Chapter 2: Lactate Production Sample Set

If you missed it- Chapter 1: The Confusion Over Lactic Acid.

Lactate training in swimming is one of the most misunderstood and miss-categorized aspects of swim training. Let’s break it down.

During exercise, when the rate of demand for energy is high, glucose is broken down and oxidized; lactate is a by product of this reaction. If the rate of lactate production is higher than the speed the body can process it, lactate concentration will rise. Studies show that the process is intrinsic in both aerobic and anaerobic efforts (insert mind blown emoji here).

Training can buffer both the physiological + psychological impact of this process.

Popularized by legendary Aussie Coach Bill Sweetenham, many swim programs incorporate a lactate progression into their seasonal plan. Essentially, coaches plan weekly training stimuli that gradually increase the swimmer’s ability to cope with increased lactate concentration; both psychologically or physiologically. Wait, let’s not blow past that point; coaches must design progressive training stimuli that helps swimmers improve their ability to cope with lactate build up, both PHYSICALLY and MENTALLY. Different types of work are required to accomplish these aims.

Often, training evolves through the following progression; each phase challenging the swimmer to take on higher concentration of lactate.

1- Lactate Production- uncomfortable

2- Lactate Tolerance- painful

3- Peak Lactate- brutal

We noted earlier that there are both mental and physical elements to training an athlete to cope with lactate. The high intensity progression above, which we will explore today, has greater impact on the psychological or mental side. That’s right, what has typically been labeled as “lactate training” in the swimming community, is actually something more like toughness training. Of course, there are physiological impacts from this type of training that are desirable, including maximizing the use of oxygen uptake and concerns of muscular endurance. However, training the body to clear lactate more efficiently requires a carefully planned, variety of aerobic training.

Our sample set is one of my all time favorite lactate production sets (used early in the lactate production cycle noted above) and is one of the only sets I dependably repeat each season. I mean, its one of my all time favorite sets of any kind. Swimmers are asked to increase effort as the rest gradually increases; causing lactate levels to spike significantly. The set came to me from a long time mentor, Coach Richard Pointon:

2 x 50 @1:00 holding best 50 time +7/8 seconds

100 Smooth Technique or Stroke Count @2:00

4 x 50 @1:10 holding best 50 time +5/6 seconds

100 Smooth Technique or Stroke Count @2:00

6 x 50 @1:20 holding best 50 time + 3/4 seconds

100 Smooth Technique or Stroke Count @2:00

8 x 50 @1:45 holding second half 100 pace

Longer flush out swim, min 300

As the season progresses, many coaches move into increasingly more intense lactate work; phases that Coach Sweetenham has dubbed, “Tolerance” and “Peak”. To progress, simply increase the effort and rest interval. For example a peak lactate set might be a set of repeat 100s at near maximal effort on a longer rest interval, such as 10 minutes.

Thanks for reading and sharing. Next week, in the final chapter of our lactate series, we will dive into specific training composition that will help improve your body’s ability to clear lactate.


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