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Measuring our Muscles

Author: Harry Yoon

Editors: Eric Lin and Shirley Chen

Artist: Astrid Chen

How do we train our bodies effectively to improve our endurance capabilities? In sports like weightlifting, athletes see improvement by building muscle that allows them to lift heavier weights. Weightlifting, bodybuilding, and even American football put a strong emphasis on strength as a measurement of how skilled an athlete is in that respective sport. However, depending on the sport, there are factors other than strength that can determine an athlete's success. Golf, archery, and diving reward those who have good technique and accuracy. On the other hand, basketball, soccer, and hockey place importance on speed, agility, and coordination as well as technique. It is hard to quantify the skills of these athletes because of the differing variables that play a role in their success. If we were to strip away the technical aspects that many of these sports require, we would be left with a quantifiable measure of skill. This is the underlying philosophy behind sports like cycling, rowing, and running which are classified as endurance sports. Take, for example, running, which is characterized by repetitive movements, high intensity that tires out the body, and using big muscles to sustain power for long periods. These three components are found in many endurance sports. Scientists have found a way to measure an athlete's "endurance,” and this data can be used in many applications, including tracking progress, testing athletes, and creating appropriate training plans. This measurement is known as the Ventilatory Anaerobic Threshold or the Lactate Threshold.

Our muscles take glucose (sugar) from the foods we eat and break it down to use as energy. A buildup of lactic acid is what causes muscle soreness after exercise. Trained athletes can reduce the lactate delivered to the muscles while doing the same exercises as normal people. Testing our lactate levels while we exercise gives us information that tells us how efficiently our muscles are working.

When we go to train, there are two categories that our workouts fall under. Long, continuous movement that utilizes the air we breathe is classified as aerobic. Such activities include running, cycling, swimming, and hiking. Activities that include short bursts of speed and utilizing our twitch muscles are called anaerobic exercises. These sports focus on explosiveness and include rowing, sprinting, and weight lifting. There is a gray zone between all these sports that doesn’t define a sport as being absolute. Take, for example, swimming; long-distance events require a reliance on the athlete’s respiration, while short-distance events are like sprints that emphasize speed and explosiveness rather than endurance. There is a drastic difference in heart rate between these two exercises, and it has been shown that our blood lactate levels rise with a correlation to our heart rate. Skilled athletes accumulate less lactate in the blood compared to beginners, which shows that they can use their energy and muscles more efficiently. In endurance sports, it is of the utmost importance that we use our muscles as efficiently as we can because it shows that our energy is used effectively.



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Malaysian Journal of Medical Sciences : MJMS, U.S. National Library of Medicine, Jan.

Bettin, Allison. “What Is Lactate and Lactate Threshold.” TrainingPeaks, 28 Nov. 2023,

“Endurance Sports Ranked.” Endurance Sports,

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