Three Lactate Threshold Boosting Running Workouts

Jan 20, 2013   //   by Neil Scholes   //   Triathlon And Endurance Coaching  //  8 Comments

The aim of my first first article in this series on Lactate Threshold Training was to define this commonly used term and explain what it actually means.  The second article aimed to describe the various ways in which Lactate Threshold (LT) can be determined. In this third and final piece, I consider the three basic types of LT workout, their objective, and examples of how to conduct each of them.

Although Lactate Threshold (LT) training is the most important type of training for distance runners, many runners don’t understand how to improve their lactate threshold.  The best way to do so is simple – train at, or slightly above your lactate threshold.  Although this may seem like a form of speedwork, it’s more accurate to view it as a determinant of ones endurance, the ability to maintain a pace for a prolonged distance.

LT workouts are of 3 basic types, all of which you run at the pace that coincides with your lactate threshold.  The objective of these workouts is to run hard enough that lactate is just starting to accumulate in your blood.  If you train at a lower intensity, there won’t be as great a stimulus to improve LT pace.

If you train faster you’ll accumulate lactate rapidly, which won’t train your muscles to work hard without accumulating lactate.  Training most effectively doesn’t mean training as hard as possible.

The 3 main types of Lactate Threshold running workouts are:

  • Tempo Runs
  • Lactate Threshold Intervals
  • Lactate Threshold Hills

In all cases, LT workouts should feel comfortably hard.  This means that you should feel as if you’re working at a high level, but at a level you can sustain: if you were to increase the pace by 10 seconds or more per mile then you would have to slow within the next few minutes.  If you are stiff and sore the next day you have run too hard.

Tempo Runs

This is the Classic Workout to improve your lactate threshold and is a continuous run of say 20 to 40 minutes at LT Pace.  An example I give some of my athletes is a 2 mile warm up, 4 miles at half marathon race pace and a 2 mile cooldown.  The would do this workout on a relatively flat road or on the track.  At first it is a good idea to either do tempo runs on a track or with a GPS or accurately measured course in order to check your pace.  After a few tempo runs you start to get a feel for your true LT Pace.  Studies have shown that most runners can reliably reproduce this pace once they have learned it.  Low key (C Focus) races of 5 – 10k are a great substitute for tempo runs.  My coached athletes will do these without a taper and often at a given pace – some of them even manage to stick to this pace and NOT go too hard!  The key is not to get carried away and go eye balls out.

Lactate Threshold Intervals

Rather than doing a continuous tempo run, you can gain a similar benefit by breaking the tempo run into 2 or 4 segments.  These workouts were popularised by Professor Jack Daniels and are sometimes known as cruise intervals.  An example could be 3 repetitions of 8 minutes each at LT pace. LT intervals can be a good option if you tend to avoid tempo runs.  However remember most athletes do what they like to do not what they should do.

So if these intervals sound more up your street then the additional mental effort of a tempo run will help you when the going gets tough in a race.  A good coach will understand where you need to work.

Lactate Threshold Hills

A great way to increase your LT is to run long hills.  If you are fortunate (unfortunate) enough to live in an area with a number of good sized hills you can do LT workouts in a training loop concentrating on the hills.  An example session could be a 10 mile loop that includes 4 half-mile long hills and one mile long hill.  If you pushed the uphills so you are running at LT intensity you would accumulate about 20 minutes or so at your LTVO2 during the run.

In my article on VO2 we saw that your VO2 max increases through training.  Unfortunately VO2 max increases during your earlier years but tends to plateau, so if you’ve been training effectively for a number of years you’ve probably realised most of your potential gains in VO2.  Lactate Threshold however continues to increase with adaptations occurring at a cellular level to allow you to run at a higher percentage of VO2 max without building up lactic acid.  Studies have shown that the increase in lactate threshold occurs due to both decreased lactate production and increased lactate clearance.

For races longer than 10k, lactate threshold (LT) is the most important factor in determining running performance so include these in your weekly mix of sessions to see performance improvements.

Tempo Runs 20 to 40 minutes at LT Pace
LT Intervals 4 x 1 mile at LT pace with 2:00 recovery jog
3 x 1.5 miles at LT pace with 3:00 recovery jog
2 x 2.5 miles at LT pace with 5:00 recovery jog
LT Hills 10 mile loop with 3 to 4 good hills run at LT pace

Table 1  Examples of Lactate Threshold Workouts

About The Author

Neil is one of the most knowledgeable endurance coaches you'll ever be likely to meet, both in terms of qualifications and valuable experience. He's well into his second decade in the sport of triathlon and third decade as a competitive runner.

In recent years Neil has worked with Runners, from those looking to complete their first 5k through to Elites racing the Olympic Marathon, and Triathletes, from those looking to finish their first ever sprint event, through Age Group medallists at World Championships, Ironman Age Group winners to the Elite Squad at University of Bath.

As an accomplished Ironman triathlete, Neil races for Royal Navy Triathlon and has represented Great Britain at Age Group Level across various distances.

2013 has seen him run a sub 3hr at the Rotterdam Marathon, then complete his second 56 mile Comrades Ultra Marathon in South Africa in June; he is now making his return to racing Ironman Triathlon.

Neil is available for Triathlon & Running Coaching.



  • Hi
    A quick question. Is Lactate Threshold equal to Aerobic or Anaerobic Threshold? There are conflicting views in articles I read and research I do.
    Thanks for your help and great source of information.
    Best wishes

    • Great question! Not so easy to give a short answer though!

      During low intensity exercise, blood lactate remains at or near to resting levels. As exercise intensity increases there comes a break point where blood lactate levels rise sharply. Researchers in the past have suggested that this signifies a significant shift from predominantly aerobic metabolism to predominantly anaerobic energy production.

      Several terms have been used to describe this shift and many coaches and athletes believe it is the same phenomenon:

      Lactate threshold
      • Anaerobic threshold
      • Aerobic threshold
      • Onset of blood lactate accumulation (OBLA)
      • Maximal lactate steady state

      Although these terms are used interchangeably, they do not describe the same thing. Lactate accumulation only determines the balance between lactate production and its clearance and suggests nothing about the availability or lack of oxygen so the terms aerobic and anaerobic become a bit misleading. Although a separate but related subject blood lactate and lactic acid are not the same substance.

At a slightly higher exercise intensity than lactate threshold a second increase in lactate accumulation can be seen and is often referred to as the onset of blood lactate accumulation or OBLA. OBLA generally occurs when the concentration of blood lactate reaches about 4mmol/L. The break point that corresponds to lactate threshold can often be hard to pinpoint and so some Exercise Physiologists often prefer using OBLA.

      Maximal Lactate Steady State:
 Maximal lactate steady state is defined as the exercise intensity at which maximal lactate clearance is equal to maximal lactate production. Maximal lactate steady state is considered one of the best indicators of performance perhaps even more efficient than lactate threshold.

      With training, lactate threshold as a percentage of VO2 max can be increased. Even if there are no improvements in maximal oxygen uptake, increasing the relative intensity or speed at which lactate threshold occurs will improve performance. In effect, proper training can shift the lactate curve to the right.

      Following training, the reductions in lactate concentration at any given intensity may be due to a decrease in lactate production and an increase in lactate clearance. However, Donovan and Brooks Endurance training affects lactate clearance, not lactate production. Am J Physiol. 1983 Jan;244(1):E83-92 suggest that endurance training affects only lactate clearance rather than production.

      Blood lactate levels after intense exercise are also lower following training. For example, immediately after a 200m swim at a fixed pace, blood lactate may be as high as 13-14 mmol/L. Following several months of training these levels can decrease to under 4mmol/L. Before training, a swim leading to such high levels of lactate would force the swimmer to slow down dramatically or stop after the 200m. But following training, lactate levels of under 4mmol/L would probably allow the swimmer to continue after 200m, at the same pace, indefinitely.

      Hope that helps and hasn’t clouded the water even more!

      • Neil

        Thanks so much for this. So many people, including coaches, use these terms without full reference so this really helps. I’m a Chi Running instructor and also a personal trainer in the UK and need to be very specific in what I’m teaching so its great to get such a detailed, straight-forward description. You would mind if I posted this response on my website with of course full credit to you and link to your site?
        Best wishes

        • Gray
          Thanks for that.
          That will be fine and it would be appreciated if you can link back to the original document.
          Kind regards

  • Hi Neil,

    You mention the importance of threshold and VO2Max paced sessions, I was wondering where do 10K paced sessions fit into a training program? Are these sessions beneficial in the same was as threshold running is? I have often overlooked threshold running and used 8 x 1K @ 10K and 5 x 1mile as staple sessions. Would I benefit from more threshold sessions?

    Great articles and very informative, thanks.


  • How does LT differ from V02 max? I read both of your articles and while the LT article explains very well how i should train once I know my LT pace, I can’t figure out what I’m supposed to do once I know my V02. In other words how do I convert my V02 data to usable training info? How does this number convert to interval pace?

  • How do you feel about LT Hill runs on a treadmill? Same benefit as using the road?

    I usually start my hill at 5-8% and work up to 12% while maintaining about an 80% effort for 5 miles.

  • Timm
    I’m not a great fan personally of the treadmill but of course you can do sessions there and indeed for many people it is a necessity. I think the session you describe could be broken down to a session more akin to the LT Intervals described in the article or to set the treadmill to the hills setting and to aim for LT on the uphills recovering on the down akin to that described as LT Hills.
    Thanks for the question.

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