What is lactic acid and why do we talk about it during barre class? These are great questions. Lactic acid sounds scientific and, we’ll admit it, a little bit scary. We’re here to explain the basics of lactic acid, the what, why and how!
What is Lactic Acid?
Lactic acid is a substance that builds up in your muscles during strenuous exercise.
The How & Why
Let’s start simple. As we work out, we start to breathe faster as our bodies send more oxygen to our working muscles. Typically, our bodies generate energy using aerobic methods, meaning with oxygen. However, there are some circumstances where our bodies can’t keep up with this delivery of oxygen … think escaping the zombie apocalypse or that last set of pulses at the barre. In these situations, our working muscles produce energy anaerobically, or without oxygen.
Where does this energy come from when there’s no oxygen? It comes from glucose being broken down in our body into a substance called pyruvate. When oxygen is limited, our bodies temporarily convert pyruvate into lactic acid, breaking down the glucose and allowing energy production to continue.
Our working muscles can continue producing energy anaerobically for one to three minutes while lactic acid starts accumulating in our muscles. This is characterized by that intense burning sensation in our muscles that we all love to hate. In other words, we are working our muscles to the point of exhaustion and lactic acid builds up as a natural defense against muscle overexertion. Once we slow our body down or “flush it out” with a final set of “singles”, oxygen becomes available and lactic acid reverts back to pyruvate, allowing our muscles to recover from the strenuous event.
Why do we take you to that point of muscle exhaustion in barre class? Because that’s where change happens. This is where YOU make magic happen! We reach that burn, the peak of the lactic acid build-up and then keep you there for one to three minutes. That’s one to three minutes of pure magic. Right before your muscles are over exerted we get you moving again so blood flows through the muscles, allowing them to recover.
That’s what is happening when you experience that deep barre burn and why our barre tenders always push you to finish that ONE. LAST. SET. We know it’s hard, we know sometimes it’s easier to stop when we feel that burn, but we want you to stay safe and get rid of that burn the right way. And there’s no better way than one last set. ;)