n the last post, I discussed the use of intervals in training and how intervals have been misconstrued to mean “anaerobic” training, no matter what.  That is not the case as it obviously depends on the manipulation of the interval workout.  The take away message was that you could manipulate at an interval workout to be anything from a pure easy aerobic workout to a pure sprint workout.

But what about the idea of peaking too early because of interval training?

In a recent article by Greg McMillan he mentioned that in 2008, his track athletes peaked too early because they had to start specific track workout early in order to hit the times needed.  By the end of the season, they were starting to tail off.  That’s the conundrum that track athletes are in.  They need to run fast early to hit the qualifying times or get into the later meets, yet they also need to be in peak fitness when championship season arrives.  McMillan’s solution was to use more hills early for the intense workouts.  This would allow them to get in some quality sessions, but delay the peak.

This is a common solution, but how does that make sense?  A lot of times people use hill workouts that are just as intense as track sessions.  How come the hill workouts don’t cause premature peaking as frequently as early intense track workout (hills still can cause early peaking, but don’t seem to as much)?

The answer is the concept of Nonspecific lactate work.

NonSpecific Lactate Work

Non specific lactate work is a type of workout where you do relatively high intensity workouts that often have high lactate levels, but they don’t seem to have the deteriorating effect on the aerobic system of specific lactate work.

The battle between aerobic and anaerobic adaptations within the muscle is generally what happens when athletes peak early.  By doing too much anaerobic work, the ability of that muscle to work aerobically deteriorates.  We get around this battle by doing nonspecific work.

Nonspecific work is work that uses different muscle fibers, muscle recruitment patterns, or different muscles all together.  The degree of specificity depends on what’s done.  You can make it entirely general or you can make it very close to specific.  By working different muscles you allow for those muscle fibers to produce higher amounts of lactate.  Since these fibers are often not the ones directly used in running or are used in a different way in running, the fact that they produce high lactate values isn’t a big concern and won’t impact our aerobic ability to a high degree. The high lactate values will help the body centrally deal it, while also enhancing the Slow Twitch fibers ability to use lactate.

Below is a spectrum of Nonspecific lactate work from very general to specific:

  • Strength/lifting circuit
  • Strength training alternated with running on treadmill (i.e. do bench/leg press, then hop on treadmill)
  • Uphill strength endurance circuit
  • Flat strength endurance circuit
  • Steep Hill repeats
  • gradual hill repeats

Real World Example

Above is a lactate graph that I did to test the idea out. (As you can see I’m a junkie for testing stuff on myself, if only I had more gadgets and $ to use them, I’d be set!).
The tests consisted of running mile repeats w/ short rest while pricking myself after each mile to get lactate readings.  Following the mile repeats, an all out 400m was done to get a maximum lactate value that gave me an idea of anaerobic capacity. (For more on this click here).
Test 1- Was done during the base period and gives us a baseline to look at.  Around this time period I ran a sub 30 10k on an XC course.
The nonspecific test- Was taken next following a period of training where I did nonspecific track workout once per week (mostly hill circuits and hills of various types).  The thing to note is that the lactate curve is almost exactly the same as the first test.  Which would traditionally show that the aerobic system/lactate threshold was maintained.  However, if we look at what happened to the max lactate value, it increased dramatically.  Because this shows that lactate production is increased, this means that my anaerobic abilities have significantly increased.  This increase in max lactate generally shifts the curve upwards (i.e. more lactate at each speed).  Given this info, if the lactate curve is the same, and my anaerobic abilities improved, my aerobic abilities had to improve to the same extent.
Bottom line: Nonspecific lactate work improved anaerobic abilities and most likely improved aerobic abilities or at least maintained them.  This was followed by a 3:47 1500m, a seasons best, and a tactical 800m that resulted in a PR of 1:52.12
The Specific Lactate test- This test shows a big deterioration in aerobic abilities.  Lactate levels were much higher at every level.  This test was done at the end of the track season after doing a lot (too much) of high intensity lactate work.  While this is an extreme shift, most of the time, you get a smaller shift upwards to higher lactate.  This is typical to what occurs for most people when they include a high intensity/anaerobic/speed work period.
Bottom line: Lots of high intensity training shifts the balance of aerobic/anaerobic towards anaerobic.  This isn’t necessarily bad depending on the race or the time of the season and the degree to which the shift occurs.  Not surprisingly, before this test, I was running out of gas in the end of the mile. I ran a 4:06mile before this test, which consisted of dieing in.
Conclusion: Nonspecific work allows for high intensity/lactate training without the negative affect of killing the aerobic system.
What to do?
Introduce some nonspecific lactate work after you’ve established your base.  Use it as a transition to your specific track workouts.  I’ve had great success using nonspecific lactate work with the HS athletes I train. Of course, I tried out on myself first, as I think every coach should!
For more information on strength endurance circuits go here: (LINK) or watch an example video here: (LINK)


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    1. CoachMK21 on February 20, 2010 at 4:50 pm

      And this would be the scientific evidence that reinforces what Lydiard used for years. Great stuff Steve!

    2. Lars B on February 23, 2010 at 6:55 am

      Very interesting indeed!

    3. EFESOR on February 23, 2010 at 9:43 am

      Loved reading you!

    4. stevemagness on February 23, 2010 at 1:16 pm

      CoachMK- Sure does. Shows that coaches figure things out first, then science comes in and explains why it works. It rarely works in the opposite way and we get in trouble when we do.

      Further evidence for this is a a study found that high intensity/acidosis training interfears with and reduces the signalling pathway that results in increased mitochondria.


    5. Anonymous on February 26, 2010 at 8:48 pm

      What a great resource!

    6. Aaron Springer on March 29, 2010 at 4:16 pm

      Wow! Great post!

      I've always believed in the benefits of hard GS circuits and now it's great to know the science just confirms it.

    7. Anonymous on May 25, 2010 at 9:34 am

      Because of an injury, I've been forced to cut down on my running and only run at slow and medium paces. Partly based on this post, I've added intense rowing interval training.

      Result: new 1500m PR. Admittedly, the old one was soft, but still, I was surprised.

    8. ChuchoTrain on August 24, 2010 at 6:34 pm

      Steve, I'm a high school runner in Cross-Country and I've been reading up alot on training the Lydiard way or his method, and I seem to recall reading somewhere that during your base phase, if you start doing anaerobic work your aerobic capacity stops developing and it is set for that season.

      Well 2 months into my build-up I did a 4x1500m intervals at a anaerobic pace ( I went into 02 debt) but with plenty of rest, however my build-up continued afterwards, I'm bothered though by the thought that after that single anaerobic session my aerobic capacity stopped developing even with continued long runs and such. Is this possible?

    9. Andrew Govus on February 13, 2011 at 10:27 pm


      Good website for the thinking runner and scientific minded coach.

      Question about the article by David Bishop.

      Interestingly they used reasonbly trained/active participants and cycling exercise. No doubt the concept may extend to runners. Do you know of any other research that have investigated similar variables?

      As I'm sure you would agree, more (applied) research is needed in this area. Hopefully, this will give coaches a greater understanding of how high intensity lactate training affects aerobic conditioning.



    10. Anonymous on March 5, 2012 at 5:11 pm

      could you give me a specific example of a workout for a 1600m runner during the pre competition phase and the competition phase. How often and in regard to a high school runner?

    11. Gregor Rasp on July 18, 2012 at 4:37 am


      You say, "By doing too much anaerobic work, the ability of that muscle to work aerobically deteriorates". Could you please explain how this works physiologically, what is causing the effect on the aerobic system. I have searched all over but not found a single hint.

      Moreover, a lot of recent research points into the direction that high intensity interval training (HIIT) actually results in aerobic adaptations via the AMPK -> PGC-1a pathway.



    12. Gregor Rasp on July 18, 2012 at 4:39 am


      You say, "By doing too much anaerobic work, the ability of that muscle to work aerobically deteriorates". Could you please explain how this works physiologically, what is causing the effect on the aerobic system. I have searched all over but not found a single hint.

      Moreover, a lot of recent research points into the direction that high intensity interval training (HIIT) actually results in aerobic adaptations via the AMPK -> PGC-1a pathway.



    13. Obstacle Monacle on May 29, 2015 at 12:40 am


      Fascinating article and testing. Brilliant! I'm curious,however, what was the training you were doing for the first test (in black), as that one seemed to yield the best result? Or am I missing something?

      I believe I understand the interesting proof you are offering here, but wouldn't the best result be the one we should be chasing?

      With much respect,


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