Lactate, back to the roots.

In the 1980’s, coaching some young middle distance runners, they were advised to do some lactate tests, because that would help me to guide their training. Being young and naïve (as I am still), we did this, but for some reason I could not believe that measuring one singular factor could lead to the designing of the complete program for the athlete. So I discarded this way of testing as soon as possible. But many of my colleagues kept on doing this for the longest time. The people promoting this test were German-educated sports doctors. Even whole books have been written about this test.(1,2). Clear examples of the one-factor fallacy: trying to explaining complex performances by focusing on one singular parameter, in this case: lactate.

Also a few years later training abroad with sprinters I saw the German sprint team having their lactate levels tested before and after every workout every day. And I overheard these athletes and their coaches comparing their lactate levels as if it was the only and most important parameter for sprinting. Producing optimal lactate levels seemed more important than winning sprints in competition.

The Germans had, at least in Europe, always been a formidable force, but coincidence or not, since they started focusing on lactate, a German sprinter at the highest level became an exception. And in middle-and long distance running, their performance level became even worse. Since I was and am still a keen student of German sports sciences, I was curious if their firm belief in lactate testing and control of their training process had something to do with that. But I could never really clearly reveal this relationship.
But then I found the website of the original developer of the lactate-testing concept: Dr. Alois Mader, a brilliant East-German sports doctor, who in 1974 escaped from the GDR to the BRD and who designed the lactate test in the years 1970/1972. He published some valuable insights in the lactate testing as well as the adaptation mechanisms of the muscle cell to training load (3,4).
On his website, in English, he intensively describes the problems with the dogmatic application of the lactate testing, the wrong interpretation and the consequences for German sports and the political and (un-)scientific background of it all. This website is a must-read for everyone interested in muscle metabolism and adaptation processes and of course the role of lactic acid in exercise metabolism.

1. Janssen, P: Lactate Threshold Training; Human Kinetics, 2001
2. Olbrecht, J: The Science of Winning, F& G Partners, 2007.
3. Mader, A; Heck, H: A theory of the metabolic origin of “Anaerobic Threshold.” Int. J.  Sports Med. Vol.7 (Suppl.1), 1986, pg. 45-65.
4. Mader, A: A Transcription-Translation Activation Feedback Circuit as a Function of Protein Degradation, with the quality of Protein Mass Adaptation Related to the Average functional Load; J. Theor. Biol. Vol 134, 1988, pg.135-157.

Dr. Maders’ website:

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