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Vo2 Max vs Lactate Threshold Training - ICON Nutrition

Vo2 Max vs Lactate Threshold Training

Vo2 Max by definition is the maximum or optimum rate at which the heart, lungs, and muscles can effectively use oxygen during exercise, used as a way of measuring a person’s individual aerobic capacity. It is therefore often seen that if you improve a persons VO2 max you will also increase that persons Aerobic Fitness Levels. After all the more oxygen your body can take in and utilise the more efficient you are going to be aerobically. This makes sense!

Then we have what is called Lactate. Now everyone has heard of lactic acid and most have experienced the consequences of it, the horrible burn in your thighs, heavy legs, sicky and horrible feeling! It is therefore important to also try and improve your Lactate Threshold/Tolerance. Your body is constantly producing Lactate, every second of the day, even at lower intensities such as walking around the body is producing Lactate but at an amount that is easy enough for your body to recycle so you don’t feel the side effects. As intensity increases the Lactate production increases, meaning more for your body to try and buffer its effect. Your Threshold is the level at which the balance starts to tip over so the level of lactate your producing exceeds the amount your body is able to remove. This is why when you increase the intensity you then start feeling the effects and fatigue. The idea behind Lactate Threshold training is to try and increase your bodies ability to efficiently handle the lactate production. Essentially work at a higher intensity before production exceeds removal.

An example can be seen below on the graph. Although both Athlete 1 and Athlete 2 reach VO2 max at a similar running speed, Athlete 1 has a lactate threshold at 70% and Athlete 2 has a lactate threshold at 60%. Theoretically, Athlete 1 can maintain a pace of about 7.5 mph (12 km/h) compared to Athlete 2s pace of about 6.5 mph (10.5km/h).

When training to increase the Lactate Threshold it is performed in a % of your VO2 Max. To establish an accurate working percentage to achieve this you have to be under lab conditions and can be very invasive and difficult to have access to such facilities. By using Heart Rate % Zones we can get a rough estimate at the intensity we need to be working in to achieve the correct training zone (although this isn’t 100% accurate but a good starting point for most)

Establishing Lactate Threshold Intensity by Heart Rate


I prefer to use the Karvonen Method:

220 – Age = Maximum Heart Rate (MHR)

MHR – Resting Heart Rate (RHR) = HR Reserve

(HR Reserve x Training %(See Below)) + RHR = Training Zone


Training % Zones are as follows:

Recovery Zone – 60% to 70%
Active recovery training should fall into this zone (ideally to the lower end). Its also useful for very early pre-season and closed season cross training when the body needs to recover and replenish.

Aerobic Zone – 70% to 80%
Exercising in this zone will help to develop your aerobic system and in particular your ability to transport and utilize oxygen. Continuous or long, slow distance endurance training should fall under in this heart rate zone.

Anaerobic Zone 80% to 90%
Training in this zone will help to improve your bodies ability to deal with lactic acid. It may also help to increase your lactate threshold.


So using this information on myself I am 26 Years old with a RHR of 53bpm and I’m wanting to improve my Lactate Threshold

220 – 26yrs = 194bpm (Max HR)

194bpm (Max HR) – 53bpm (RHR) = 141bpm (HR Reserve)

141bpm (HR Reserve) x 85% (Training Intensity) = 119.85bpm + 53bpm (Resting HR) = 172.85bpm (Target HR Zone)

This method is by no means flawless but acts as a ball area to play from.

30min Field Test

Another more practical method of estimating the correct intensity is the 30min field protocol.

To perform this you need ideally an athletics track or somewhere that is level and allows you to run 30minutes none stop without having to stop for traffic etc. And you also need a HR monitor preferably with a “Lap” option.

Warm up:

10 Minutes of easy aerobic activity such as walking, light jogging and dynamic movements and gradually build intensity over the course of 10 minutes.


The idea with the test is to perform at the highest possible intensity for yourself over the course of 30 minutes.

Begin running, start at a speed that you think you can sustain for 30minutes and at the 10 minute mark hit “lap” on your monitor, this will allow you to see your average HR at the end of the 30 minutes. If at the end of the test you believe you have given it everything that you have then that average HR is your Lactate Threshold (LT) intensity.

Now you have the data you can now begin using it by following the guide below:

Calculating your Heart Rate Zones
Zone % LTHR Easy Math
Zone 1 (Recovery Zone) 65-85% < LTHR – 35 beats
Zone 2 (Extensive Endurance) 85-90% 25 – 35 beats below LTHR
Zone 3 (Intensive Endurance) 90-95% 15 beats below LTHR up to LTHR
Zone 4 -5a (Lactate Threshold 95-102% Tested LTHR from time trial
Zone 5b/5c (Power Training) 102-110% 5-10 beats above LTHR


Lactate Threshold training can be very demanding so I would recommend not over doing it and only put it within your programming 1-2x a week and for most people each session lasting roughly between 20-40 minutes. The above test can be done specifically to your sport so for example if you were a cyclist you can perform it on a bike.


So you can now hopefully see the relationship between VO2 Max and Lactate Threshold. You can have an awesome VO2 score but if your LT is lacking you will never be able to work at a good capacity for a duration. They go hand in hand so it is important to consider them both.


If you are ready to take your fitness to the next level, check out the Team ICON Training App today!