Case Study: Improved Power, Reduced Metabolic Stress

What Can Be Learned from This Post

You can increase your aerobic power output from 150 to 200 watts (W) for 45 minutes without increasing metabolic stress. We will give you a breakdown on testing, training, and how metabolic conditioning is the key to becoming an improved athlete and healthier individual.

Over the past six weeks, I have had the distinct pleasure of working with Tim Carmean, a true endurance cyclist who specializes in four-hour or longer mountain bike and epic gravel road races. Tim is dedicated, hard working, and all around awesome dude!

Tim During a PNOE metabolic Analysis

After taking Tim through our initial assessments and having conversations about his goals and reasons for wanting to work with us at Ticker Training, it was very clear to me, his coach, how to tailor a program for him to improve his power output, overall strength, and metabolic system. 

His first PNOE Metabolic Analysis revealed he should train between 110 and 130 beats per minute (bpm) to improve his aerobic efficiency and his ability to utilize fat as his primary fuel source. 

Tim’s Initial Metabolic Report

After Tim completed our strength and mobility assessment, we focused on building Tim’s upper body pushing and pulling strength and mobility utilizing movements like single arm DB press, inverted rows, and push-ups. We needed to address a lower back issue with core and hamstring work, so I prescribed Romanian deadlifts, GHD back extensions, sorenson holds, ab mat sit-ups, and rear foot elevated squats. 

In addition to Tim’s cycling-focused conditioning, we also added more traditional Ticker Training Metcon (Metabolic Conditioning) workouts to give him well-rounded aerobic system output. 

Initial Power Assessment

Then came every cyclists’ worst nightmare: the FTP (functional threshold power) test, an assessment that measures average/normalized output (watts) for 20 minutes. Tim’s normalized power was 264W. I used this information as another key assessment to give me insight into how to design his program and how to measure improvement in Tim’s capacity. Improvement is a key component in keeping Tim motivated and focused! 

Tim’s FTP Test Normalized watts 264

With Tim’s starting FTP numbers in hand, it was time to get to work. 

In conjunction with Tim’s strength training and Ticker Metcons, I designed very specific workouts to improve Tim’s power output at low metabolic stress (aerobic power). 

Sustained Aerobic Power Assessment

His first indoor trainer session was a 45-minute ride on his bike. His only goal was to keep his RER (a metabolic stress measurement) at 0.80–0.84. A RER of 0.85 or below is a very aerobically sustainable pace. Tim’s normalized power throughout the test was 150W.

40 Minutes, 150watts @.84 RER

BKOOL  150watts for 40 Minutes

These charts give us an incredible amount of data to guide Tim’s training. We can see his metabolic stress was 0.84 (low) and, by combining it with the Bkool data, we can see he averaged 150W for this 45-minute session. It helps me develop very specific training session goals aimed at helping him reach his long-term objectives.

What’s Next?

Now we began improving his power at the 0.80 RER stress level with a series of Metabolic Aerobic Threshold (MAT) sessions.

First MAT Training Session on the Indoor Trainer

The first MAT interval session began on the indoor trainer. With the previous data collected, I set Tim up to do: 

  • 10 Sets
  • 4 minutes @ 200W
  • 2 minute Rest
BKOOL MAT-5 200watts

What We Learned

This session created a great discussion! You can see his heart rate for the first three intervals topped out at 122 bpm (his ideal training heart rate), then for the fourth interval it jumped almost 10 bpm. Because I did not think this was due to cardiac drift (fatigue), I asked what he did differently. He reported he upped his cadence from 80 to about 95 rpm because the slow cadence was hurting his knee. I suggested raising his saddle. He made the adjustment and the knee pain stopped! 

The Goal of This Session

I wanted Tim to be able to do these sessions at a heart rate below 130 bpm for optimum fat burning adaption, which is why the slower cadence was suggested.

What Else Tim Did During This Time

Tim was also in the gym building strength and improving his general aerobic conditioning with MAT training and strength training sessions, targeted directly to improve his weaknesses. Here is his week of training off the bike:

Sample of Tim’s week of Training

Success!

With a raised saddle and after a week of training, Tim repeated the training session again at the 80rpm cadence. We had more success keeping his HR below 130 bpm and his knee pain was gone! 

  • 10 Sets
  • 4 minutes @200W
  • 2 minute Rest
Lower Cadence=Lowered Heart Rate

Improving Aerobic Power Session

His next session was set to improve power output at the same heart rate.

  • 2 Sets, 5 minutes at 75W between sets.
  • 5 Rounds
  • 3 Minutes @215W
  • 2 Minutes @75W
  • Try keeping this at a heart rate of 125–130 bpm, use a cadence similar to last week’s first three rounds of 4 on 2 off…
Training Session @215

You can see the 215W for three minutes challenged his ability to keep his heart rate below 130 bpm near the end of each interval. This was the perfect interval length to allow him to rest and return to an aerobic state.

Travel

With planned work travel for Tim, I assigned focused strength work he was able to complete in the hotel gym. Here is what that week looked like:

Travel Training

Back to Normal Training

Upon returning home, Tim had a session on the indoor trainer to challenge his aerobic power without overreaching metabolically (to not go too far into sugar/carbohydrate utilization):

3 Sets, Rest 3 minutes between sets

  • 15 Minutes at 210W
Training Session

What We Learned

The longer time domain challenged his ability to keep his heart rate below 130 bpm, which allowed me to understand that Tim’s ability to pull fat had improved and it may be time to re-do the 45-minute test. I can see Tim recovers well and has very little cardiac drift over the 15 minutes of work, which tells me 200W  at 130 bpm is a very sustainable output for time.

Strength Training

Training in the gym this week focused on shoulder stability, single leg strength, and core work:

One-Minute Intervals for an Eight-Hour Event

This session’s goal was to keep Tim under 130 bpm but produce power that would challenge this target max heart rate.

  • 3 Sets, 4 minutes at 75W between sets.
  • 5 Rounds
  • 1 Minutes @235W
  • 1 Minutes @75W
Aerobic power interval

Was This a Good Session?

Yes! This was a great session showing 235W was an ideal target for Tim: he recovered well and his HR topped out at 130 bpm. This session helped him produce more power while utilizing fat as his primary fuel source!

The 45-Minute Re-test

The moment of truth! I was not planning on Tim redoing this test yet, but as he saddled up with the PNOE Metabolic Analysis, I could see he had made some adaptations, so it was time to call an audible and re-test the “hold 0.80–0.85 RER for 45 minutes” test.

Results

Tim was able to hold at 200W — 50 more watts at the same average RER from six weeks ago!

RER
Initial 40 minutes @150watts @.84 RER
Follow Up 40 minutes @200watts @.84 RER

 

 

 

 

 

BKOOL 40 minutes at 200watts

Does This Mean Ticker Training Is working?

Absolutely. If Tim were to race himself from six weeks ago, he would win today by almost a full kilometer without working any harder during that 45 minute race.

What’s Next?

We will continue to build Tim’s overall aerobic strength in the gym with Ticker Metcons and improve his aerobic power on the bike with sport-specific training intervals and progressive MAT interval training sessions.