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Anaerobic Threshold: Definition and Why it Matters

What is an Anaerobic Threshold?

The anaerobic threshold refers to the highest training intensity you can maintain for extended periods without lactate (a by-product of energy metabolism) building up to a significant degree in your bloodstream. Intensity beyond that point causes lactate to increase rapidly, which, in turn, brings on muscle fatigue more quickly.

Why and When is Anaerobic Threshold Important?

The anaerobic threshold is important to understand and monitor because it helps coaches and trainees aim for a high enough intensity to force positive adaptations without getting tired too quickly.

It allows athletes to find the middle ground between low-intensity activities like jogging and high-intensity ones like interval running.

Anaerobic threshold training is particularly beneficial for endurance athletes, such as runners, swimmers, and cyclists. It makes it easier for athletes to pace themselves and maintain a good tempo, leading to better overall performance.

Given that the anaerobic threshold is also strongly related to cardiovascular fitness and metabolic efficiency, athletes who train to develop theirs can perform at a higher intensity for longer periods. 

In some sport-specific settings, such as when playing football, basketball, or rugby, athletes with a higher anaerobic threshold can recover from short bursts of activity (e.g., sprints) more quickly.

How to Measure Anaerobic Threshold

Blood tests can help athletes determine their anaerobic threshold. For example, athletes can complete a series of exercise bouts (e.g., running or cycling) at a gradually increasing intensity and have some blood taken from a finger after each round.

Results from blood samples can be measured against other things, such as heart rate, intensity, and the rate of perceived exertion (RPE).

A free and practical solution is to aim for near-maximal effort, which you can maintain for at least several minutes. Of course, the problem is that this measure is more subjective, but it works, especially for more experienced athletes who can accurately estimate their level of exertion.


1. How is the anaerobic threshold different from VO2 max?

AT is the highest intensity at which lactate doesn’t increase significantly, whereas VO2 max measures the maximum amount of oxygen your body can use during exercise. VO2 max is generally used to determine cardiovascular and aerobic fitness.

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