Maximal Lactate Steady State & RPE

By Jason Dierking, Assistant Director Of Sports Performance, University Of Louisville

In my last CSCCa Monthly article, I discussed how to use Rating of Perceived Exertion (RPE) and its effectiveness in gauging and prescribing training intensities.  It is important to note that your perceived feeling of effort and your breathing rate can tell you a lot about what is going on physiologically within your body, and by knowing how feeling and physiology correlate, you can accurately train for several specific adaptations just by paying attention to your body.

Besides the aerobic threshold (discussed previously), there are a couple other important training levels to target when developing a training program.


You may also see this training level called the “lactate threshold” or “anaerobic threshold”.  This level is the speed, or intensity, that you can maintain without an exponential rise in blood lactate levels.

Lactate is a by-product of anaerobic metabolism, and for many field-based team sport athletes, a key training goal is to increase the intensity that can be sustained before there is an accumulation of lactate in the muscles (in other words, extending the “aerobic capacity”).

Therefore, by working at this “threshold” intensity, your body can improve its ability to endure longer bouts of high intensity work before being forced to slow down due to, among other things, an accumulation of metabolic by-products.


When programming conditioning workouts, I prefer to use the 6-20 Borg scale for RPE.  Refer to my last article to see the two versions of RPE scales.  On the 6-20 scale, the MLSS will fall right around a 15.  It’s an intensity I refer to as “high-end steady state” – hard, but sustainable.

If you begin working above this intensity, you will experience a shift in your breathing rate.  When lactate begins to accumulate, you need to increase your ventilation in order to blow off excess carbon dioxide in your blood.  This is the point where you go from being able to speak in sentences to only being able to speak in short phrases.

When that occurs, you know you are working over your MLSS.  If you wear a heart rate monitor, it’s helpful to check your heart rate when you feel this change in breathing rate and then you can assign a heart rate to the threshold as well.  For most athletes this heart rate range will be between 80-85% of maximum…and even a little higher for the most aerobically fit athletes.

As a speed reference, it would be about the pace you could run for a 10K race.  The more highly trained a person is, the longer this pace can be sustained, and vice versa…but it will generally be in the 20-60-minute range.  So for these workouts, we aim for 2-3 reps of 10-20 minutes of steady-state running (20-60 minutes total) at an RPE of 15, with 3-5 minutes of recovery in between reps for a work-to-rest ratio roughly in the range of 2:1 to 3:1.

The chart below provides an overview of guidelines for programming MLSS workouts:

NEXT TIME: VO2max and RPE.

Jason Dierking, MSCC, is Assistant Director of Olympic Sports Performance at the University of Louisville. In this role, he works directly with men’s and women’s swimming, men’s soccer, and men’s golf.

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