skip to Main Content

Inside a Metabolic Assessment Part 2

By Alexander VanHouten, Master Trainer & Life Time Education Specialist

(This story is a continuation of “The Power of Assessing Your Metabolism – Part 1”)

It was a cool, clear Saturday morning as I walked into the club – a beautiful day to change lives! I fired up the assessment computer and awaited my 7:00 a.m. – Bobbie.

She would be my 437th assessment since I began testing a year ago. This technology is what brought me to Life Time in the first place. I had trained clients in the past, but I never had the ability to understand their metabolism (both at rest and during exercise) so clearly.

The eNewLeaf system that Life Time purchased in February of 2013 brought all the science I had learned in my physiology coursework together into tools I could apply for my clients’ personalized benefit.

With the information from these tests, I’m a training ninja. It doesn’t get better than this for a fitness professional. Recovery, volume, frequency, intensity. The assessment gives me everything I could ask for to design sound cardiovascular programming for my clients! 

Macronutrient needs, basal metabolic rate, red flags to necessitate blood testing… It also gives me everything I need to begin a customized nutrition program specific to my clients’ needs.

You would think that the ease would take the fun out of the “guess-and-check” of my profession, but it doesn’t. I tell my clients (and myself) every day to work smarter, not harder. That’s been my motto for as long as I can remember.

Bobbie arrived at 6:57 a.m. Eying my coffee, I could tell she had adhered to the pre-assessment protocols (fasting for at least 9 hours, no caffeine, no alcohol the night before – to name a few).

“Good morning, Bobbie! How are you this morning?” I could tell she wasn’t used to being anywhere this early.

“Tired, hungry, and in the mood for some coffee. Otherwise, I’m good.” Poor gal – I get this a lot on Saturday morning. To her credit, she managed a smile.

“Do you know what to expect from your appointment this morning?” I always like to ask that.

She looks surprised. “To be honest, not really. You’re going to test me, and after two hours with you I’m hoping to know what I need to be doing to break my weight loss plateau. And then I can drink my coffee.” Now I smile back. It’s too early to be technical, so I agree.

“That’s a good summary, Bobbie. Today is about understanding your metabolism. I’m going to do two tests on you this morning. The first, the Resting Metabolic Assessment, requires you to sit back and relax while my machine does all the work. The second, the Active Metabolic Assessment, will have you doing enough cardio to get a sweat on this morning while I gather data on you. After these assessments, we’ll go through the findings together, and by the end of this I will have several recommendations catered specifically to your metabolism to help you reach your fitness goals. You and I will agree on three you can implement this week. How does that sound?”

(Research – and reality – tell us that three new habits are really the maximum we can add to our lives at any given time, and even then compliance is surprising low.)

The Resting Metabolic Assessment

“Sounds great! Let’s do it.” She was ready and willing to submit herself to science!

After discussing her goals and a brief history to date, I showed her the comfy chair in the metabolic office, explained that I just needed her to relax and breathe normally without falling asleep, and calibrated the machine.

“Here’s your Darth Vader mask.” Smiling, I handed her the test mask, which – although uncomfortable – is much less complicated than the scuba-gear-like mask they hook you to in an exercise physiology lab to get similar data.

“This will allow us to compare the air you’re inhaling to the air you are exhaling. Your body uses some of the oxygen that it takes in, and that amount tells us how much fat and carbohydrates you are burning at rest.” A simple, but effective explanation of respiratory quotient.

“Okay. Why can’t I fall asleep during the test?” A common, but valid inquiry.

“Good question!” It’s important to remember that though I’ve done this test a lot, this is HER first time.

“Because we want data that reflects what your body does at rest, not while sleeping. Though your resting state reflects what happens while you’re asleep, it’s not the same. In order to make good recommendations for your program, we need you awake!” No need to bore her with the details of the standard deviation requirements of data collection for this test. I start the test and leave her to relax.

After twenty minutes with a few checks to ensure everything is working properly, I stop the test and instruct her to remove her mask.

“How are you doing?” I have good data from the test and upload it to the cloud to be retrieved when we are ready to go through it together.

“I’m good. It was hard not to fall asleep.” Amen, sister….

“I understand. What did you think about to help you relax? My computer shows you relaxed pretty well.” The standard deviation of her breathing metrics, a measure of consistency for her state of relaxation, was well below 100 and thereby suggested she was better than the average person at getting into a restful state.

“Usually I have to give more instruction to help people take a chill pill, but you did great!”

“Actually, I was thinking about our trip next week. A good nature hike always helps me settle down.” A quick flash of angst replaced the serenity of just a moment ago. “As long as I don’t think about everything there is to do between now and then. It’s crazy how much work goes into taking time away.”

The Active Metabolic Assessment

“I completely understand. Are you up for working out a bit of that stress I just saw on your face?” It’s time for the Active part of the assessment.

She glances at the mask she just took off. “Will I have to wear that thing again?”

“Unfortunately, yes, but it’s not as bad as you might imagine. We’ll start slowly, and then as the test progresses, I’ll make it harder on you until you can’t go any faster.”

I grin a bit. I can’t help it. There’s a small measure of ruthlessness required in being a trainer. I’ve decided that I take gratification from the toil of adaptation. In other words, we trainers enjoy our jobs if the suffering of exercise is helping our clients grow. No strain, no gain.

We move to the treadmill, pick the proper speed to begin based on her current fitness level, do the warm up, then start the test. She begins the assessment at a slow jog.

“During this test, I will be asking you how you feel on a scale of 1-10,” I say as she is getting warmed up. “One means this is the easiest thing you’ve ever done. No problem. Ten means you are literally about to fall off of the treadmill, it’s so hard. You can say the number that describes how you are right now or hold up some fingers for me. Let’s try right now. Bobbie, how do you feel on a scale from 1 to 10?”

“Two,” she says through her blue Vader-mask.

“Great! Keep up the good work.” Encouragement is important for a good test. “We’re getting great data on you right now. We have four measures we’re looking at right now.” I like to educate while a client feels like a lab rat on the treadmill.

“We’re taking a measure of Heart Rate through the Scosche you are wearing. We are measuring percentage of fat burn through the mask you are wearing. The treadmill is telling us workload (speed and incline) that you are performing at. And lastly, you are telling me how you feel on a scale from 1 to 10. Do you understand where our measures are coming from now?”

She just went up in speed a minute ago. “Yeah, it get it now” She’s starting to breath faster, and her heart rate tells me that this new speed is starting to feel like real work.

“How are you on that scale of 1-10?”

“Four.” She’s beginning to sweat.

“Awesome! You’re jogging beautifully!” Really, her gait on the treadmill is excellent aside from a bit of forward shoulder rotation that she could fix with some chest stretching, scaption, and low and upright rows.

I jot a quick note down so I can make that recommendation when walking through her recommendations after the test. I up the ante on her again. She’s trucking right along.

I continue to educate. “You’re getting close to your threshold, which means you’re beginning to produce quite a bit of lactic acid. You will likely start to feel the burn soon if you aren’t feeling it already!”

“Oh, I feel the burn all right.” It’s really getting hard now. Eight minutes into the progressive test, it starts to catch up with you!

“How are you feeling on that scale?”

“Seven.” She’s not a happy camper – but a trooper nonetheless.

“Perfect! You’re almost there, lady! Let’s see if you can give me four more minutes!” I talk some more to take her mind off of how hard this phase is. “You just crossed Anaerobic Threshold, which means this is the level of difficulty at which your body switches from burning a mixture of fat and carbohydrates to only carbohydrates. We call this Zone 4!”

She nods. It’s difficult to talk and breathe at the same time at this point in the test.

“C’mon, Bobbie!” I give her a bit of an ovation. “You’re doing great! Just two more minutes here. You can do anything for two minutes!” This is the point in the test where education needs to be replaced by encouragement. She really wouldn’t retain anything I tried to teach right now anyway.

After two grueling minutes, we stop the test. She made it! High five, and take the mask off.

“That’s not an easy assessment. You did great, lady!”

Though it’s catered to everyone’s personal fitness level, the goal of the test is to gather data on you all the way into your higher intensities. Whether clients end at walking 2.0 mph on a 11 incline or sprinting at 11 mph, everyone finishes the test out of breath.

“Do we have some answers for my goals?” She’s sweating, thirsty and ready for coffee, but she’s still focused on her goal.

“I love the way you think, Bobbie. Yes! We have some great data, and I’m confident you’ll get some solid takeaways when we go over them together in a second. Go wipe off and grab some coffee, and meet me at the training desk in five minutes. I’ll process the assessments, and we’ll review the information together.”

“Yay, coffee!” A fellow addict. “I’ll see you in a second!”

“Yes ma’am.” I log into the system, compile, and print her files, excited to change yet another life.

Look for an explanation of assessment results and the ways they can direct our fitness program in next week’s part 3 of this series. 

Are you interested in seeing what a metabolic assessment might tell you? Talk with a fitness professional, who can explain the process and help you apply its results for better health, weight loss and fitness performance.

If you want to learn more about how we design our programs to support fitness and performance using our Core 3 Training™ methodologies,

Download the Core 3 Training Manual.

Thanks for reading. If you learned something new, please share the post on your favorite social media channel.

The posts on this blog are not intended to suggest or recommend the diagnosis, treatment, cure, or prevention of any disease, nor to substitute for medical treatment, nor to be an alternative to medical advice. The use of the suggestions and recommendations on this blog post is at the choice and risk of the reader.
Back To Top