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Does Lactic Acid Really Cause Muscle Soreness?-->, FF Insider#105
September 27, 2011
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Please enjoy another issue packed with evidence-based information about sports performance training and news about current events at Finish First Sports Performance. If you find value in this e-newsletter, please forward this message to your teammates, coaches, or other parents of hard working athletes.

Finish First Sports Performance is the official training/performance coaching provider for the Youngstown Phantoms USHL Hockey Team, the Robert Morris Univeristy NCAA Division 1 Men's Ice Hockey Team, and the Miss Pennsylvania Scholarship Organization.

Inside this Issue:

To bring you the very best information, this newsletter focuses on awareness of the training principles for young athletes, and how to use them to make sure your coach is on the right track. Enjoy!

1. Performance: Does Lactic Acid Really Cause Muscle Soreness?

2. Performance II: Can Olympic Lifts be used to Improve Golf Performance?

3. Special Announcements

4. Motivational/Inspirational Quote

5. Thank You


Does Lactic Acid Really Cause Muscle Soreness?

By Jeremy S. Hoy,MS, CSCS, NASM, NASE, Performance Scientist

Ask any athlete that has endured some type of intense exercise and you will most likely hear them talking about lactic acid negatively, mentioning such things as intense burn, pain, toxic, lactic acid removal, and muscle soreness among other things. Most athletes will tell you that muscle soreness that occurs the day after an intense bout of exercise is a result of lactic acid. But, does lactic acid really contribute to muscle soreness? Does it cause the body to shut down during intense exercise?

To help answer these questions, I want to begin with an excerpt from a New York Times article dated May 16, 2006, written by Gina Kolata:

Everyone who has even thought about exercising has heard the warnings about lactic acid. It builds up in your muscles. It is what makes your muscles burn. Its buildup is what makes your muscles tire and give out.

Coaches and personal trainers tell athletes and exercisers that they have to learn to work out at just below their "lactic threshold," that point of diminishing returns when lactic acid starts to accumulate. Some athletes even have blood tests to find their personal lactic thresholds.

But that, it turns out, is all wrong. Lactic acid is actually a fuel, not a caustic waste product. Muscles make it deliberately, producing it from glucose, and they burn it to obtain energy. The reason trained athletes can perform so hard and so long is because their intense training causes their muscles to adapt so they more readily and efficiently absorb lactic acid.

The notion that lactic acid was bad took hold more than a century ago, said George A. Brooks, a professor in the department of integrative biology at the University of California, Berkeley. It stuck because it seemed to make so much sense.

"It's one of the classic mistakes in the history of science," Dr. Brooks said. Its origins lie in a study by a Nobel laureate, Otto Meyerhof, who in the early years of the 20th century cut a frog in half and put its bottom half in a jar. The frog's muscles had no circulation — no source of oxygen or energy.

Dr. Myerhoff gave the frog's leg electric shocks to make the muscles contract, but after a few twitches, the muscles stopped moving. Then, when Dr. Myerhoff examined the muscles, he discovered that they were bathed in lactic acid.

A theory was born. Lack of oxygen to muscles leads to lactic acid, leads to fatigue. Athletes were told that they should spend most of their effort exercising aerobically, using glucose as a fuel. If they tried to spend too much time exercising harder, in the anaerobic zone, they were told, they would pay a price, that lactic acid would accumulate in the muscles, forcing them to stop.

Few scientists questioned this view, Dr. Brooks said. But, he said, he became interested in it in the 1960's, when he was running track at Queens College and his coach told him that his performance was limited by a buildup of lactic acid.

When he graduated and began working on a Ph.D. in exercise physiology, he decided to study the lactic acid hypothesis for his dissertation.

"I gave rats radioactive lactic acid, and I found that they burned it faster than anything else I could give them," Dr. Brooks said.

It looked as if lactic acid was there for a reason. It was a source of energy.

Dr. Brooks said he published the finding in the late 70's. Other researchers challenged him at meetings and in print.

"I had huge fights, I had terrible trouble getting my grants funded, I had my papers rejected," Dr. Brooks recalled. But he soldiered on, conducting more elaborate studies with rats and, years later, moving on to humans. Every time, with every study, his results were consistent with his radical idea.

Eventually, other researchers confirmed the work. And gradually, the thinking among exercise physiologists began to change.

"The evidence has continued to mount," said L. Bruce Gladden, a professor of health and human performance at Auburn University. "It became clear that it is not so simple as to say, Lactic acid is a bad thing and it causes fatigue."

As for the idea that lactic acid causes muscle soreness, Dr. Gladden said, that never made sense. "Lactic acid will be gone from your muscles within an hour of exercise," he said. "You get sore one to three days later. The time frame is not consistent, and the mechanisms have not been found."

The understanding now is that muscle cells convert glucose or glycogen to lactic acid. The lactic acid is taken up and used as a fuel by mitochondria, the energy factories in muscle cells.

Mitochondria even have a special transporter protein to move the substance into them, Dr. Brooks found. Intense training makes a difference, he said, because it can make double the mitochondrial mass.

It is clear that the old lactic acid theory cannot explain what is happening to muscles, Dr. Brooks and others said.

Yet, Dr. Brooks said, even though coaches often believed in the myth of the lactic acid threshold, they ended up training athletes in the best way possible to increase their mitochondria. "Coaches have understood things the scientists didn't," he said.

Through trial and error, coaches learned that athletic performance improved when athletes worked on endurance, running longer and longer distances, for example.

That, it turns out, increased the mass of their muscle mitochondria, letting them burn more lactic acid and allowing the muscles to work harder and longer.

Just before a race, coaches often tell athletes to train very hard in brief spurts.

That extra stress increases the mitochondria mass even more, Dr. Brooks said, and is the reason for improved performance.

And the scientists?

They took much longer to figure it out.

"They said, 'You're anaerobic, you need more oxygen,' " Dr. Brooks said. "The scientists were stuck in 1920."

So, it seems that the key to being able to perform longer at higher intensities is increasing the ability of the mitochondria to use the lactate produced as energy. High intensity conditioning, including sprinting, interval training, sled training, etc. can all help in this area.

What about the delayed soreness?

As mentioned in the article, any excess lactic acid or lactate accumulation in the blood is removed within one hour after exercise. Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS) is more of a result of damaged muscle and connective tissues from the previous workout.

Does Lactic Acid get produced with general aerobic activity?

Remember, lactic acid is only present when more lactate is being produced than can be utilized. Lactate is produced under normal (rest) conditions in the human body, but is produced more significantly as a result of the breakdown of stored sugars (glycogen) in the liver and the muscles during anaerobic activity. With aerobic activity, the process of breaking down the stored sugars produces pyruvate, which is then converted and used to produce ATP for more exercise. Research has shown that during normal aerobic activity/exercise, there is lactate production, but the rate of production is equivalent to the rate of removal/usage so there is no accumulation—that changes during more intense exercise. Since lactic acid is the acidic form of lactate, and is typically only present when there is an excess accumulation of lactate, it is not produced with general aerobic activity (according to research).

Does Lactic Acid shut down the body?

Research has shown that the exercise science community is split down the middle with yes and no answers to this one. Some claim that it is the excess accumulation of lactic acid in the blood that causes the muscles to shut down by interfering with muscle contraction processes and interfering with the efficiency of the enzymes involved in energy production (Siff 2003, p. 72). Other scientists suggest the body shutting down during intense exercise is a result of acidosis, which is caused by entirely different processes (you can google acidosis and exercise if you’re interested in learning more).

Much debate still exists as to the exact cause of delayed onset muscle soreness and to the exact cause of the body shutting down from intense exercise. As more information becomes available, expect to find out about it here. Stay tuned for more great information in future newsletter issues!

Sources: New York Times, May 16, 2006 Facts and Fallacies of Fitness, Mel Siff, 2003

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Performance II:

Can Olympic Lifts be used to improve Golf Performance?

By Brandon Monin, MS, CSCS, TPI CGFI, Performance Scientist

In performance training centers around the globe, on any given day, you could find athletes using Olympic lifts and Olympic lift variations, especially for sports where the development of power plays a vital role. The Olympic lifts include the power clean (or clean and jerk), and the snatch. Variations of these lifts include the hang clean, and these same movements using dumbbells, kettlebells, medicine balls, and also using 1 arm at a time (ie. 1 arm dumbbell snatch). These highly technical lifts require a tremendous level of skill, flexibility, control, strength, and power, just like the highly technical golf swing. The golf swing has been shown to produce a similar power output as Olympic lifting.

According to John Garhammer, Olympic lifts have been measured between 2140 W and 4786 W for a 110 Kilogram lifter. Steven M. Nesbit studied the golf swing and he found an average power output of 2727.5 W and reached as high as 4000 W. Let’s look at it this way: Olympic Lifting 2140W – 4786W, Golf 2727.5W – 4000W.

Additional similarities between a golf swing and Olympic Lifts:

Kinetic Chain- Energy is passed through the kinetic chain similarly in the golf swing (kinematic sequence) and an Olympic lift.

The Sequence of Body Motion- Both requires a proper sequence of movements to perform efficiently.

Muscles Involved- The important muscles are the same and include the gluteus muscles, hamstrings, quadriceps, lats, traps, triceps, abdominal, and upper back muscles that stabilize the scapula.

High Level of Flexibility- The golf swing and Olympic lifts require tremendous flexibility and range of motion to perform them correctly.

The Energy Systems- The energy systems used are almost identical (%95 anaerobic and %5 aerobic).

When incorporating Olympic lifts or Olympic variations in to your golf fitness program there are three important rules that must be followed:

1. Good Form- This is priority #1! They need to be taught and executed properly to avoid injury.

2. Supervision and Proper Instruction- Do not attempt these types of lifts without professional instruction or without a professional watching to make sure you are performing them correctly.

3. Proper Prescription- Whether you’re a junior, adult, or senior golfer do not attempt these lifts unless prescribed by a professional. These lifts are complicated and are often not appropriate for some people.

So to go back to original question,

“Can Olympic lifts be used to improve golf performance?”

The answer is--yes.

Research suggests that they are beneficial to a golfer by increasing power output and flexibility. Please remember that they aren’t the only way to improve power in a golfer and they should only be used if it is appropriate, and the coach is knowledgeable and experienced teaching the proper technique of the complex movements. Olympic lift movements can also be mimicked with the use of medicine balls and other forms of resistance such as sandbags. It is not necessarily the Olympic lifts that have the high transfer to golf, it’s the movement. When using medicine balls or sandbags you want to make sure that the movements use the same skills required to perform an Olympic lift, and more importantly, the golf swing.

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  • The gym will be closed on Friday, September 30, 2011, for the RMU Men's Ice Hockey Annual Golf Outing.
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Motivational Quote

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-- U.S. Navy Seals

Thank You for Your Support

Thanks again for subscribing to this free e-newsletter. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoy writing it. I look forward to your feedback as I continue to research to bring you the most current scientific training information available.

Should you have any specific article requests or questions, email me at Please visit for detailed sports performance training information and programs offered exclusively by Finish First Sports Performance.

Yours In Training,

Coach Jeremy S. Hoy, MS, CSCS, PES, USAW, Jump Stretch, Inc. Certified,
Elite Performance Scientist

Finish First Sports Performance

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