How I Utilize Recovery Time to Avoid Lactate Accumulation

One of the worst things about falling into the depths of chronic fatigue was that I wasn’t able to “kick my own booty” at the gym or going for a run to manage stress, anxiety, or just for fun.

So with resistance training I abandoned the idea that a session needed to be an hour plus long.

I let go of the idea that I needed to do countless movements, sets, reps to get a good workout. I had to stop all the super sets and active recovery exercises, and cut way back, to the point I thought I couldn’t possibly make gains, and I even felt silly showing up to the gym because I was limited a session to no more than 15 minutes and then leaving.

Cognitively I knew I needed to change my approach, but it was incredibly hard to reprogram what I had previously known to do to make gains in the weight room.

And you know what happened in the weeks and months ahead? I finally started to make gains in my muscular strength again without flaring fatigue or pain.

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I would either do to much volume or weight in resistance training or too much distance or speed in aerobic training. I know, crazy considering I was a physical therapist and personal fitness trainer. If anyone should be able to great a graded exercise program it should have been me, right?

However for me, the mental game of surrender, letting go of the self image and ego that allowed me to achieve fitness was by far and away the hardest thing I had to do in my process of healing. 

I had to mourn the loss of my 7% body fat, my ability to run an easy 12 miles in under 80 minutes on any given day, let go of the girl who astonished her entire team of co-volunteer firefighters by completing 12 strict pull ups and squatted 225 when I weighed just over ½ that amount. A piece of me still believed I was still that “fit” girl, but my body no longer could tolerate even a fraction of the exercise I was trying to do.

What I didn’t realize about the mitochondrial dysfunction I was struggling to recover from was that the little organelles inside them called the lysosome were sensitive to lactate and too much would cause post exertional fatigue, shortness of breath, and excessive muscle soreness.

Side note: Chronic Fatigue Syndrome patients often have symptoms that correlate with mitochondrial density in various bodies tissues. The tissues with the greatest density of mitochondria are the skeletal muscle, heart, liver, and brain.

I could do the exercise, I even felt good doing it, but it would come with consequences, and furthermore I couldn’t seem to make gains in my fitness.

I needed objective data to keep me overdoing it. So I tested my maximal heart rate with a stress test then calculated lactate threshold.

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So, I’m sure you are dying to know, what exactly is lactate threshold?

It is the “tipping point” at which the body’s production of lactate is greater than its ability to clear lactate.

Typically this is at 85% of one’s maximal heart rate, or approximately 75% of VO2 max.

This being said, I have appreciated a slightly lower threshold for those suffering from mitochondrial dysfunction, and when designing training programs, I will generally attempt to keep the training heart rate at no more than 75% max initially until successful workouts have been achieved.

To be honest with many aerobic athletes that I work with, it’s initially shocking how slow or how little resistance they need to use on their bike or elliptical to avoid this lactate accumulation.

Once we have had successful work-outs where their exercise induced fatigue symptoms do not flare, then we move onto exercise that includes a bit of time beyond that lactate accumulation tipping point.

Here is an aerobic exercise example: 

  1. 5 minute warm up at 40-50% of heart rate, HR max (this is usually a brisk walk for most people, should be able to breath through your nose while doing it.)

  2. 2 minute at 60% HR max

  3. 10 seconds at 75% HR max

  4. Stop aerobic exercise or walk slowly and wait for HR to return to 40% of HR max. Ideally HR will recover within 3xs the length of the sprint. If it does not, this is a HARD STOP, it is time to end the workout.

  5. Repeat steps 3 and 4, 6 times.

  6. 5 minute cool down at 40-50% of HR max

The most accurate means of finding maximal heart rate then calculating lactate threshold is in an exercise lab with the supervision of a health professional. There are equations using your age and resting heart rate available online, however these can be quite inaccurate due to one’s fitness level. Please be safe, and seek the guidance of a specialist and approval of your doctor before starting any new exercise program.

This method I not only have used for myself (and continue to use it for myself), but I also use this to help other athletes like myself recover from chronic fatigue induced by mitochondrial dysfunction.

If you’re curious to know more about my approach, sign up for a free 15 minute discover call to learn more: