Why Having a Fitness Goal is Important

When we exercise, we need to know why we are exercising and what we want to achieve.  Do you want to get stronger and be able to do a full press-up or pull-up, or do you want to improve your co-ordination and be able to juggle for example or maybe you want to lose 5 kilos in weight and gain some muscle tone.  

In the past, many of my goals focused on improving my race times.  I am not the world’s fastest runner but that’s ok because when I race, I tend to be racing myself (and occasionally the person in front of me). 

For a long time, I got stuck on 57 min 10ks, I didn’t think it was possible for me to run the distance any faster, that is until I approached my goal differently.  I wanted to improve my time, so I set myself the goal to run it in 56 minutes.  I approached my training differently and incorporated a lot of speed sessions to help increase my anaerobic threshold. Training in the right zone will help you achieve your goal faster.

What is the Anaerobic Threshold?

The majority of energy required for low-intensity activity (such as walking or jogging) can be supplied aerobically – with oxygen.  As intensity increases, energy production is gradually supplemented more and more by anaerobic respiration – without oxygen. With anaerobic respiration comes a waste product known as lactic acid. Lactic acid has to be dispersed in the blood, the higher the levels of lactic acid in the blood, the more uncomfortable you will feel.

The point at which lactate accumulation exceeds the rate of removal by the body is what we know as the anaerobic threshold.  This represents the uppermost limit of aerobic performance.

For me to be able to run faster without feeling the effects of lactic build up, I needed to improve my body’s ability to process lactic acid.

Training to run faster

Training at or slightly above the anaerobic threshold is the most effective way to develop aerobic fitness.  This meant really challenging myself and incorporating short bursts of high intensity running also known as anaerobic intervals into my programme.

Training at higher intensities allows specific physiological adaptations to take place including:

  • Increased tolerance to lactic acid
  • Improved ability to both oxidise and remove lactate
  • Improved nervous system recruitment of fast glycolytic muscle fibres 

How do I know where my lactate threshold is?

One of the most common ways to gauge your lactate threshold is to monitor heart rate. A quick and simple method is to assume your lactate threshold will occur at 80-90% of your maximum heart rate.  Can you maintain your pace at this intensity for 15 – 20 minutes? If you can’t and you start to feel your legs burn, you know you have exceeded your anaerobic threshold.  Your body has switched over to the anaerobic system and is producing lactic acid waste which your body cannot metabolise faster than it is being produced. Lactate thresholds will be different for everyone, the fitter you are, the higher it is likely to be.

When I incorporated speed intervals into my training, I was teaching my body to adapt to performing at higher intensities.  Speed intervals are short bursts followed by lower intensity intervals, the rest period allows for recovery and removal of lactic acid; discomfort always remains manageable. As I got fitter, I could maintain my speed intervals for longer, meaning I was able to run a faster pace at a lower intensity.  The end result was I was able to knock not just 1 minute off my 10k time but 3 whole minutes achieving a 10k in 53 mins.  This felt like a massive achievement having been stuck for so long.  The hard work really did pay off. 

I trained using different paces for other races and have achieved many personal bests as a result.

Be clear and stay focused.

Because I was clear on my goal and I really focused on what I wanted to achieve, through a focused and specific programme, I was able to not only able to achieve my goal but exceed it.  As a Personal Trainer, I want to help others achieve their goals by providing them with training specific to their needs.