Lactic Acid vs. Lactate

Let’s say you run as fast as you can for a minute. The first 10 seconds or so are pretty easy, but then you can’t run as fast anymore. With each passing moment your muscles burn a little more, and your speed slows. What’s happening?

We’ll start with those first 10 seconds that were relatively easy, when your speed was fastest. The first one or two seconds were fueled by the ATP stored within your muscles. Then the next five seconds were primarily fueled by your phosphagen system, which is stored phosphocreatine (PC) within your muscles. So those first seven seconds came from a combination of ATP and PC, and that’s why it’s sometimes called the ATP-PC system, instead of the phosphagen system. Different name, same thing.

Before we move on, it’s worth noting here that even though the phosphagen system is typically described as lasting 10 seconds, in reality it can last up to 30 seconds, depending on the athlete and his/her previous training.

Enter Anaerobic Glycolysis
You know that you can’t run at your top speed, or perform a maximum isometric hold, for more than 10 seconds before things start heading south. That’s because your body’s quickest, “cleanest” energy source, the phosphagen system, has been taken over by your next quickest source for energy: glucose.

How does the body get energy from glucose? Let’s briefly cover a little biochemistry.

The foundation of the glucose molecule is a six-carbon structure. Those six carbons are split into two, three-carbon molecules, which are pyruvate. So anaerobic glycolysis consists of splitting one glucose molecule into two pyruvate molecules.

This splitting forms two adenosine triphosphate (i.e., 2 ATPs), which the body uses to make energy. Importantly, splitting glucose into pyruvate is fueled by NAD+. You might not be familiar with NAD+ but it’s essential for life and present in every cell of your body. After fueling the split, NAD+ turns into NADH. Importantly, glycolysis also releases an acidic proton (H+). The importance of this will make sense shortly, so hang with me.

Anaerobic glycolysis takes place in the sarcoplasm, the muscle’s gel-like substance that includes all of its components, except for the mitochondria.

Enter Lactate
So now you know that splitting glucose (i.e., anaerobic glycolysis) results in the formation of pyruvate and NADH. If you’re wondering what those molecules have to do with lactate, here’s your answer: Pyruvate and NADH are what form lactate. But for this to happen the enzyme, lactate dehydrogenase, is required.

Enzyme reactions work like a lock-and-key mechanism. In this case, the “lock” is lactate dehydrogenase, while the “keys” are pyruvate and NADH. Once those keys are inside the lock, NADH donates its proton to pyruvate. This transforms NADH into NAD+ and pyruvate into lactate.

Importantly, pyruvate consumes an acidic proton (H+) from the muscle during this reaction. Therefore, the formation of lactate is alkalizing to the muscle. Indeed, if it weren’t for the formation of lactate, your muscles would become even more acidic, as shown below.

What Happened to Lactic Acid?
Before we move on, you probably noticed that there’s been no talk of lactic acid. That’s because there’s very good research that demonstrates lactic acid isn’t formed in muscle, at all. You can find that research here and here and here. In a nutshell, lactic acid was discovered in the 1770’s by a scientist that was researching sour milk. Since it has a mildly acidic flavor, and can function as a preservative, lactic acid was later added to foods, as well as brewing and flavoring beer.

More About Lactate
Lactate is everyone’s favorite scapegoat. It’s been blamed for everything from the painful “muscle burn” to fatigue to muscle soreness. It’s not directly responsible for any of those things. In fact, lactate can be used to fuel muscle contractions, which keeps your efforts going. It can also be sent to the liver where it’s converted to glucose (i.e., gluconeogenesis), and then sent back to the muscle to continue with anaerobic glycolysis.

So lactate is your friend, but he hangs around with shady characters. The problem with lactate is that it’s always accompanied by protons (H+), even though it consumes one during each lactate dehydrogenase reaction. Proton accumulation is actually due to the breakdown of ATP (i.e., ATP hydrolysis) in muscle. When muscles are contracting intensely they require a lot of energy from the breakdown of ATP. This causes a huge release of protons (H+) within the muscle, but the lactate dehydrogenase reaction can’t consume enough of those protons to offset the acidity (i.e., metabolic acidosis).

That proton accumulation is what causes “muscle burn” and nausea since the pH of the muscle and blood are decreasing (i.e., becoming more acidic). Protons also decrease the speed and force of your muscle contractions. Therefore, lactate is guilty by association.

This is why scientists study the rate that lactate increases during intense exercise. The measurement gives them an idea of how much H+ is being accumulated. Because if lactate is increasing, so are protons.

The point where lactate starts to rise rapidly is the lactate threshold. As this level gets higher, your speed and power drop off substantially. Therefore, the goal of any good strength and conditioning program is to train your athletes to sustain more speed and power before hitting their lactate threshold (you can find the general training parameters in my last blog). The following graph gives you a visual of what I’m talking about.

So now you know a little bit more about lactate, and why H+ accumulation should be avoided to keep your power running strong. Speaking of power, my latest book Powerful Mobility is now available on Amazon for only $9.99.

Want some more scientific info about lactate? Check out this research.

Stay Focused,

Attention trainers: Do you want to take your income and skill set to the next level? Check out my 10-week online Corrective Exercise Specialist certification course I designed for the International Sports Sciences Association (ISSA). Click the image below for more info…


Want to build muscle and strength fast? Here’s my best system to do it:

(Note: this article has been modified since it was originally posted on 9/20/2017.)

Is Tabata Ideal to Build Endurance?

In the 1990s, two landmark research papers were released that drastically shifted how athletes and fitness enthusiasts train for endurance.

In 1994, Prof. Angelo Tremblay’s research demonstrated that endurance exercise performed with alternating bouts of high- and low-intensity resulted in better fat loss than continuous low-intensity exercise did.

Then in 1996, research by Prof. Izumi Tabata tested a protocol that consisted of 20 seconds of maximal activity, followed by 10 seconds of rest for 8 rounds. It was a gruesome four minutes for the athletes in the study. This Tabata protocol was compared to traditional lower-intensity endurance exercise performed for 60 minutes straight. At the end of the study, the continuous lower-intensity exercise group only improved their aerobic capacity. However, athletes that did the Tabata protocol increased both their aerobic and anaerobic capacity.

These two studies have been often quoted as “proof” that high intensity interval training (HIIT) is better than longer, slower cardio for improving fat loss and overall endurance.

Now, assuming you’ve tried HIIT using plenty of effort, you know that it quickly acidifies your body. Your muscles burn, and nausea can set in fast. This is not due to lactate, a substance that actually helps muscle contractions. It’s due to the accumulation of acidic protons (H+), which happens when the body starts burning a lot of glucose to make energy from glycolysis. With a higher effort and intensity, more glucose will be used, and subsequently, more H+ will be produced. This is how metabolic acidosis occurs.

There are two potential problems with making your body use more glucose for energy. First, you’ll gas out quicker than if you used fat to produce energy. When you see a boxer lose his energy and coordination in later rounds, he’s primarily using glucose, not fat, for fuel. A lean athlete has enough stored fat to fuel a jog that lasts for many days. Second, and maybe most importantly, we don’t yet know what negative impacts can occur from forcing the body into metabolic acidosis multiple times per week.

Enter Pavel Tsatsouline
Many of you will know Pavel Tsatsouline, chairman of StrongFirst, as one of the world’s top experts in building strength and flexibility. What you probably don’t know is that Pavel has spent the last three years immersed in endurance training research. His ability to read Russian gives him an advantage since some of the best endurance research has come from there.

Pavel and I have had many discussions over these last three years as he was perusing endurance research from around the globe. In those discussions, he effectively made the case for why many of the popular high-intensity endurance protocols aren’t ideal. Therefore, over the last year I’ve shifted my approach to building endurance with athletes. The results have been extremely impressive, which I’ll discuss more in future blogs.

I got to see Pavel publicly present his immense research for the first time this summer in Denver. His sold-out Strong Endurance seminar attracted some of the heaviest hitters in the fields of strength, conditioning, and physical therapy.

Pavel started off the seminar by warning us not to “chase the proton.” The acidosis that accompanies proton accumulation can lead to many problems that negatively affect power, health and performance. He went on to tell us that world-renowned Russian sports scientist, Prof. Yuri Verkhoshansky, figured this out many decades ago, dating back to 1980. In 1988, Verkhoshansky wrote this about his “anti-glycolytic” training:

“[Yet] the goal is not taking the athlete to exhaustion to accustom him to metabolic acidosis, as it is often understood in athletic practice, but just the opposite…to develop alactic power and to couple it with oxidative phosphorylation, to increase the muscles oxidative qualities, this is develop the local muscle endurance.”

What Should You Do?
The approach to building endurance without overemphasizing glycolysis is beyond the scope of this blog. However, there are two things to keep in mind when you work to build endurance.

1. Build your phosphagen system: Your muscles immediate source of energy comes from stored ATP and the ATP-CP system. They will fuel your maximum effort and speed exercises for 6-12 seconds. This means you can either do low-rep sets of strength exercises or high-speed work for 6-12 seconds. Give yourself enough rest to return your heart rate close to what it was at the beginning of the set to offset H+ accumulation.

2. Train endurance at your anaerobic threshold: If you perform endurance work in the anaerobic zone your muscles will need more oxygen than they can get, and this causes H+ and carbon dioxide (CO2) to accumulate. Both of these factors can increase metabolic acidosis. Dr. Philip Maffetone, author of The Big Book of Endurance Training and Racing, recommends training at a heart rate that’s around 180-your age. Therefore, a 30-year old athlete would perform his sport and endurance work around 150 beats per minute, allowing him to use fat for fuel and minimize acidosis. Over time he’ll be able to perform faster and faster at that heart rate.

This approach follows what Pavel told us all in his Strong Endurance seminar, “Increase your 100% and learn to use a lower percentage of it.”

Stay Focused,

P.S. Click the image below to find out more about my 10-week Corrective Exercise certification course I designed for the International Sports Sciences Association (ISSA):

Corrective Exercise is Essential

Raise your hand if you know someone that has a nagging injury. Chances are, your hand shot up in the air. That person could be you, a client, friend or relative. Maybe you have knee pain when you squat, or a full-blown rotator cuff tear. Your client might have back pain after doing a deadlift, or elbow pain during the bench press.

These days, it seems more people than ever have some type of physical dysfunction that bothers them during or after exercise.

Why? There are probably two primary culprits at work here. First, people spend much of their day with poor posture while on the computer or Smartphone. This leads to mobility deficits and joint stress. Second, extreme fitness classes are en vogue. So when people do workout, they often jump into programs or classes beyond their physical capacity.

Indeed, the demand for personal trainers and healthcare practitioners to be proficient in corrective exercise is higher than ever. If you make the effort to build your toolbox of corrective exercise techniques, you’ll benefit three ways:

1. You’ll make more money – Being able to identify and correct mobility and strength deficits will allow you to work with a broader range of clients. Furthermore, you’ll be able to charge more money for your services since you’ll be able to perform interventions beyond what a typical personal trainer certification teaches.

2. You’ll build your reputation – Once you become the guy or gal that can help people perform better with less discomfort, word travels fast. Since virtually everyone has some type of nagging physical issue, and since there aren’t many trainers proficient in corrective exercise, your reputation will quickly escalate.

3. You’ll build a strong network with healthcare practitioners – Every week I get asked by physical therapists, chiropractors or orthopedic doctors for recommendations for trainers that understand how to identify and correct mobility and strength imbalances. When you get good at corrective exercise you’ll have a steady stream of referrals from healthcare practitioners. And this, of course, takes us back to the first benefit I mentioned: you’ll make more money.

With those three benefits in mind, I’m excited to announce my latest project that was 18 months in the making. It’s the Corrective Exercise Specialist course that I created for the International Sports Sciences Association (ISSA).

Check out the following video to hear me discuss an overview of my Corrective Exercise Specialist course:

You can find out more information about my 10-week Corrective Exercise Specialist course by clicking here.

“With his course, Corrective Exercise Specialist, Chad Waterbury joins Gray Cook and a very exclusive club of PT leaders who make fitness professionals better trainers — not turn them into clinicians. Crystal clear communication, the most relevant summaries of anatomy and motor learning to be found anywhere, and a painstakingly curated toolbox of high yield assessments and correctives.”  – Pavel Tsatsouline, Chairman,

Stay Focused,

Improve Your Shoulders with the Elbow Walk

There is no doubt that many people have cranky shoulders. This is especially evident when they try to lift their arms fully overhead, or when they’re trying to military press with proper form. When you see a guy or gal excessively arch the lower back when pressing weights overhead, it’s likely that compensation is due to a lack of overhead shoulder mobility.

During my first year of the Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) program at USC, I got to fully dissect a cadaver. I’ll never forget the week I spent on the shoulder region. Once you see how many muscles, ligaments, vessels, and structures are jam-packed within the shoulder, it’s amazing we could ever lift our arms overhead without pain. Furthermore, the timing and sequencing of muscle activation the nervous system must coordinate while reaching overhead is pretty astonishing.

Indeed, when you consider the plethora of structures within the shoulder complex, and the motor control that’s required for smooth, full range of motion movement, it’s no surprise why a lack of overhead mobility is a widespread problem in the fitness community.

It’s worth mentioning here that there can be 100 different reasons why you lack overhead mobility. And this is also why there are over 100 different special tests used by physical therapists and orthopedic doctors for assessing the shoulder complex. But there are a few common problems that most people need to correct.

One of my favorite corrective exercises to improve overhead mobility is the elbow wall walk. The benefits of this exercise are numerous, but there are three primary goals when you do it correctly. First, it activates the shoulders’ external rotators, which helps pull the head of the humerus into its ideal position. Second, the exercise activates the serratus anterior, a muscle that’s essential for upward rotation of the scapula. Third, the elbow wall walk teaches your client to reach overhead without extending the lumbar spine.

Test Yourself

The elbow wall walk is a terrific shoulder activation drill to perform before upper body training or Olympic lifts. Nevertheless, if you or your client has problems with overhead mobility it’s important to determine if this exercise provides the benefit you seek. You’ll perform 3 sets of the elbow wall walk, and each set should last 45-60 seconds.

  • Do you lack the ability to reach your arms fully overhead? Perform an overhead reach and have your buddy take a picture of your end range of motion. Measure the shoulder joint angle using one of the many Smartphone apps. After that, perform the elbow wall walk, and then retest (and remeasure) your shoulder joint angle to determine if it improved.
  • Shoulder pain when reaching or pressing overhead? Find the overhead position that causes discomfort, and rate it on a scale of 1-10 with 10 being “emergency room” pain. Perform the elbow wall walk, then retest the overhead position and see if the pain intensity has decreased.
  • Poor shoulder stability when holding weights or a barbell overhead? Perform the elbow wall walk, then retest the exercise to determine if your shoulder stability has improved.

The elbow wall walk requires a TheraBand or some type of light resistance band that can be wrapped around each hand. Be sure to “walk” the elbows up the wall very slowly during this drill, and follow the cues outlined in the video below.

Give this activation/strengthening drill a try and it will likely decrease shoulder discomfort and improve overhead performance.

Stay Focused,

Align Your Pelvis to Increase Performance

The term “core” is thrown around a lot these days. Most people think of the core as being the abdominals, or midsection. But if we consider the classic definition of the word, which is “the central part of something,” it means your body’s true core is the pelvis. The pelvis is where the upper and lower segments attach, so it’s the central part of your body.

This also means that if your pelvis is out of proper alignment, it can create unwanted compensations up and/or down your body’s chain. Indeed, problems in the pelvis can cause knee or foot pain, and it can cause low back or shoulder pain.

What’s relevant here are three of the articulations within the pelvis: the two sacroiliac (SI) joints, and the pubic symphysis. These joints make it possible for parts of the pelvis to rotate or tilt, due to the attached muscles being shortened (i.e., overactive) or lengthened (i.e., weak/inhibited).

Now, it’s important to mention here that these joints don’t allow for much motion. In fact, some clinicians still question if they can move at all. But anyone that has a hypermobile pelvis or SI joint pain will tell you they can move. And when they move the wrong way, pain and poor performance follow.

The Postural Restoration Institute (PRI) teaches courses that focus heavily on restoring pelvic alignment. I’ve taken their Myokinematic Restoration and Pelvic Restoration courses, and I recommend them to any progressive trainer or clinician.

Nevertheless, becoming proficient at assessing and correcting pelvic alignment can be a complicated task. There are a myriad of muscles, ligaments and tendons in play, and any one of them can be the culprit. Physiotherapist, Diane Lee, is one of the experts that’s giving seminars to help progress this area of practice. I’m talking here about something called “muscle energy techniques,” which simply means you’re activating key muscles to improve function within the body.

Test Yourself

Before we get to the muscle energy technique that I use to restore pelvic function, it’s important to begin by testing yourself (or a client) so you’ll know if the drill worked. I recommend tests similar to the ones I outlined in the Ultimate Glute Development article I wrote last week.

  • Stiff hamstrings? Do a standing toe touch assessment, then perform the pelvic alignment correction and immediately retest it.
  • Knee or low back pain? Do a movement that causes you to feel the discomfort, then perform the pelvic alignment correction and immediately retest it.
  • Need more hip mobility for the squat, lunge or deadlift? First perform the pelvic alignment correction, and then test if your hips/low back feel looser during the exercise.

For the following Pelvic Alignment Correction, you’ll need a PVC pipe or strong dowel, as well as a basketball or light medicine ball that’s a similar size.

When should you do this drill? First in your workout. It doesn’t make any sense to warm-up, with even a light jog, if your pelvis is out of alignment. To paraphrase Gray Cook: Don’t put fitness on top of dysfunction.

Give the following drill a try before your next sprint, squat, deadlift or jump session, and your hips and alignment will probably feel much better.

Stay Focused,

Ultimate Glute Development

Everyone wants better glutes, whether you’re a guy or gal, athlete or non-athlete. That’s because glutes that are awesomely developed not only make your body look better, but they can also drastically improve your performance. When the glutes are strengthened and built using the correct combinations of exercises, you’ll run faster, jump higher and improve the strength of all your lower-body lifts.

In order to build a muscle to it’s highest level of size and performance, all of its fibers should be recruited by the end of a workout. The glutes are a tri-planar muscle, which means it can function in all three planes of movement:

  • Sagittal plane = hip extension
  • Frontal plane = hip abduction
  • Transverse plane = hip external rotation

The problem is that most people only train the sagittal plane function of the glutes: hip extension. I’m talking here about the typical squat, deadlift and lunge variations.

Last fall I spent four months working with Christopher Powers, Ph.D., at his Movement Performance Institute (a glute-focused sports medicine facility if there ever was one). I worked with athletes and non-athletes that had a myriad of knee, low back or hip problems.

The early stages of Professor Powers’ system focuses heavily on strengthening the glutes in the frontal and transverse planes – hip abduction and hip external rotation, respectively. Pure hip extension isn’t usually trained until about 6 weeks into the system.

There were two key observations I made after training athletes primarily in hip abduction and external rotation for up to 6 weeks straight:

  • Their glutes got substantially larger
  • Their hip extension strength increased

Their glutes got bigger because they were recruiting muscle fibers that perform hip abduction and external rotation, which had been neglected in the gym from doing nothing but squats, lunges and deadlifts.

Prof. Powers has been a pioneer in research that demonstrates a link between frequent glute activation and a stronger mind-muscle connection, which is an essential component of strength and hypertrophy development. So even though pure hip extension wasn’t trained, that movement got stronger because the brain was better able to recruit the entire gluteal fibers in any future task.

My point here is that ultimate glute development requires a strong emphasis on hip abduction and hip external rotation. Those two movement planes must be frequently trained in order to build the glutes to the highest level of size and performance.

Test Yourself

Before you watch the video where I outline my favorite 7-minute glute-building sequence, test yourself (or one of your clients).

  • Stiff hamstrings? Do a standing toe touch assessment, then perform the glute sequence and immediately retest it.
  • Knee or low back pain? Do a movement which causes you to feel the discomfort, then perform the glute sequence and immediately retest it.
  • Need to improve your squat, lunge, deadlift, sprint or vertical jump? Do the following sequence twice each day for 2 weeks, then retest the exercise you’re trying to improve. Your performance will definitely go up!

The following Ultimate Glute Development sequence requires a mini-band. I use the bands made by Perform Better, which can be found at this Amazon link. Most females should start with a yellow mini-band; males can start with a green. The key is to progress the band tension as your strength improves.

  • Goal for males: perform the entire Ultimate Glute Development sequence with a black Perform Better mini-band.
  • Goal for females: perform the entire Ultimate Glute Development sequence with a blue Perform Better mini-band.

Here’s the Ultimate Glute Development sequence, a collection of my favorite glute-building exercises, all crammed into a 7-minute drill. Do this sequence at least once per day (preferably twice), at the beginning of your regular workouts or as a stand-alone drill.

I highly recommend you make this a foundational activation sequence for you and your clients, for years to come.

Stay Focused,