I find many of my thresholds are tested on a daily basis – my patience threshold being the most frequently targeted at home, and my pain threshold at the gym with Will.

A ‘threshold’ is defined as: “the point at which a stimulus is of sufficient intensity to begin to produce an effect”. So an important factor to consider when working out and getting fit…or rather fitter if we really understand our thresholds.

The first one to consider when exercising is your heart’s threshold. We all want to ultimately increase our fitness levels, and in order for this to happen we need to work out the (safe) limits you can push your heart to. The more accurately you know your maximum heart rate, MHR / HRmax, the more accurately you can define the heart rate limits you need to use to get the optimal training benefit.

To do this, you first need to work out your maximum heart rate which is the highest number of beats per minute (bpm) your heart can reach during maximum physical exertion. It is individual and depends on hereditary factors and your age. One way to work out your maximum heart rate is to take your age away from 220.


The maximum heart rate for a 40 year old is: 220 – 40 = 180 bpm.

Your target heart rate (THR) is between 50% and 70% of your maximum heart rate. You should aim to exercise with your heart rate between these two figures. To work out your target heart rate, multiply your maximum heart rate by 50% and 70%.

To work out the target heart rate for a 40 year old:

180 x 50% = 90 bpm

180 x 70% = 126 bpm

So a 40 year old person should aim to exercise with their heart rate between 90 and 126 bpm.

But there are other thresholds to consider, as well as heart rate zones. Lactate Threshold (LT) is another very popular type of training analysis.

As the name suggests, it involves training at (or slightly below) your lactate threshold (LT). The lactate threshold is the point at which your body produces lactic acid faster than it can be removed from the muscles, so it starts to build up in the bloodstream. Lactic acid is a normal by-product of the energy release system that allows you to exercise hard, and at lower intensity levels your body simply removes it as a waste product. When you’re working harder and lactic acid starts to build up, the effect you’ll notice is that you tire much quicker and you start to feel a burning sensation in your working muscles, making it harder to keep going.

If you want to avoid that feeling, and to keep on running at your very limit, without crashing out and seeing your speed drop off dramatically at the end of your race, then threshold training could be a good idea. The addictive element of monitoring your lactate threshold is that you can raise it over time with the right training, which means you’re able to run harder and faster for longer. The end result is hopefully a personal best.

With every silver lining there is a cloud though, and with lactic thresholds that cloud is the methods used to determine them. The options are:

1. Visit a lab and have blood samples taken from your finger / earlobe at regular intervals. (How relaxing).

2. Slightly less invasive but no more fun: get thee to a gym, jump on a treadmill donning a special mask to analyse the gases you exhale.

Crikey o Riley. It all sounds a bit too…I don’t know, extreme / scientific / invasive / serious / NOT FUN. I absolutely want to exert myself, push myself, and I’m happy to sweat buckets in the process. But blood samples?? You’re having a laugh (or rather quite the opposite). I think I’ll stick with my own personal little threshold test thank you very much:

Can I gossip whilst exercising? Yes? Nul points, must work harder.

Do I worry about how embarrassed I’ll be if I chunder? Pat on the back, I’m working really rather hard.




I am not a dietician or a nutritionist, and make no claims to the contrary. What is written on this site should not be taken as fact or advice. It is merely an opinion blog.

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