Q&A: Anaerobic Threshold & High/Low

Hi Mike I’ve been following your work for at least 6 years now and I’m a huge fan of your work. I’m always learning something new about athletic development. Your recent post on instagram with you going through an aerobic circuit on a Lo day inspired some questions in me. Sorry if this is too much but whatever you feel like sharing will be greatly appreciated!
What method do you use to find out your anaerobic threshold?
What does your progression look like in regards to doing 21 minutes in the aerobic circuit? Did you start with low total overall time and/or more rest time than work time?
Do you recommend using a hi/lo program at all times of year?
Thanks for your time!
Best regards,
Keith Kirwan


Sorry for the delay in regards to answering this question.  As you probably have noticed I haven’t answered questions in a while – reason being, I’ve been busy coaching and learning haha.  Selfish, but – c’est la vi.  I am currently on a mission to put more out there for guys now… we’ll see how long it lasts before I’m once again over booked and put writing on the back burner.  So filtering through a lot of questions I came across this one and I thought it was a good one.

Finding the anaerobic threshold – there’s a few different ways we can go about this but in our setting, some are pretty impractical.  So what we do is estimate and then auto-regulate.  We need to do a lot of auto-regulating for a multitude of reasons:

  1. Maximal Outputs (strength, power, aerobic, etc) vary on a day by day basis
    1. Cumulative effects of stress are ever changing
    2. Weather (Very few people PR on rainy days)
    3. Sleep
    4. Nutrition

The list of why we auto-regulate can go on and on – but you get the point.  So, circling back to the question of anaerobic threshold.  We’ll typically go through a basic formula of 220-age x 85% and then we’ll gauge it from there.  Some days it could be higher, some days it could be lower pending on the athletes interpretation of the stimuli which is based off of RPE.  In which case, we’ll build a baseline of how they’re “supposed” to feel in certain ranges, and then won’t even use a HR monitor because they’re usually pretty on point with where they’re supposed to be.

The beauty of performing the aerobic strength work is that the athlete will not want to go past the anaerobic threshold because it will be too uncomfortable and form will diminish.  The only problem with it is when you get a lazy athlete that doesn’t want to work.  However, we don’t typically have that problem at our facility, we’re fortunate to have very driven clients.  I will occasionally run into this problem in a team setting, but not frequently.

The progression of this is not only dictated by the level of physical preparation of the athlete, but the frequency in which the athlete trains.  It’s not unusual for us not to progress in some instances, others will progress by 1minute each session, week, some may increase by 2 minutes, it’s pretty individualized.  And unfortunately, I’m not clever enough to come up with a scale to quantify standards as to why and why not.

We’ll typically stick within the 2:1 work:rest (Tabata method) but keep it monitored because we don’t want form to diminish.  Though the research supports the high intensity for both aerobic & anaerobic benefits (Tabata method), it’s not conducive for the exercises we’ve selected as loading movements + high fatigue usually = poor form which results in an increased risk of injury.

The schematic of alternating intensities or High/Low can be applied in concept within each workout at all times of the year.  However, the intensity of high/low must be monitored.  Always keep in mind, that not every athlete deserves to utilize high/low.  High/low is used for recovery purposes; and not all athletes physical preparation call for that.  In fact, it’s useful to spread out the intensity to intentionally avoid high/low in early stages of GPP.

You can check out Chris Hogan’s program to see how we utilize high/low method.  


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Mike Guadango

About Mike Guadango

Mike is a currently a Coach, Writer & Owner for Freak Strength. He was a part of DeFranco’s Gym for over 10 years, studied under Buddy Morris and James Smith while at the University of Pittsburgh and has also studied at various physical therapy practices. He has coached levels of athletes from Pro-Bowl, MLB, to pre-pubescent athletes and has also consulted for high caliber athletes worldwide.

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