How to improve your lactate threshold for the bike leg

Sustained high-intensity efforts will boost your engine size, cruising speed and mental toughness, says Nik Cook

How to improve your lactate threshold for the bike leg

Some common training adages are meaningless clichés, but a few are golden nuggets of truth. One that definitely falls into the latter category is ‘train hard, race easy’. This sums up brilliantly why efforts above your race pace are so important and effective.


Sustained efforts of 3-5mins, when you’re right at your limit by the end of each effort, are one of the most effective ways to improve functional threshold power (your ability to sustain the highest possible power output over 1hr)and lactate threshold.

Because you’re working above lactate threshold, your body gets a big training stimulus and, by adapting to it, pulls up your lower-intensity abilities. It’s analogous to a bigger-engine car cruising efficiently at 70mph, compared to my Fiat Panda revving at its absolute max to do the same!

Performance is a mental game too, and by getting used to this kind of discomfort, you’ll be mentally stronger and be able to stay relaxed when the pressure’s on.

3 tips for coping with mental and physical pressure

Time to focus

This is a tough session so you have to be well rested, well fuelled and hydrated, 100% up for it… and then fully commit. You’ll need to focus on nailing every effort

Pace yourself

Don’t go off too hard, five minutes is a long time. Any pacing aids – HRM, power meter or just speed-distance trackers – will definitely help and prevent early blow-ups.

Fuel up

Make sure you’re well-fuelled beforehand, and consider using an energy drink or caffeinated gel after you’ve completed your warm-up to give you an extra boost through the main set.

The lactate threshold improvement session


5-10mins building up to moderate

3 x [5secs low-gear sprint, stay seated and focus on maximal cadence; 55secs recovery spinning]

2-3mins easy spin

Main set

Ride the efforts in race position

5 x [5mins @90-100rpm vigorous
to max effort; 3mins @80rpm easy]


5-10mins easy spin

Adapt for beginners

Drop the length of the intervals to three minutes and, as you get stronger, simply add 15-30secs to each one.

Adapt for Ironman


This is a demanding session as it is, but if you really want more try finishing each interval with a 10sec all-out sprint.