5:40-45 pace at 2mmol. For ME doing LT work may be the most important part of my training. My AeT is getting close to my LT - 5% is about as close as you can get. For me to raise AeT/MP/2mmol further I need to raise LT.

    Also my aerobic "base" means I will get the most out of such sessions.

    But someone running a marathon in 4hr - NO WAY!!
  • Hey Pantman - you should write a book!

    Great explanations, thanks.

    I still haven't got all this clearly sussed in my mind since different experts say different things: inevitably Noakes doesn't believe in this stuff - he says there's nothing evil about lactate and the need to slow down or stop is caused my muscular cell damage, as is soreness after running fast since blood lactate levels return to normal within an hour. He does say that lactate "turnpoint" is a good predictor of marathon times though. Of course Jack Daniels lives for this stuff.

    Isn't there something to be said for varying pace/hills to improve running form, muscle and ligament strength, mental strength with discomfort? For me one intervals session a week is a bit of fun (until I actually do it of course).

    Maybe if you did more of them then London 2012 could be in the offing?!
  • ATMF - 87-90% MHR is typically quoted for LT. We have found however that meticulous preparation focusing on raising AeT FIRST means that you can get AeT into that zone and LT 5% higher still. If you then go back to raising LT rather than AeT, you'll open the gap between them back up (to around 10%) and get LT to around 93% maxHR.

    That said, many beginners may have LTs below 80%MHR. That's why it's always best to start too slow and play safe. When you are unfit ANY running will raise LT!

    In fact, consider that point - my LT has progressed hugely (at pace, if not %MHR as much) without doing hardly any LT work. Now that the lower intensity training has done it's job, training v. close to LT is now necessary to continue progressing.
    It's just like Noakes' principle of gradual progression, but he only applies it to mileage and not so much to intensity. That's where I disagree with him.

  • Evergreen - you are right that a lot of books now let you determine your M, H/M pace based on various proportions of your LT pace. But lets not forget you've still got to do the specific preparation! (I know most of us know this stuff anyway, but just in case ...) for example my figures indicate my LT pace was about 6min/mile but that was off my normal winter XC training where my longest run was about 9 miles. I was a long way from applying it over 26 miles. Maybe I might have bluffed my way through a HM...
  • Sorry, ET. X-posts galore here!

    Book? This stuff's not original ya know? I just share the "good news" I was given... ;-)

    "Isn't there something to be said for varying pace/hills to improve running form, muscle and ligament strength, mental strength with discomfort? For me one intervals session a week is a bit of fun (until I actually do it of course)"

    Yes - absolutely. That was my mistake - no variation at all. When I got faster, by body couldn't handle it. Canova recommends short hill reps on a very steep gradient - not only does it increase strength and improve biomechanics, but it also engages ALL your muscle fibres and works the "core aerobic components" = the blood pumped out to the muscles by the heart.
    The other advantage of these is that as teh reps are only 10secs or so long, it does not damage the aerobic work you are doing.

    Also if you enjoy mixing the pace, then that will help psychologically, of course. I read an interview with Peter Snell where he said if could do it all again he would have kept a set of faster reps weekly during "base" training. That said, he was a MD guy and even without it he broke the WRs for 800/1500 (or was it 880yds/mile?) within a few weeks of completing his base work one year.

    "Maybe if you did more of them then London 2012 could be in the offing?!" - LOL! I'll be 40 then!! But my eldest daughter will be 19 - watch out for her... ;-)
  • Pantman - your childrens' times are worrying me right now, never mind when they are 19!!
  • PM

    ET is right you definately have a talent for making complex scientific theories/research easy to understand. More so you have a great skill in making it relevent to both novice and advanced runners.

    Take it from someone who is definately a novice runner with a challenged aerobic system and also a degree in exercise physiology!!!!!

    Keep up the good work
  • JV - They start regular track work on Monday and both comfortably run 8M in training (albeit very slow). Only going to get faster from here on in...
    Chloe has planned out with me what times she needs to do to progress to an Olympic place. She is very serious about getting there. She now takes her 6yr old sister out for 1.5M jogs as an occasional double too!

    JJ - The power station analogy is Hadd's - as is most of stuff I say that makes any sense. I too have a degree in Sports Studies (1st in final year ex. phys), but most of what works in training I get from Hadd, Canova and other coaches. As Lydiard said many years ago, the coaches know WHAT works and HOW to train, the phsyiologists just tell us WHY it works!

  • Panto, you touched on the point above which I think is a key point and about which I'm not convinced, namely that doing faster work will in some way impair your building an aerobic base.

    I looked at the reports and articles linked from the 'Base Training' thread and my recollection is that the views on this diverged, and I don't remember the views in favour of it as having been particularly clearly reasoned. I seem to remember it being suggested that lactic acid inhibited the development of mitochondria/capillaries and all that jazz, but the view wasn't universal and I don't remember there having been much evidence produced to support it.

    How clear do you think the position is on this?

    I want to get some miles behind me in August and September (not many by your standards, of course!) as a base for the winter season, but I see an ideal week as being 1 long run, 1 hills/long intervals, 2 steady runs, 2 easy runs, which keeps something going towards the top end and will enable me to be competitive in October.
    If doing the quicker work will inhibit the development of aerobic fitness, that mix wouldn't be ideal, but I would like to see it convincingly explained before I take the downside of eliminating the top end stuff which will make me uncompetitive in the early part of the season (based on last year's experience).

    Your views?
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