Saturday: 4×20′ Steady State with lactate tests

Based on feedback from Boris and Tom, I dialed back the steady state power from th 190W that I targeted last week to 180W this weekend.  The goal was to get some meters in the bank and do another experiment to see what my lactate levels do over long pieces.


  1. 4×20′ / 1′ rest (actually about 1:15 or so by the time I did the lactate test and had a slug of water)
  2. Target rate: 18 to 19 spm
  3. Target power: 180W
  4. No HR cap, training to target power
  5. Lactate tests after each 20′ piece.

Very interesting results.  Kind of depressing really.  I backed off power by 10W and the saw very close to the same picture for HR and lactate.

Screen Shot 2015-09-21 at 9.37.04 AM Screen Shot 2015-09-21 at 9.36.49 AM

Workout Summary – Sep 21, 2015
–_|_19268_|_80:00.0_|_02:04.6_|_181.1_|_18.3_|_142.2_|_ 69.6% _|_13.2_|_09.9
Workout Details

01_|_04821_|_20:00.0_|_02:04.4_|_181.6_|_18.2_|_125.3_|_ 57.7% _|_13.3_|_10.0_|_1.7
02_|_04818_|_20:00.0_|_02:04.5_|_181.2_|_18.1_|_138.7_|_ 67.2% _|_13.3_|_10.0_|_3.3
03_|_04816_|_20:00.0_|_02:04.6_|_180.9_|_18.1_|_149.2_|_ 74.6% _|_13.3_|_10.0_|_4.1
04_|_04813_|_20:00.0_|_02:04.7_|_180.7_|_18.9_|_155.0_|_ 78.7% _|_12.8_|_09.6_|_5.2

Compared to last week, my HR took a little longer to hit each band.  And my lactate at 20 minutes was lower than last week (1.7 vs 2.3), by after 20 minutes, my HR and lactate just kept on rising and rising.


Now, this is really intriguing.  Based on what I was doing the past couple of years, I would have enthusiastically embraced the 1.7 reading and kept my training power at 180W, because I wouldn’t have taken any more readings.

So, this these results are a bit counterintuitive because it is generally thought that a lactate reading below 2.0 after 20 minutes indicates that the power level is low enough that it will stay there for the duration of the training session.  I am not sure what is going on, but I have a few ideas.  Lactate accumulation can result from two causes.

  1.  The ability to metabolize fat is low, therefore the transition from fat metabolism to glycogen metabolism occurs at a lower power than the training power.  This causes the over production of pyruvate, which leads directly to lactate levels rising
  2. The ability to metabolize lactate is low, therefore lactate accumulation happens at a lower power level than expected.

Of these, the more plausible is number 1.  If I have been habitually training at too high an intensity, then I have been bathing my muscles in lactate and that would provide plenty of stimulus to improve lactate metabolism.  But, the same hypothesis, too high a training power, would definitely cause fat metabolism to shut down and not be developed and improved.  I’ve become an anaerobe by doing my steady state at too high an intensity.

I did some digging and found a thread over on Rowing Illustrated which is on point.

A rower with a 380W 2K (roughly 6:30) did a 20′ lactate test at 185W and got a lactate reading of 11.1mmol/l.  He finally ended up down at 155W with a 1.85 reading after 20 minutes.

Anyway, I think another shot at this with the power down at 170W next weekend is my next step.

16 thoughts on “Saturday: 4×20′ Steady State with lactate tests

      • stelph82 says:

        Agree with Sander, it’s a tough pill to swallow but one which I’ve also seen before (rising lactates over the session despite the first 20″ being under) and I think the only solution is to drop down further to find the wattage that keeps you down below 2.5 the whole way through, as long as you still have that ~20% HIIT sessions it wouldn’t do you any harm

        Liked by 2 people

  1. sanderroosendaal says:

    Just read the threat on rowing illustrated and it seems to confirm what I have experienced. Without using lactate I seem to benefit from very slow steady state work. Last winter I have backed off by a lot from the Wolverine Formula for L4 intensity. Still doing L4 to break the boredom and try to enforce good technique at different stroke rates, but really at slow paces. Interesting to think about this as I am preparing my post head race training plan. It’s always fun to plan intervals but I think I am going to favor steady state – and strength training.


  2. Richard says:

    Just an observation, last Saturday was at rates around 20SPM where as this is reduced wattage around 18SPM. The rate really does make a difference with lactates. If you had kept the rate higher but with this lower watts I think you would have seen a difference.

    I was chatting with you last winter on the free-spirits forum. I never really got a handle on what was going on with my lactates at the beginning of the the year. I found lactates to would increase even with very low first numbers.

    I am back on the erg now and I am going to test only once a week but really back off on Watts, but add in a short HIT session at the end of a SS row.


  3. Boris says:

    Greg, you call your blog “quantifiedrowing” and you claim for “measure, adjust, improve”… be smart and not stolid/mulish.

    I don’t think it’s right just to dial back by some watts. Therefore I recommend…

    a) Go for a checkup – suddenly that unbelievable increased lactate levels (at “well known wattage”) could possibly indicate blood sugar issues (=diabetes).

    b) Additionally let the doctor check your lever – it plays a major role in “lactate elimination/reuse”.

    c) Buy some strips (not expensive) and test your ph level to be sure that your not highly acidified – being acidified decreases buffer capacities by huge amount, which reduces the ability of lactate “elimination/reuse”.

    d) Change/Adapt your diet that your body gets enough macronutrients and more alkaline nutrients. Eat more healthy fats and reduce carbs (especially the ones with “high glycemic load”).


    • gregsmith01748 says:

      Wow. I appreciate the feedback, but I don’t really like being called stolid and mulish.
      a) I just had a checkup (last week, in fact) and my blood sugar is fine.
      b) A full blood test was done as well and showed normal liver function.

      c)As for the pH stuff, I don’t think it is stolid or mulish to want to see something in a refereed journal about the effect of acidic load of foods. If you can point to something (anything) that demonstrates the link between “being acidified” and “decreasing buffering capacities by a huge amount”.

      d) My diet is actually pretty good. The areas where I diverge from the list is in the consumption of sodium and diet soda. Almost all my carbohydrate consumption is whole grain, and I get a fair amount of “good fats”. I looked at diets that are promoted as alkaline biased and frankly, they look like they would take the joy out of eating. To that point, here’s a direct quote from WebMD…

      Dairy, eggs, meat, most grains, and processed foods, like canned and packaged snacks and convenience foods, fall on the acid side and are not allowed.

      Most books that tout the alkaline diet say you shouldn’t have alcohol or caffeine, either

      But, anyway, thanks for diagnosing me with diabetes, acidification and stubbornness.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Boris says:

        Stolid/mulish: It’s difficult to rely on Google translate and fine tune the wording. The words I would use in my language are “stur” and “starr”, which I find very accurate for many trainings/stories you have published. These characteristics can be under certain circumstances (e.g. interval, race, CTC) very helpful, but also many times not very helpful (e.g. smart training, quantifying, easy steady state at 5-6mmol, not using the lactate meter while traveling and training under completley different circumstances). 😇

        a) & b): Great news. (Was it a general one time test or was it more a specific test?)

        c): As I wrote (in the other thread) in this case I can’t point to an english document. I gave you keywords (e.g. buffer capacity, blood, acid, lactate). You are an intelligent person and I’m sure that you’ll be able to find relevant documents in your language, as this fact is well known for more than 15 years (at least in Austria, Germany and Switzerland).

        d) Since when you have changed you diet? What does you diet look like? About fats, this could be helpful for you:

        > But, anyway, thanks for diagnosing me with diabetes, acidification and stubbornness.

        Apart, that this is not true, I find you’re playing now diva which is similar to “drama queen” ( 😂😜

        For the future: If you don’t like that I give you input with that what I know and how strict I do it… No problem at all, I won’t write anymore or spend my time. Just let me know (here or per e-mail or, if it’s easier for you, ignore this message; I’ll then will interpret it as “you don’t want”).


      • gregsmith01748 says:

        Hi Boris, I do appreciate your feedback, but I’m embarassed to admit that your most recent comments hurt my feelings a bit.

        I know that I push myself hard in training, but I do try to measure and adust things based on what I see. I also try to make small adjustments rather than large changes until I think them through very thoroughly. I’m not sure where you have seen me refer to “easy steady state” and a lactate measurement of 5 or 6, but I was genuinely perplexed by the results of the long term lactate tests that I’ve done the past two weekends. Before, in an effort to be more frugal with the strips, and because of what I had read about other successful training strategies, I thought that a single measurement at 20 minutes was sufficient. But since I wanted to be more thorough and was interested in testing that assumption, I did the test, and found something that I did not expect. I changed one variable (power) and repeated the experiment. I intend to do that again until I find a power that keeps me below 2.0 through the whole workout. From there, I plan to continue to do a test at the end of the workouts, instead of at 20 minutes to make sure that I am training in the right zone. I also specifically backed off the intensity of steady state for On The Water workouts based on the findings so far.

        I don’t really see that as stubborn. I see it as careful or conservative.

        As for things like bringing a lactate meter on the road, I don’t really see the value. I am usually in a hotel gym on unfamiliar equipment, I think just training by HR under those circumstances is a reasonable way to do cross training. Frankly, it’s a much larger issue to be unable to practically do lactate tests on the water. That’s why I am trying to do enough erg based testing to get a general idea of the short term correlation of HR and lactate. I know it won’t be perfect, but it’s better than training to RPE or trying to hit a specific pace under varying wind and water conditions.

        With regard alkaline diets, the english language scholarly articles that I have found are specifically related to renal disease. Google searches for the relationship between blood acidity and endurance has yielded no good research, but I’ll keep investigating. I’d like to find some hard evidence before I think about becoming a “food monk” and adopting a diet of privation for the sake of finishing 5th instead of 7th in a head race.

        So, sorry if I came off as a diva. You deserve more respect than that, but I feel like you mischaracterized me in your comments and I got sarcastic in my reply.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Boris says:

    About “hurt my feelings”: I know, Greg. I don’t like to hurt your feelings, really. But sometimes someone has to hurt you. It’s no fun for me too.

    About “but I do try to measure and adjust things based on what I see”: What you LIKE to see. It’s very selective what you like to see. Sorry to say that that strict.

    About “food monk”: You don’t need to become a food monk and change your diet completely from one day to another – in the long term it won’t work anyway. Start becoming more sensible (×20-steady-state-with-lactate-tests/comment-page-1/#comment-422) for what you eat or consume. E.g. you could start with a daily dose of fresh made juice (e.g. beet root, carrots, ginger, parsley and some spirulina or wheatgrass powder). There are so many easy ways to improve without “privation”, but of course not without rearrangement. 😉

    About “easy steady state”: Based on “numbers from practice” (don’t know if this translations works)… After about 5 years (do I remember it correctly) of your training everything in the range of 70-805% HRR, 180-220W and 0.9-1.6 mmol should be easy steady state for you. 😇

    About “single measurement at 20 minutes was sufficient.”: I explained it already several times in the lactate based training thread. Your body needs 20-60′ for full warmup. This varies from athlete to athlete. A single measurement after 20′ will only be valid for very few mature athletes.Based on what I have “seen” from you I don’t think you’re one of those. What works for kids does not work for adults – at least in this case. The older we get, the longer the warmup needs.

    The other thing is… lactate elimination/reuse is influenced by so many subtle things (which can be quantified to a certain level; I wrote about that in the lactate based thread). If you are a sensible person with well settled awareness you can prick/measure less. If not, you need to prick more often. Prick more often and adapt, please.

    About “I intend to do that again until I find a power that keeps me below 2.0”: Start with 140W. Prick after 20′. If you get something about 1mmol, go for 150W. Prick again. Depending on the result…

    About “As for things like bringing a lactate meter on the road, I don’t really see the value.”: You have very obvious tendencies to overdo the easy part of training. Especially when you travel and are on unfamiliar equipment (and in a different country with different climatic conditions) you need check that you’re in the right intensity zone. This would help you. You still don’t see the value?

    About “short term correlation of HR and lactate”: Immer die selbe alte Leier! I don’t know how to translate this one. Well, there’s NO!!!!! correlation between lactate and heart rate.

    If you’re e.g. on ketosis your HR can go up to 98% HRR and you still can get readings in the range of 0.8-1.5mml for the same watts where you normally would get about 70-80% HRR. When temperature drops or increases by 10°C, when humidity changes, when you still digest your food, when you slept not that good, when sun shines, when you have bad mood or when you’re angry, and and and… ALL this influences the HR very strong.

    How HR develops during a session, is very helpful indeed – at least for those who are able to read “meta data”.

    About “diva”: OK, Greg. No problem. Don’t worry. 😘


  5. SDSweep says:

    That rower from the thread on RI you reference was actually me. I had the exact same issue you are describing a couple months later when I realized my lactate at the end of a workout was high even though I’d been well under 2.0 after 20′. There was another thread in which I brought this up, and there was some helpful discussion here

    I had a chance to talk about this with Mike Shannon, the physiologist for the USOC. He seemed much less concerned than I was. He said that his focus would be more on the rate of rise than the actual lactate number. So if you’re seeing something like 1.3/1.5/1.8/2.3, he’d stay with the same wattage. But if you see a sharp rise between pieces, that’s indicative of a substrate switch, and that’s when one needs to be concerned. That being said, I have backed off from those numbers in order to try to stay low the whole time as I don’t think there is a disadvantage in terms of fitness gained in doing so.

    This is a great blog you have here, by the way.

    Liked by 1 person

    • gregsmith01748 says:

      Thanks for the link. I will definitely check it out. From the graphs you can see that the rise was anything buy gradual! I’m glad to have it back under some kind of control. I’ve tried training too hard. I think I’ll try to err on the side of too easy for the steady state stuff for the indoor season and see where that gets me.

      Thanks for the compliment on the blog. As you can tell by the small number of people who look at it, I do it completely for myself as an open notebook. Having a few people that read it and call me on it when I’m doing something dumb is a definite bonus (although it doesn’t always feel like it)


    • gregsmith01748 says:

      I just reread the thread. It’s funny. I’m track_bites on that forum and I was an active participant in the discussion, but totally forgot about it. I guess all that blood that is flowing to my quads is starving my brain of oxygen.


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