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Book Review
Poor Editing Cripples Training Book 
September 1
, 2003 - By Mike Muha

Lactate Threshold Training
By Peter Janssen, MD
2001, Human Kinetics

It was an impulse purchase while browsing the bookshelves: "Lactate Threshold Training: Running, Cycling, Multisport, Rowing, X-Country Skiing." There appeared to be lots of graphs showing heart rate curves of real training sessions, lots of tables and technical jargon - I figured I might learn a little more about interval training and how to apply it to my own training.

The good news is, I actually did learn a few things from this book. The bad news: this book is very poorly written, edited, and organized, many of the graphs lack labels or units of measure, and much of the book has little to do with lactate threshold training.

Energy Systems
After a fairly understandable explanation of the phosphate, oxygen, and lactate energy systems, Janssen makes the case for matching workout intensity to the energy system most necessary for an athletes particular sport: "An intensity that is too low will not improve performance, but an intensity that is too high may actually decrease performance and result in overtraining." He then describes at a high level the methods for training the various energy systems.

In the next chapter, he discusses heart rate intensity, how to determine max heart rate (very confusing discussion), what the lactate curve is and how it changes as conditioning gets better, and a pretty good discussion of factors influencing the heart rate. 

Chapter 3 discusses "The Deflection Point," the point where the linear relationship between heart rate and lactate levels changes to curvilinear - lactate levels increase proportionately faster than heart rate. Unfortunately, he makes the assumption that the lactate threshold for all athletes is "V4" (the velocity at which you hit 4 millimoles of lactate per liter) or "L4", the point where the anaerobic threshold is reached. (It's not until Chapter 4 that he hedges and says that V4 is misleading because "many athletes have an anaerobic threshold over or under 4 millimoles per liters.") Much of his discussion talks about various methods for determining V4 for runners and cyclists - all which require taking blood - and some tables for computing your V4 based on how fast you run in an hour, over a marathon, or in a 10km race. As is par for course, the explanations are not a model of clarity.

Chapter 4 and 5 delves into lactate levels and provides  practical training suggestions for marathon runners and cyclists, plus reviews overtraining.

The rest of the book have chapters tangentially related to lactate threshold training: "Circulation" (how does the heart work), "Blood Levels" (what impacts the oxygen transport abilities of the blood), and "Nutrition."  The "Blood Levels" chapter goes into an extensive (and actually interesting) discussion of EPO and how rules governing EPO actually promote its use. He concludes controversially: "It is hard to understand why altitude training and hypoxic tents are permitted and EPO is not."

A final chapter analyzes heart rate patterns to detect training at the wrong intensities. There is also a long section showing the heart rate graphs and topology traveled by Eddy Bouwmans's experience in the 1995 Tour de France. It's not clear why this is in the book because it not used to illuminate training issues - it's just dropped in like so many other sections without much context.

Our winter sport gets a passing nod in Table 1.10 where Janssen describes the percentage share of energy supplied to cross country skiers by the various energy systems (Phosphate & Lactate Systems 0%, Lactate & Oxygen System 5%, Oxygen System 95%) and a picture of some skiers herringboning up a hill back in the early 1980's. That's it for cross country skiing.

So what did I learn that can be directly linked to my training and race:

  • Training too hard is just as bad as training too easy. 

  • Starting out in a race too hard will probably give me a slower time than starting at an easier pace. 

What did I find most frustrating about the book?

  • Text and graphs that were dropped into the book with no real purpose. 

  • Graphs that looked interesting but weren't discussed or weren't labeled so I couldn't figure out what was going on. 

  • Explanations spread through multiple chapters instead of being in one place. 

  • Contradictory statements. 

Bottom line, this is not a practical guide that you can use to help plan your training, but more of a collection of interesting ideas strung together in a haphazard way. Some of the ideas contain little nuggets of gold, but there's a lot of panning you must do first to get rid of the sediment!


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