Aerobic and anaerobic threshold simply explained - definition and meaning


May 25th, 2022

Aerobic and anaerobic threshold

Aerobic and anaerobic thresholds are useful parameters for all athletes who want to improve their performance. They have a direct impact on the benefits you get from your training session as they are linked to the changes in metabolism during training. The better you understand the benefits of training in the stress zones defined by the thresholds, the more effectively you can train to achieve your goals.

What is the aerobic threshold?

The aerobic threshold is where the lactate level in the blood begins to rise. A person's aerobic fitness level is determined by their individual heart rate at the aerobic threshold. For example, the aerobic threshold for a person with low aerobic fitness may be 60% of their maximum heart rate, while for a trained athlete it may be 85% of their maximum heart rate.

A higher aerobic threshold allows you to train more intensely without increasing your lactate concentration. If you want to improve your aerobic threshold, train at a lower intensity. By improving fatty acid metabolism, you are able to intensify your training without increasing lactate levels to the point where lactate can no longer be broken down. In practice, this means that you can last longer at higher intensities.

What is the anaerobic threshold?

Your anaerobic threshold is where you can maintain the highest training intensity for a longer period of time without the lactate concentration in your blood increasing significantly. If you exceed your anaerobic threshold, your anaerobic metabolism is stimulated and lactate begins to accumulate in your blood. This leads to muscle stiffness.

By developing them upwards, you can improve your anaerobic threshold in the same way as your aerobic threshold. This means that you mainly train slightly below your threshold and occasionally exceed it. As your anaerobic threshold increases, you can train more intensely without lactate hardening your muscles.

How to determine your thresholds!

There are several ways to determine your anaerobic and aerobic thresholds. One of the most common methods is a training test where the intensity is increased step by step while blood samples are taken from your finger to measure the change in lactate concentration in your blood. This is why the aerobic and anaerobic thresholds are often called lactate thresholds (lower and upper LT or LT1 and LT2).

However, there are also ways to avoid the time-consuming training test and determine your individual threshold pace in other ways. These options are not quite as accurate and meaningful, but they have proven to be quite practical and sufficient. Your personal threshold pace is the one where all the variables mentioned are in the greatest possible harmony:

Determining aerobic-anaerobic threshold by feel: threshold pace is the highest possible pace at which you can run for an hour without getting short of breath or suffering speed slumps. Subjectively, it can be described as "pleasantly strenuous".

Determine aerobic-anaerobic threshold based on breathing: At a relaxed tempo endurance run, you generally breathe in over three strides and out over three strides. At a responsive tempo endurance running pace, you normally breathe in over two strides and out over one stride. If you get into a breathing pattern where you breathe in over one stride and out over the next, you are at interval pace - that is too fast.

Calculating aerobic-anaerobic threshold by heart rate: The heart rate of the aerobic-anaerobic threshold can be calculated from the maximum heart rate (HRmax) using the following rule of thumb:

HRmax at aerobic-anaerobic threshold = 0.94 x HRmax - 7.

Example: At a maximum heart rate of 150 beats per minute, the heart rate at the anaerobic threshold is therefore approximately 0.94 x 150 - 7 = 134 beats per minute. So the first thing you need to do is determine your maximum heart rate.

To determine your aerobic-anaerobic threshold in competition: Add 30 to 40 seconds per kilometre to your 5km race pace and 15 to 25 seconds per kilometre to your 10km race pace. For ambitious runners, the threshold pace is approximately the same as marathon race pace.

How do I improve my aerobic-anaerobic threshold?

It was only in the 1990s that German marathon runners began to rely less and less on so-called threshold training, but that has now changed again. In the meantime, longer training runs in the threshold range are once again part of the regular training programme worldwide, but also among German running stars.

The threshold training

What makes the "pleasantly hard" pace range so performance-enhancing, i.e. effective, and how can it be defined in load specifications? Where is your personal threshold? The decisive parameter for endurance performance is the aerobic-anaerobic threshold. Once again, the higher it is, the faster you can run for a long period of time without over-acidifying your muscles. The most effective training to raise the aerobic-anaerobic threshold is to run just below or at it.

In practice, the challenge is to find out where your personal aerobic-anaerobic threshold is and to define an individual load range. If you run too slowly, the muscles do not produce enough lactic acid, which has to be buffered, and there is no training effect. If, on the other hand, you run too fast, the lactic acid shoots into the muscle cells within a very short time and a break in training is unavoidable. However, threshold training brings a great advantage for most runners and ultimately everyone benefits from threshold training at their individual aerobic-anaerobic threshold.

What are the next steps?

In the next step, you can simply use the BESTZEIT app and determine your threshold power on the way to your performance data with our eDiagnostics from the comfort of your own home. Download the BESTZEIT app now and get started!

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