What’s the single most important metric for athletic performance? Lactate threshold. During intense exercise, your body relies on carbohydrates for fuel. Carbs break down into lactic acid in your muscles, which becomes lactate in the blood. Your lactate threshold is the point at which your body produces more lactate than it can remove, causing fatigue; it’s the biggest hurdle for endurance athletes. Training just below this threshold and crossing it for brief intervals improves your body’s ability to process lactate, raising your lactate threshold heart rate (LTHR). The result is that you can work harder and longer, leading to faster race times. Here’s a simple test to determine your LTHR: After warming up, strap on a heart rate monitor and run for 30 minutes as fast as you can. Ten minutes into your run, hit the monitor’s lap button. Your average heart rate in the final 20 minutes is your lactate threshold heart rate.
— Mathew Honan
Power Meters Track an Athlete’s True Mettle
During the National Hockey League’s 2004 season-long lockout, veteran player Curtis Leschyshyn took the chance to completely change his workout routine. An avid cyclist, Leschyshyn looked for a new way to get in shape.
“Hockey training is a lot of short sprint efforts and weight work, simulating what we do on the ice,” Leschyshyn says. But for an endurance sport like cycling, he had to meet different goals. His conditioning coach, Neal Henderson at the Boulder Center for Sports Medicine, helped set him up with a power meter, which directly measures the raw output a rider produces.
“When I’m riding, even if I think I’m going good, if the watts are off I know I’m not where I need to be,” Leschyshyn says. “Power is a true indication of what’s in the tank. It’s not that I don’t watch heart rate anymore, but I’m much more inclined to make sure I’m producing the watts. Heart rate isn’t a true indication of your effort.”
Right now, power training is limited to cycling, where the human-machine interface allows direct measurement. But improving GPS technology and algorithms offers the possibility that, someday, power training might transfer to other sports. Even hockey.
“If I could’ve worked with a power meter a few more years, I think I could have found a way of training to increase my power and quickness on the ice,” Leschyshyn says.