~Cousin Mullet


After two years of non-stop racing and then hitting serious burn-out this past fall, I decided to take a break and re-evaluate my training.  I felt my training was “pretty good”, my diet was “pretty good”, and my results were just that…pretty good.  It’s not that I wasn’t finishing in a certain place, I just felt like I wasn’t improving.  Much of my training was just going out and paddling hard.  Like Danny Ching once told me when I asked him how I can improve, he said “just paddle harder.”  News flash-I am not Danny Ching- so I need a different approach.

Much of my training the second half of last year was gray-zone training: too tired to go really really hard, but going as hard as I could because that’s what I thought I should do (sound familiar?) and the result was one big ol’ performance plateau.  Using my old rowing journals from college as a reference I developed a phased training plan for the Carolina Cup.  As a collegiate rower, we didn’t do grey zone training EVER, so why was I doing it now?  Everything was a phased approach and based off individual Heart Rate (HR) zones.  Each rower had their VO2 max measured so heart rate training zones specific for each rower could be established.  Although I used VO2 Max in college as a measurement of fitness I am now using Anaerobic Threshold (AT).  Here is why and how to do it.

Why AT and not VO2 Max?

VO2 max, very simply put, is the maximal volume of oxygen the body can consume over a period of time.  Anaerobic threshold (AT) is the percentage of your VO2 max that can be sustained for a certain period of time.  Going above your AT, also known as the lactate threshold is the point where lactate (lactic acid) begins to accumulate in the bloodstream faster than it can be removed and causes that awesome muscular burning sensation we all know and love. In terms of performance, improving the speed at which you can perform before blood lactate levels rise, will improve performance since fatigue will be delayed.” . A more detailed definition of AT is- “Most commonly, anaerobic threshold is defined as the maximum heart rate, lactate concentration and pace that can be maintained for approximately one hour in a race or 20-30 minutes in a training workout. Above this point your muscles start to burn and you eventually are forced to slow down. Ideally, you want to raise this heart rate and pace so that you can go faster for longer races. The two main types of anaerobic threshold workouts are tempo and anaerobic threshold intervals. In all cases, anaerobic threshold workouts should feel “comfortably hard”. If you are overly sore and stiff the day after an anaerobic threshold workout, you’ve gone too hard.

Let’s just say a normal AT is 60% of VO2 max.  That is when a person is comfortably paddling, and can maintain that effort for some time without building up more lactic acid than their body can eliminate (think: long warm-up before a race).  But if that person increases their effort, at some point they become anaerobic: building up more lactic acid than the body can eliminate (think: 5 minutes into a race where you go out like a rocket and eventually slow down).  Using the redline of your car’s tachometer as your VO2 max; the AT is the yellow line. The redline is the max the car can go and the yellow line is the point where it hurts the car to go faster.

Soooo…now to the good part.  Your VO2 max is determined mostly by genetics and training may increase it slightly…or it may not.  If I have to rely on my potato-farming genetics to go faster I am screwed.  The real change in your body that comes with well designed training is an increase in your AT level and AS YOU RAISE YOUR FITNESS YOUR AT GOES UP.  Crazy talk!!  You still suffer and hurt but you can keep up the pace for a longer and longer period of time and your training goal is to increase that period of time.  You can use your AT as a measure of your fitness plan to see if you are getting more fit or just maintaining.

Determining AT

How does one obtain their AT and what does one do with it?

I am glad you asked.  What you are really after is your pace when you hit your AT.  We will call that your ATHR.  This is the number you want to strive to increase.  You can do it on your own with just a HR monitor (using standardized formulas to determine training zones) but that is not very accurate.  Many physical therapy sites or gyms offer Blood Lactic Acid tests.  That is what you want.  I had mine tested for $100.  They put me on a treadmill with a HR monitor and increased the pace every 5 minutes and finger-pricked me to measured my Blood Lactic Acid and my corresponding HR.  Here is what my results looked like:


What I now know is that my ATHR is at 172 beats per minute (bpm) for RUNNING.  I adjusted mine down 8 beats to 164 bpm.  Why 8 beats is beyond the scope of this article.  So I can now set up my PADDLING HR training zones as a % of my ATHR.  For example in the current phase of training I am in, my workout yesterday was 90 minutes of paddling at 85% of my ATHR.  (164 bpm) x (85%)= 140 bpm.  So I set the alarm on my HR monitor to vibrate at 145 bpm so I don’t go over, plug my ear goggles in, and go hit the water.

Since I know my ATHR is 164, here are my training HR zones for the next several months:


Type of Training % of ATHR HR
Base Building 75 % 123
Long Interval 90 % 148
Short Interval 100 % 164


ATHR Notes

Your ATHR is just that YOURS!!  Don’t compare it to others, it isn’t a contest.  If you are training consistently, your pace should increase at the same ATHR, but there is no need to get it tested more than twice a year.  Annually is fine too.   All ATHRs are not the same.  Your cycling, swimming, running, and paddling ATHR are all different.  I adjust my paddling ATHR down about 8 beats from my tested ATHR.


Steve Dullack lives in Virginia Beach, Virginia. He is owner of the Virginia Beach Paddleboard Company, an ambassador for Kings Paddlesports, and a longtime friend of the Mullets!

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