Testing & Coaching business for cyclists, runner and triathletes are very popular in Germany. Most of those companies are “one man shows”, which are just profitable enough to make a living for the owner himself. The area of cologne is one of the most competitive are for that business, and still STAPS became the biggest player superseding every competitor. Here is how it was done…
From 2001 – 2004 I was head of a little research group, which was developing and validating metabolic tests for endurance athletes. The first aim was to develop a test to assess anaerobic (glycolytic) capacity, which would then be combined with a standard test for aerobic capacity. The results of both tests would then be used to run a model which simulates the muscular energy metabolism.
It was fall 2006 when the word of mouth about my work spread out far enough to get heard by the T-Mobile Team – ones of the biggest cycling team in the world.
The contract I signed with the T-Mobile Team proofed to be a good enough guarantee to get a small loan from the banc. So here I went, having enough money to start my own testing and coaching facilities:
STAPS - System theoretical analysis of performance in Sport - was born.
However cologne wasn’t an easy place to start. A city of 1 million citizens, accommodating not less then 9 similar businesses where people could get a lactate test and a training program – at this time. Out of this 9 other companies, 5 were targeting the same audience: amateur and recreational cyclist, runners and triathletes who may compete in grand fondos, Ironmans, local races, etc. Most of those were one-man shows: one guy founded his business and made a living out if it. However, those were good settled businesses, with a local network, regular customers, etc. and regularly represented in cycling and triathlon magazines. To anticipate the end of the story: none of those coaching business is at the market anymore or had to change their business model to sell something else then coaching packages in order to survive.
On the other hand, STAPS employs 6 full time coaches by now. STAPS had just opened a 2nd facility in Hamburg in the north of Germany. In 2015 STAPS increased revenue by a stunning 30% compared to the previous year. 82% of all STAPS customers are returning after their first appointment and becoming a regular customer and keep purchasing tests and coaching packages - drastically reducing the need to constantly acquire new customers.
The reason for this success is pretty simple to explain: our method for testing and coaching. So actually the same reason that caught the attention of Rolf Aldag and Bob Stapleton - the management of the T-Mobile Team in 2006:
As in most other countries, standard lactate testing includes an incremental test on a treadmill or ergometer. This is then used to establish trainingzones and a lactate threshold or anaerobic threshold – or whatever you want to call it. Any shift of the lactate curve to the right (higher power / running speed for a given lactate concentration) is interpreted as an increase in endurance capacity. Any shift of the lactate curve to the left is therefore interpreted as a decreased endurance performance.
However, it is known for decades that the lactate curve gets moved to either left or right by two major mechanisms: glycolytic (anaerobic) capacity and oxidative (aerobic) capacity. A higher anaerobic capacity pulls the curve to the left, a higher aerobic capacity to the right. This is of dramatic importance when using lactate testing to monitor the performance development and to judge on the effect of the training program you supplied an athlete with. If in an re-test situation, your athlete comes back to the lab and the lactate curve is shifted to the right when compared the previous test, this does not necessarily mean that he /she increased the aerobic capacity. It can also just mean that he / she stabilized aerobic capacity while anaerobic capacity got reduced. Or even worse: a reduction of both aerobic and anaerobic capacity might have been the case. On the other hand, a shift of the curve to the left – your customer might be unhappy because he thinks his performance worsened – could be the result of only an increased anaerobic capacity combined with a stable aerobic capacity. To make a long story short: the lactate curve itself and any change in that curve after completing a training program (which you might have sold to the athlete) tells you very little of the adaptation that have occurred.
Furthermore powermeters were becoming more and more popular and with it the concept of critical power testing. Athletes began to understand that to determine anaerobic threshold and calculate training zones, it isn’t necessary to visit a lab anymore. Actually the critical power testing on the road can be more accurate to determine threshold power then a lactate testing on the ergometer.
So with the problem about the conventional lactate testing known, and an increasing number of customers using their powermeter to establish training zones and monitor performance, how can you grow a successful testing and coaching business?
The core of the STAPS has been a different method of testing and evaluating performance. A method that needs running speed or power output to work and therefore embraces new technology instead of being a competing tool.
of all STAPS determines glycolytic and aerobic capacity. In two short but intense tests, each of the capacities is measured separately. This alone already gives the athlete and the coach a greater value when compared to the conventional lactate testing. By doing this, STAPS can track and monitor development of each capacity seperatly.
OK, but this could be done by critical power testing as well: simply determine critical power for very short time periods as well as long ones, and it should be possible to draw a pretty accurate picture?! Yes and no. By doing so, you can get an idea, however the math behind it to really get accurate estimation of glycolytic and aerobic capacity is quite complicated. But yes, it can be done.
part of the STAPS method is to use the measured glycolytic and aerobic capacity to run a physiological model of the energy metabolism. That sounds already detached from the reality?! Well, the calculations done here have been proven to be more accurate then any conventional lactate curve can bring. For example: the average tolerance to determine threshold power is 2,2% in male cyclists. Compare this to the accuracy of your powermeter…
The accuracy of this method has been a great value in professional cycling – where little changes in performance occur. However the added value of this method comes first and foremost from the added parameters that STAPS is able to visualize:
Carbohydrate combustion during exercise (and therefore directly linked to fueling strategies in training and racing), fat combustion, lactic acid accumulation in decisive race situations, velocity of lactic acid clearing in order to determine a length of an interval and its recovery time in training, and many more.
part of what make STAPS successful is the projection of performance.
Lets be honest: no athlete or customer is really looking for a performance test. What athletes want is an answer to the question: “how do I need to train to reach my goals?”. They only assume that a test might help here – or they got told it would.
Do you know what training your athlete needs to do, are you sure and can you show and proof to the athlete why?
STAPS managed to do this pretty good. And because STAPS does, the return rate of customers is the 82% stated above, drastically decreasing the marketing costs because of less need to recruit new customers.
As stated above the method uses a physiological model of the energy metabolism. Furthermore as stated above, it has been proven to be very accurate. So because it is a model, it allows to basically flick in any number you want. Hypothesize a 5% higher aerobic capacity and want to know how the threshold of the athlete would change … no problem. The effect of 2kg less body weight on energy demand in running – put it in the model, run it and see the effect on the finishing time in the next marathon.
To make it short: STAPS visualizes the effect of a change in performance by any single variable of performance BEFORE it actually happens.
What this does to the relationship with the athlete is amazing:
First and foremost the buy in of the athlete increases drastically. The commitment of STAPS customers is huge because they actually get a report on projected possible performance before they start their training. Imagine: customer A comes in with the goal to complete a gran fondo in the alps. Now STAPS visualizes the needed adaptions by training on his actual goal, drawing an accurate picture of his possibilities. Imagine the training program that origins from that analysis and how the customer feels about this: it is much more trustworthy then any other cookie cutter training program, increasing the believe of the athlete. And an athlete that believes in you training program is an athlete that bonds very strongly to your business.
Secondly what this method of forecasting performance brings is checkability. There are no short cuts, no excuses. The athlete got his training program with the clear statement that this will help him to adapt the previous selected variables (body weight, aerobic capacity, …). Of course now he wants to come back and confirm! And of course, as he wants to improve and reach his goal, he wants the next projection and the next training program that goes with that.
Once an athlete experienced this: the amount of values he gets – like fat combustion, needed carbohydrate fueling, accuracy, projection of performance…almost nobody wants to go back to lactate or critical power testing only.
This is what made STAPS successful.
The STAPS method is getting adopted into a software tool. An online survey about this software has been created https://de.surveymonkey.com/r/performance-human
Complete the survey (10-15min) and grant yourself a free trial of the software once released.