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Pictures of lactate sampling

Lactate changes over one year of exercise

Lactate used to determine when to and when not to change intensity

Lactate threshold test graphs

"I've looked at
thousands of lactate samples between research I've taken part in, testing in the field, and data sent in from athletes.

Trainers without this experience have no frame of reference for understanding the validity of lactate testing and have a more limited ability to accurately interpret how individuals respond to exercise."

When I started using lactate sampling I saw immediate results in my athletes performance due to more efficient training. The Lactate Pro is an indispensable training tool."

- Cris LaBossiere


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Blood Lactate Testing, what it is and how it's done

Athletes want to get faster and last longer.

Others want to lose fat and get fit. We all know exercise is part of the equation; but how do we most accurately determine the right exercise time and intensity for each of us?

Lactate values help determine the correct training intensity to increase power and endurance, and lactate values do this more accurately than heart rate alone. It's the corresponding lactate values that indicate what heart rate and speed or power you should exercise at. Heart rate formulas that use your age to calculate heart rate zones are not accurate.

Lactate is made up of 3 carbon, 6 hydrogen, and 3 oxygen atoms. Your muscles always produce lactate, even at rest. Resting blood lactate values are about 0.8 - 1.5 mmol/L. Lactate increases incrementally with exercise intensity. When you achieve a certain intensity where lactate increases exponentially you are crossing the lactate threshold ("LT"), which on average occurs at 4.0 mmol/L of lactate. See lactate curve graph below.

Fatigue onset is rapid above the LT, but efforts just below the LT can be sustained for hours by well trained athletes. To increase how long you can maintain your highest output in endurance events, you must increase your power at LT and strive to raise your LT to your highest genetic potential.

A sterilized needle pokes the finger

A small micro sample of blood

Analyzer takes a sample

Results in 60 seconds. This photo shows a very high result of 11.3 after a bike race

An untrained persons LT is between 50% and 60% percent of their max heart rate, and in a trained individual is between 70% and 85% of max heart rate. The same person at the same age can have very different lactate thresholds, depending on how "trained" they are. Heart rate formulas don't account for this variable, and can't monitor the gradual increase in LT over months or years of exercise. If you're just starting exercise, 60% of your max heart rate may be too intensive, if you're already fairly fit 75% - 80% might not be intensive enough. How could you know where you're at without measuring?

More power at LT and shifting your LT to a higher percentage of your maximum output is the most important factor for increasing performance whether you are an endurance athlete or simply looking to get more fit. If you can't measure your LT, you'll waist a lot of exercise time trying to "ballpark" it. Too much training at or above the LT results in overtraining, training too far below the LT will not improve LT performance.

In the lab. Cris LaBossiere taking a blood lactate sample during a Vo2 max test.

And in the field. Cris LaBossiere taking a sample from an athlete during their post race cool down.

Lactate testing is used to determine not only the lactate threshold, but also the correct intensity for base, recovery, and intense interval training.

At either end of the extremes of exercise intensity, the result is the same: lot's of exercise but poor or inconsistent results. Lactate testing allows you to get the most out of your exercise time.

Lactate testing is used all over the world by researchers and athletic coaches. It is currently the gold standard for determining exercise intensity zones and a significant tool for determining whether or not training is producing the desired physiological effect.

At Rhino Fitness, we use the Lactate Pro lactate analyzer along with heart rate and power to determine the correct exercise intensity for general fitness, and for training our champion athletes.

Above is a classic lactate curve comparison depicting blood lactate levels during a test where exercise intensity is increased in fixed stages. Comparing repeated tests as fitness increases will show a lower lactate for a given intensity. This is a result of both producing less lactate and clearing lactate faster at any given intensity due to adaptations primarily in the muscles mitochondria, capillaries, lactate transporters, and the liver. Heart rate will generally decrease for a given intensity as you become more fit, but using the same heart rate zones as your fitness increases will sell you short as heart rate will not account for the changes in metabolism that are indicated with lactate testing.

Those starting an exercise program will experience a greater degree of change in lactate levels at a given intensity than those who are well trained, requiring more frequent updates to heart rate zones. So contrary to popular belief, frequent lactate sampling is just as important for beginners as it is for athletes.

Lactate testing is not "new". Physiologists have been measuring lactate in exercising humans for decades, and the lactate molecule was first isolated in 1789. The advent of portable analyzers has made lactate testing more accessible, so more people are using it now compared to 10 years ago. Using the search term "lactate threshold" (include quotes) in pubmed provides over 730 studies dating back to 1979 - and that's only one search term with the word lactate in one database.

Despite the scientific data supporting lactate testing for exercise purposes, many trainers don't know about it, or deny its significance. These trainers use "belief based" not "evidence based" concepts to train, meaning they believe what they say, but can't support what they say with scientific evidence.

"People have been getting fitness results without measuring lactate, so what's the point?" It's a common position to stay stuck in the past when denying modern advancements. It's true great champions were developed without lactate testing. Now great champions are developed with lactate testing, with less wasted training time.

The fact is, lactate testing allows for a more accurate assessment, and therefore more accurate prescription of exercise.

Lactate myths

  • Lactate does not cause a burning sensation in muscles.
  • Lactate is not a waste product it's a fuel source; nearly 4/5 of lactate produced is used again as fuel.
  • Lactate production does not cause muscles to become acidic, it helps prevent muscle acidosis by transporting positive hydrogen ions (thought to be the primary cause of muscle acidity) out of the muscles.
  • Lactate production does not cause muscle fatigue, it helps prevent it by reducing muscle acidity.
  • Massage therapy cannot "clear" lactic acid. Also, we don't know everything about lactate and exercise. As with all science, what is believed to be accurate today may be further confirmed or superseded by a better understanding tomorrow.


There are many terms used in the jargon for lactate testing and training; OBLA (onset of blood lactate accumulation), Lactate Threshold, Anaerobic Threshold, Aerobic Threshold, Lactate Steady State, and Maximum Lactate Steady State, are the most popular. Disagreements surrounding what the appropriate use and definitions of these terms are more academic in nature and don't effect the practical application of lactate testing.

When lactate is lower for a given intensity, a metabolic adaptation has occurred. This helps us determine whether someone is faster because they are simply pushing harder, or if they are faster because they are more fit, and specifically what type of fitness adaptations are occurring - an important determination to make when prescribing exercise.

Blood lactate testing used to be reserved for top athletes due to high cost and limited availability. The Lactate Pro by Arkray Japan was the first analyzer to receive FDA approval, and quickly became the standard portable lactate analyzer world wide for athletic training and research. Other lactate analyzers are also available (Accusport, Accutrend, Lactate Scout, Lactate Plus). Technology has miniaturized and brought the cost of lactate testing down to the mass market level.

Why lactate testing is important

Blood lactate levels provide a clinically accurate measurement of adaptation to exercise. This is important because measuring results allows us to separate training strategies that provide greater results from those that provide lesser results.

At Rhino Fitness we believe that blood lactate testing benefits everyone, not just high performance athletes. Lactate testing is not "athlete" testing, it's human testing.

If you're human and you exercise, you can benefit from lactate testing. Confused about all the conflicting claims of what intensity to exercise at? Lactate testing will provide clear evidence of what heart rate corresponds with your individual training zones. More importantly, lactate testing can track adaptation indicating the critical moment for updating your exercise program.

Heart rate formulas simply don't work. Blood lactate testing is currently the easiest, cheapest, and most accurate method of determining an individuals personal heart rate zones.

The graph below- taken from this Rhino Fitness article, shows how lactate and heart rate levels change as a person becomes more fit. A heart rate level that represents a high intensity when unfit, will represent a low intensity after a person increases their fitness. At a certain level of fitness development these adaptations begin to level out, but a person is still able to increase how fast they can go for the same heart rate and lactate. Without accurate measuring and the expertise to interpret these measurements, no person could accurately "guess" at what exact point an individuals exercise plan needs amending. But guessing is the only option if one does not measure. - Is your trainer measuring or guessing?

Virtually no popular training plans take these adaptations into consideration. I have never seen any of the "20 minutes 3X per week" promoters, spin classes, aerobics classes, group training classes, or personal trainers ever consider these physiological facts - despite all their hyped claims and boasting that their special "certification" has prepared them to train people. Some running clubs, fitness centres, rehab centres are starting to use lactate testing - finally.

Perhaps as more people in the fitness industry become more ethics and results orientated instead of merely fad and income centered, we will see more of the public having access to real exercise advice instead of the fabricated fodder that is so popular right now.

45 Year Old Male, Exercises Daily; Rhino Fitness Client:

Calories Per/ hr
Heart Rate/ Lactate
February 6, 2003
120 BPM        2.8 mmol/l
February 15, 2003
122 BPM        2.3 mmol/l
March 14, 2003
126 BPM        1.7 mmol/l
July 14, 2003
128 BPM        1.9 mmol/l
January 27, 2004
150 BPM        0.8 mmol/l            

Look at these dramatic - but normal - changes. In order to keep up with this persons increase in fitness, intensity (calories per hour) and heart rate had to be frequently amended in the early stages, but less frequently in later stages. Look at the large change in energy expenditure and comparatively smaller change in heart rate over the first few months. After one year of regular exercise this person could burn off 48% more calories in hour than when they started, and have it feel easier!

This person can easily exercise at 1000 calories per hour - nearly 100% harder than when they started. Have you ever heard of an exercise plan being followed so closely? No? Have you seen the typical 4 to 8 week "training plans" that have arbitrary increases in intensity such 10% increase every week? Sure - they don't require expertise, time, or measuring to make. Just hand out the same program to you that was handed out to the last person. It's a great way to make money, not such a great way to improve your fitness. Make your money work for you - hire a trainer that can do a legitimate assessment of your fitness and provide an updated plan according how you adapt.

50 Year old female making the switch from sedentary to regular exerciser:

Comparing these variables over time allows for an objective analyses of how a person is responding to exercise and helps guide the coaches decision on how to update an exercise program.

If a trainer does not possess tools of the trade such as heart rate monitors and lactate analyzers (at least a heart rate monitor that downloads to computer), it would be like an auto mechanic not owning a wrench; they literally cannot do their job to modern standards and should not be practicing in the trade. There is an exception, a trainer can refer you to a testing facility, then use the results to properly advise you. Whatever the case, if you are paying for training you ought to be paying for professional assessment, not just regurgitation of rehearsed enthusiastic words and recycled cookie cutter heart rate charts and programs.

If a trainer never measures with clinical accuracy, they can get away with saying anything they want and remain confident that their claims will never be put to the test. As long as they use the right key words and make you feel excited about exercise - you will be so enthralled with the "program" and how it "makes you sweat" that you will be continually diverted from ever seeing real evidence that you are being trained correctly.

As you've seen in graphs in this article, the relationship of heart rate and lactate change as you get more fit. So exercising at the same heart rate does not mean you are training at the same aerobic or anaerobic level. Ongoing lactate testing lets you know if you are keeping the fitness, becoming fatigued, or losing the fitness, more precisely than with heart rate measurements alone.

The most important attribute of measuring blood lactate is that something physiological is actually measured. Exercise advice is typically dished out with Barnum and Bailey flash and hokus pokus with nothing more than snake oil prescriptions. It's important to stop relying on and supporting these unscrupulous methods.

Don't get sucked in by the often goofy comments and claims made by many aerobics instructors, spin class instructors, and personal trainers. When was the last time they actually measured what was happening to their students? Use professional coaching, don't leave your fitness needs to amateurs.

Lactate Threshold Testing

This individuals lactate threshold occurs at a heart rate of 155 and lactate of 5.0 mmol/l. Note the exponential increase in lactate after this point. Note at the low end a large change in heart rate corresponds in a small change in lactate, and as the lactate threshold is approached and surpassed, a small change in heart rate corresponds in a large change in lactate. These values correlate well will a shift from carbohydrates and fats for fuel to carbohydrates only; from predominantly aerobic to predominantly anaerobic; from low power output to high power output; and from time to fatigue being long to time to fatigue being short.

Use coaches that use lactate and heart rate measuring and you stand a better chance of the getting advice you need.

Lactate testing is important now because it works and is widely available. In the future more important measurements will be common as testing devices are simplified and made cost effective. Look for hormone, enzyme, and brain wave response measurements to become more common in the future.

In Winnipeg or Vancouver? Call or email us to book an appointment for lactate testing. Use our remote coaching service and get trained via email from anywhere in the world.

Rhino Fitness Rates and services

Email us at info@rhinofitness.ca Call us at 204 227 9967

You can buy the Lactate Pro on line at Woodcock Cycle, or visit them in person at 433 St Mary's Rd. in Winnipeg, or call at 204 253 5896 toll free 866 211 5795.

- Cris LaBossiere

Who uses lactate testing? Virtually every major training facility in the world.

List of Lactate Pro users courtesy of FACT Canada, North American distributor of the Arkray Lactate Pro LT-1710 portable blood lactate analyzer.

Canadian National Cross Country Ski Teams
Rowing Canada
Biathlon Canada
Speedskating Canada
Swimming Canada
Canadian Olympic Kayak Team
USA Swimming
USA Skiing - Downhill and Cross-Country
US Biathlon Teams
USA Speedskating
US National Canoe and Kayak Team
US Olympic Training Center, California
US Olympic Training Center, Lake Placid, New York
Adidas National Running Team (Canada)
UC Davis Medical Center - Sports Medicine
Sports Medicine Institute, Intl - California
Mt. Sinai Hospital, School of Medicine, New York
Canadian Space Agency
Canadian Forces Base, Kingston
Canadian Forces Valcartier, Biathlon
United States Air Force
US Naval Academy Aquatic Club
Pacific Sport National Sport Centre - Vancouver
Pacific Sport National Cycling Centre - Victoria
Pacific Sport National Triathlon Training Centre - home of Canada's elite triathletes such as Olympic Gold Medalist Simon Whitfield
Wall Aquatic Center at Northern Arizona University
Total Performance Institute, Colorado
Ironman Institute (www.IronmanInstitute.com)
Whittom & Boucher - Sports Performance Technologies, Quebec
Pointe-Claire Club de Canoe, Quebec
Green Mountain Valley Ski Academy, Vermont
Stratton Mountain School, Vermont
Michigan State University
University of Scranton, Pennsylvania
Hope College, Michigan
University of Miami
University of Southern Mississippi
Pepperdine University, California
Marquette University, Wisconsin
University of Vermont
Meredith College, North Carolina
Truman State University, Missouri
St. Lawrence University, New York
University of Indianapolis
University of Texas
Arizona State University
University of Quebec
University of Montreal
University of Prince Edward Island
University of New Brunswick, Aquaculture Research
Concordia University, Montreal
University of British Columbia
University of Calgary, Alberta
University of Manitoba
University of Waterloo, Ontario
Laurentian University, Ontario
Geoff Kabush, Ryder Hesjedal
- Pro Mountain Bikers (Geoff was 9th and the top North American at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, Ryder was Silver Medalist at the 2003 World Championship)
Lidia Simon - Silver medal in the Women's Marathon at the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games.
Rhino Fitness Winnipeg, Manitoba

2003-2007 Rhino Fitness

All photo's © copyright Zena Kavanagh 2004

Copyright 2003 - 2007 Rhino Fitness. All rights reserved.
For more information contact: clabossiere@rhinofitness.ca