Average Man Project

In a six-week training programme Eurosport’s Average Man lost seven kilograms and nine percent body fat while significantly increasing both his physical fitness and athletic performance. He achieved all of this through a combination of solo training (almost entirely at home), diet improvements, and online coaching. And you could achieve the same results too.

The challenge on this occasion was an extremely daunting cycling one: to take on the steepest climb in England. Twice!

The task was to attempt Hardknott Pass at my base level of fitness, before undertaking a six-week training programme and attempting the challenge a second time.

Tom teamed up with former duathlon world champion and current World Tour cyclist Claire Steels to help him with his training programme, and before it all began they talked over his level of exercise, his goals and what fitness equipment he had at home.

Yet despite having those conversations it was still scary for Tom to see such a volume of exercise written down on paper. This was going to be a big change from ‘maybe I’ll go for a run on Saturday morning if I wake up in time’.

There would be no point saying the training was easy. It wasn’t. Some days Tom really struggled to make time for the sessions (mostly due to work, sometimes due to laziness), on a few days he didn’t manage to do them at all.

Core workouts became the bane of his life. He used to do sit-ups as a self-conscious adolescent back in the day, but any misplaced hope of forming a six-pack was a decade in the past… and so was any sort of strength in his core whatsoever.

However, slowly and surely, Tom started getting more into the training. Core workouts never became fun, but he started to look forward to certain elements of Claire’s training schedule (the overgearing turbo sessions became a real favourite).

And all the weekend miles out on the road also meant Tom started to feel more confident on the bike itself too, which was encouraging. Claire helped Tim with the bike set-up and some technical pointers, and Eurosport’s Brian Smith was also happy to offer his advice on how I could improve.

It was going to take more than just training to get me up Hardknott Pass. Weight loss was going to be a crucial factor if Tom was to improve with his second attempt, and to lose significant weight, Tom was going to have to change my diet.

Tom tried a variety of different diet techniques over the training period – a strict week-long meal plan, calorie counting, a food diary, even powdered food replacement… which was admittedly effective but lacked any semblance of joy.

He consumed significantly fewer calories, significantly less carbs, and ate significantly healthier over the six weeks. All-in-all though, he went in to the second attempt feeling trimmer, lighter and healthier.

We teamed up with the Physiological Profiling team at St Mary’s University, who test the fitness levels of everyone from keen amateurs to Olympic athletes, to find out. To receive the most accurate information Tom underwent two tests – one right at the start of the experiment and another two days before his second attempt at Hardknott Pass.

Within six weeks Tom’s body fat has significantly reduced, with around about 9% reduction in absolute level of body fat. That’s really positive not only from a health perspective but also in performance – particularly in cycling. When you’re climbing up a hill you’ll be carrying less load so therefore it should be relatively easier.

“In terms of the exercise tests, your sub-maximal markers of fitness have improved. One of the markers we used is blood lactate, and we use the lactate threshold and turn point to determine fitness levels. Both have improved, which means you are producing less lactate within the muscle at the same power output as you were before.

Also, your heart-rate is about 10 beats per minute lower than it was when undertaking the same tests. That indicates that your cardiovascular fitness and efficiency have improved.

“Taken together, your fitness has improved alongside a large drop in body fat, which means that your performance should improve.”

In six weeks I had dropped a total of 7kg, reduced my waist measurement by 5.5cm, and cut my body fat percentage from 26% to 17.5%.

Tom’s athletic performance, judged by my VO2max, heart-rate, lactate threshold and lactate turn point, had also significantly improved.

With a heart-rate monitor on during both of Tom’s climbs it was clear to see the impact this made. At the same point early in the climb, when the gradients were still topping 20% in places, my heart-rate was around 10% lower compared to his first attempt.

And I had achieved all of this with just six weeks of training and improved diet (even with that bodyweight of cheese). Granted, I was still very much an Average Man, but I was fitter, lighter and healthier.

— Claire Steels is a former duathlon World Champion and rides for the Sopela Women’s Team. She runs Steels Fitness, a fitness business that offers personal training, fitness retreats and online fitness programmes. St Mary’s University in Twickenham offer physiological profile tests to everyone from casual sport participants to Olympic athletes. The road bike used in the climbs in this feature was supplied by Decathlon UK. Eurosport’s Average Man is digital editor Tom Bennett.