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Breaking Speed Barriers: Can Lactate Testing Help Smash 400m and 800m Times?

By Shannon Grady - Physiologist

For 400m & 800m runners, the battle against the clock is a constant quest of balancing speed and endurance training, a push and pull between aerobic and anaerobic energy.  Achieving optimal speed over 400m and 800m REQUIRES an athlete to have strong contribution from BOTH the anaerobic and aerobic energy systems. Coaches and athletes continually seek ways to shave off precious seconds and milliseconds from their times, exploring various training methodologies and techniques.  Traditionally, coaches and athletes rely on a combination of speed, endurance work,  the athlete’s perceived exertion and pacing strategies to maximize one’s speed over 400m & 800m.  But what if science offered a window into the exact level of contribution of anaerobic versus aerobic energy contribution of each athlete’s body, allowing a coach to fine-tune training based on real-time data? Enter LACTATE and physiological profile testing (PPT), a tool that I have used with many top middle distance coaches from around the world for almost two decades in the quest for faster 400m and 800m times. 

Understanding the Lactate Landscape

Lactate, often mistakenly labeled a metabolic waste product and culprit for fatigue,  lactate is not a waste product; it is the human energy currency and it is an energy source for muscles. Lactate is the epitome of recycling, a miraculous molecule that keeps on giving…IF one understands HOW to train individual LACTATE dynamics properly.  By understanding how lactate dynamics impacts performance and employing strategies to train it effectively, athletes can optimize performance and achieve one’s full potential in the 400m & 800m.  If one does not train the four aspects of lactate dynamics (lactate elimination, lactate production, lactate buffering, and lactate shuttling) properly, performances will stagnate and even decline in these two energy demanding, powerhouse events. Lactate profile testing allows a coach to KNOW precisely if each athlete’s energy systems are contributing to training and performance, literally providing a cheat sheet to unlock one’s potential.  During a 400m & 800m race, the contribution of energy from anaerobic and aerobic metabolism in each athlete may vary greatly even if they are running the same speed as another athlete.

Success in the 400m and 800m is achieved by maximizing training responses to both aerobic and anaerobic energy.  Some 400m & 800m athletes will rely on greater lactate production, while some have some athletes rely heavily on lactate shuttling to meet the high demands of fast running in these two events.  Each athlete has a unique physiology, so ASSUMING energy usage for maximum performance in these two events is the same for each athlete would be a disservice to any athlete in these events. One of the biggest determining factors in why an athlete runs faster or slower in performances in the 400m and 800m is if the anaerobic system is available or not.  When an athlete’s anaerobic system becomes unavailable to perform work, that is when performances suffer the most.  When an athlete or coach continues to train the anaerobic system when it is not available or suppressed, the anaerobic energy system will become further suppressed and the athlete will continue to run slower and slower times.  One of the most common mistakes when an athlete’s speed is reduced over 400m and 800m is to do more speed.  While this may seem like the obvious solution to getting faster, doing more speed or anaerobic training when an athlete’s anaerobic system is unavailable will only drive their anaerobic energy further into a hole and yield slower times. Training and accessing the anaerobic system for maximum speed requires a delicate balance of speed work and recovery. Lactate profile data will allow coaches and athletes to KNOW if more speed work is the answer to faster running.  

Unlock Your Speed: Using Lactate Testing to Crush 400m & 800m Times

The grueling 400m & 800m events demand a perfect blend of speed, endurance, and pacing. Events where understanding each athlete’s limits and pushing them strategically is key to shaving off precious time.  Enter lactate testing, a powerful tool that can help you unlock your 400m & 800m potential by demystifying individual response to training.  So, how does monitoring lactate translate to faster times in the 400m & 800m? By measuring lactate profile levels via PPT, coaches can:

  • Optimize Training Intensity: Identify the areas of one’s actual energy availability and level across the aerobic and anaerobic energy systems. ASSUMING a 400m or 800m runner has a particular type of energy available to adapt to training is the biggest mistake coaches make when training these energetically demanding events. A PPT will identify precisely how much aerobic and anaerobic energy each athlete has available, what energy is contributing to performance outcomes, and exactly which area’s need development or improvement.  Lactate monitoring takes the guesswork out of training by avoiding pushing too hard or not hard enough to improve and prevent plateaus and injuries, allowing for more targeted and efficient training.

  • Fine-tune Pacing: Lactate profile testing will identify exactly what type of energy is contributing to an athlete's training and racing. Lactate profile testing will not only yield exact paces for workout intervals but also indicate what type of workouts including interval length, speed, and rest is needed for each athlete to maximize their energy system development.  One can train specifically to improve ability to produce more lactate, sustain higher lactate levels over longer distances, or shuttle lactate at faster rates to enable one to run at a faster pace and still have an epic final kick.

  • Optimize Recovery: Lactate profile testing will also yield individualized heart rate zones to ensure optimal recovery days.  

  • Implementing Race-Day Strategies:  On race day, knowledge of individual lactate dynamics can inform pacing strategies and help athletes execute race plans more effectively.  Individual lactate profile data will guide strategic use of pacing strategies, such as negative splitting or even pacing, to help athletes maintain optimal performance throughout the entirety of the race.  By understanding individual lactate profiles, athletes can gauge effort levels to maximize speed during a race, avoid exceeding lactate limits, and premature fatigue.  

Lactate, It’s ALL the Hype

With over 20 years of lactate profiling and analysis of 1000s of athletes across these two event groups, implementing individualized LACTATE profile data has been the KEY to optimizing training and competition performance. The physiological profile testing protocol and data, PPT, provides pertinent data for the development of optimal training programs for athletes.  PPT data allows for ensuring the anaerobic system is trained appropriately and avoids being suppressed by inappropriate training.  PPT data is the KEY that unlocks each athlete’s full potential.  PPT data implementation allows for athlete’s to run faster with greater ease while reducing injury risks. It is important to remember that use of lactate monitoring requires proper analysis, interpretation, experience, and application in order to be an effective tool.  Lactate profile testing will not guarantee that every athlete will become an Olympian or World Champion BUT it will ensure forward progress and optimized training for each athlete. 

Lactate Monitoring Can Push Speed Barriers

Ready to dive into the world of lactate dynamics monitoring and crush 400m & 800m  personal bests? Just being able to measure lactate during workouts, or spot checking, will not be a magic formula for success. The key to success lies not just in measuring lactate, but in properly analyzing and applying this valuable information to ignite performances.

Repeat lactate profile testing periodically, ideally every 10-12 weeks, to track changes in energy system development based on one’s ever-changing and evolving physiology.  Lactate profile data offers valuable insights into the physiological demands of the 400m and 800m events and offers a pathway to performance optimization for athletes. By integrating lactate profile monitoring into training and competition routines, coaches can fine-tune workouts, improve energy development, and ultimately enhance their 400m and 800m times.  

As technology continues to advance, the integration of lactate monitoring applications into athletic development programs promises to revolutionize training methodologies and propel athletes to new heights of success on the track.  As for the role of lactate profile monitoring in 400m and 800m training, the potential benefits are undeniable. For coaches and athletes willing to embrace the true science of lactate and integrate it with training plans, lactate monitoring is the key to unlocking hidden potential, faster times, and pushing limits further than ever before. 

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