*UPDATE* Psychological Effects of Heart Rate Monitor Use Study

12/21/2010: Preliminary results were reported at Indoor Cycle Instructor in October 2010. Manuscript in preparation. Once published, results will be made available on this site and at ICI.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

My Holiday Trip to NYC: Sun 12/21 - Sun 1/4

I cannot believe that I am two days away from being 1/3 done with the classroom part of medical school. I cannot believe the insaaaaaaaaanity of the past 4 months (more on that, when I'm not procrastinating my cramming). And I cannot believe that I haven't made time to update this blog at ALL.

I have so much to say, cycling and otherwise, and firmly intend to spend a lot of the next two weeks writing... very much looking forward to it.

In the meantime, since lots of people have been emailing and it's a little too early to send out my listserv posting: Yes, I absolutely AM coming to New York over my break. I'll be there for two weeks, and teaching at least one (if not 2 or 3... or 5!) class every day except for XMas Day itself. It'll be like the good ol' days of living on a bike, instead of elbow-deep in human gunk.

I'm continuing to pick up more classes (both my old classes and random sub gigs) as the days go by, but here's what is on tap so far:

SUNDAY 12/21
9:30AM 41st/3rd
11AM Varick

MONDAY 12/22
6:30AM - Union Sq (14th/5th)
6 & 7PM - 23rd/Park (reserve!!)

6:45AM - 59th/Park
12:30PM - Water St (reserve)

6:30AM - 86th/Lex

FRIDAY 12/26

12:30PM - City Hall (yayyyy! reserve)
6PM - Irving

9:30 & 10:30AM - 23rd/Park (reserve)


SUNDAY 12/28
9:30AM 41st/3rd
11AM Varick

MONDAY 12/29
6:30AM - Union Sq 14th/5th
9:30AM - Cobble Hill
12:15PM - 23rd/Park
5:30 & 6:30PM - Wall St (yayyyyy! reserve!)

6:45AM - 59th/Park
9:30AM - Court St
12:30PM - Water St (reserve)


6:30AM - 86th/Lex
12:30PM -City Hall (reserve)

7:30AM - 86th/Lex... don't ask me why. But come! Special ride for the crazies who wake up that early.
9:30AM - 23rd/Park (reserve)

12:15PM - 36th/Madison (reserve)
6PM - Irving
9:30AM 41st/3rd
11AM Varick

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Breathing, revisited.

Has it seriously been 5 weeks since I've last updated this blog that I used to keep up with every few days?! How time flies when you're having fun... or when you're being a first-year medical student, at least.

I'm days away from debuting what I hope to be a life-altering ride. I call it "The Fear Ride"- I'm doing it for a 75 minute endurance class I teach here in Burlington, this one on Halloween. (I've been toying with it since last April -- fo' real -- and was going to do it as part of my Summer 2008 Theme Scheme, but never finished perfecting it. It's about tapping into your greatest fear/weakness that holds you back, working through and conquering it, and then celebrating your freedom achieved by having shed that fear.) I'll write all about it and how to re-create it -- or a shorter version of it -- for yourself. And, for any of you New Yorkers who will be in town over Thanksgiving when I come back: at the request of some of your fellow riders who got word of this monstrosity of a ride, I'll be doing a 45-minute version of it.

So, that profile will be up at some point in the "Coach Yourself" DIY training corner, as well as a few simple, easily replicable/modifiable cardio profiles.

For now, I'm going to do something that I've never done before on "Spintastic." I'm going to re-post something old. When I wrote this over the summer, as some of you may recall, I slaved over it for hooooooours and then made 3 rides out of it -- parts of which are now key elements of pretty much every ride I ever teach. But now, I've actually dissected all of these things I wrote about (crazy...), and seen them work and break down. When I went back and re-read what I had written, the world made so much sense -- and not just because I now live in a place with air 50000x cleaner than NYC. My first thought, upon leaving the lab at midnight (yes, instead of living on a bike, I live elbow-deep in... use your imagination) was that I wanted to rush home and remind Spintastic readers to BREATHE!

And, so, click here for one of my favorite-ever postings about improving your breathing techniques -- for life both on the bike, and in every realm of your life.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

DIY Spinning Profile #2: THREE WAYS TO CLIMB (45 minutes)

First off, if you haven't yet seen my listserv posting: SURPRISE! I'm coming to NYC next weekend, and teaching Sunday, 9/28 NYSC 41st/3rd 9:30AM. You have no idea how excited I am.

Second, of course, here's your latest installment of the "Coach Yourself" corner, a 45 minute training session that I'll actually be debuting tonight here in Vermont (so you can pretend you're actually doing it with me!). Giacco (the Spinning bike in my bedroom) and I rode this this AM, and it fleeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeew by.

has two primary objectives:
(1) To develop and practice your Perfect Pedal Stroke while climbing seated, running with resistance, and climbing standing.
(2) To increase lactate threshold (the point where you switch from fat-burning to sugar-burning... so that you're burning fat as fuel more of the time!) by training just below it -- working, pushing AND recovering all hovering around 80% MHR, using effective breathing techniques to support your efforts.

Why do we want to do that? By training at a certain point for a prolonged period of time, we teach the heart to get VERY efficient while working at that certain point. 80% is hard work! If we can train our hearts to perform well at 80% (and still using fat for fuel!) without requiring extensive recovery, that's fantastic. Once we do that, we can ultimately work HARDER than that (and accomplish even more) -- but training ourselves to work at 80%, sustain it without needing to stop, that's the first step. That's what this training session, and others like it, are designed to do.

As an overview, here's how it will work:
We'll start by gradually building up to 80%, and then we'll hold it over the course of 3 hills- first one, medium length; second, long; third, short.

Each hill is a loop: seated climb with a few accelerations (maintain HR) --> running with resistance (maintain HR) --> standing climb with a few accelerations (maintain HR).

Between hills, our recoveries will be active -- re-fueling via breathing, but trying very much to keep your HR within 5 beats of 80% at all times (so, 5 beats lower during recoveries; perhaps 5 beats higher during those accelerations).

Do-able? Yes. Let's go.

This time, I have my iPod sitting right next to me -- so I can actually tell you the specifics of what I'm playing, when. Absolutely use the tunes that work best for you!

If you get nothing else from this posting, let it be this:
If you hop onto a Spin bike or an elliptical or a treadmill and start wheelin' around your iPod on the fly, you are more likely to a) get distracted; b) give up early. Prep your playlists with specific training sessions in mind -- when will you want to hear what song, and why? When do you need your favorite mindblowing techno -- at your warmup? At the 20 minute mark when you're miserable? Riiiiiiiiiiiight before the point at which you know you're planning a recovery? The last 5 minutes when you HATE this, and hate me? I don't know. But ask yourself those questions.

Use the first song to gently bring your HR up to 65%, get into your breathing, then do some loose stretches. Spend at least 4-5 minutes at or below 65%.
Please Don't Stop the Music (dance remix) - Rihanna>> I haaaaaate this song (except when I LOVE it!). It's so deliciously awful, so have fun with it or use something that doesn't make you squirm.

Seated Climb: 70-75% 2 minutes --> 75% 2 minutes --> 80% 2 minutes
Running with resistance: 80% 4 minutes (with 3 accelerations - same HR)
Standing climb: 80% 6 minutes

Seated Climb: 6 minutes
Sweet Dreams (techno remix) - Cranberries
Let's start the first seated climb - progressively load ("increase and breathe") up to 70%.
Every minute for 3 minutes, load smidgeons of resistance while maintaining pace.

Go through some pedal stroke drills -- mentally deconstruct the pedal stroke into that clock we talk about. "DRIVE THE KNEE FORWARD" from 11-1, "WIPING BACK" from 5-7, "PULL UP" from 7 to 11. Use the beats to create your own drills. Revisit the Spintastic archives to remind yourself which muscle groups should feel engaged at each part of the pedal stroke. Remember to drop your heel slightly as you go into the "wipe" part.

Maybe you want to think about just the "forward" part of the stroke with the right leg being emphasized (left leg still going, but just let it go to sleep...), then do it on the left. Try the "wipe back" portion with the right, then the left. Try the "pulling up" portion. Then put them together.

You can also try focusing on one leg at a time doing the full pedal stroke (instead of saying "right foot is only doing the FORWARD drive," for example), switching, then putting them together. Hint: This will help your pedal stroke... and it's also a great coping strategy when you get bored.

Nobody Listens to Techno - DJ Tiesto

Seated climb pace gets a little bit faster with the beat of the music. Achieve 75%, progressively load to 80%.

Run (4 minutes)
When the music makes you want to transition up to a run - go ahead and do it. But maintain 80%.

Focus on your breathing and your form, minimizing the choppiness and stiffness that robs us of energy and raises your HR unnecessarily. Smooth, light and fluid.

Everlong - Foo Fighters
3x accelerations on the choruses. Maintain your 80% -- remind yourself why you're doing it. You're becoming a fat-burning machine. Close your eyes. Keep breathing. Find your groove. If you're using this song, you might find it very emotional... you will need to focus extra hard on your breathing in order to keep your HR from rising more than a few beats above 80%. In through the nose, out through the mouth. Fluid breaths, fluid pedal strokes.

Ball of the foot still over the center of the pedal. Feet are flat (make sure the toes do not point down), and it's still a round clock-esque stroke. Forward, wipe back, up. Check your upper body posture. Shoulders rolled back and down, chest open. Core muscles engaged for a gentle shifting of weight over the pedals, minimal up and down "bouncing" -- just a natural, easy, gentle side-to-side groove as you shift your weight.

On your third acceration, if you'd like to, transition out to a standing climb. If your hips start rocking side to side and you don't feel a very specific pull in your glutes as you lift the pedals up forcefully, add more resistance.

Standing Climb: 5-6 minutes
Little Star - Cascada
Find a song that changes, with a strong beat you can follow. I like this song because there's no obvious pattern. It's just a big rolling hill - sometimes steeper, sometimes more subtle. On a real hill outside, we'd want to keep the pace faster to build more momentum on a steeper climb -- on a Spinner, when we go faster, we need a little bit more resistance (as there'd be provided by the real hill... even though outside, we'd actually shift DOWN instead of shifting UP). So when you pick up your pace to match the music, if you start to rock, add a little bit more resistance. Keep up the continuous flow of your pedal strokes... which, by the way, are changing now. No more forward/wipe/up... it's all UP / UP / UP. Use the glutes, keep the knees straight.
Well done. First hill done!


Active recovery (seated climb): 4 minutes
Anybody Else - Matt White
Get more comfortable - take some water, chill out a bit, but try to settle into a HR that is only 5 beats below 80%. When you get there, start progressively loading to support more resistance at that 80% - 5 beats intensity.

Now we're going to repeat what we did before:

Seated Climb - 6 minutes

This Time (UltraTrance 2008 remix) -- insert your favorite 1-2 minute steady song... I used something I mixed up myself
Never Again - Oleander
Faster pace... hold it steady. Pull out those pedal stroke drills. Focus on the synchrony of breathing -- fluid breaths, fluid pedal strokes. Feel the right muscle groups working at the right time.

When you feel it, hold your resistance and smoothly transition to a....
Run - 4 minutes
First Time - Lifehouse
Close your eyes. I friggin' love this song -- use one you love. Really, find a perfect song -- you need something right now that you're going to look forward to, that's going to inspire you to move and breathe and feel good. Use something you can connect with. 3x accelerations at the chorus, smooth pedal strokes, smooth breathing. Maintain 80%.

Be mindful of how you're starting to feel more comfortable at the same 80%. Remember how 80% used to feel awful? It almost... doesn't. You're almost... happy. Yeah, you're actually kinda happy. How'd that happen? Science. Oooh...

Your call -- maintain the run in Hand Position 2, or come on out to a standing climb in HP 3.
*Standing Climb - 6 minutes
Hearts on Fire - Survivor - Rocky IV Soundtrack
Reason - Ian van Dahl

Just follow the beat of your 6 minutes' worth of music -- faster, slower, no matter. Whatever happens, keep that heart rate at 80% (+/- 5 beats, if you have to).

It is my strong recommendation to have your last song be a steady beat that you can let "think" for you. A beat that all you have to do is lock into, and have that dictate your work.

Then, just like that, second-to-last hill (the big one...) is over.
Active recovery - 4 minutes
One More Time (techno remix)

By now, you've got the hang of this. Recover at 5 beats below 80%. Progressively load back, maintaining that same 80% - 5 beats. Progressively load back to 80%.

I like the irony of the "one more time." When I smirk to myself over my own bad jokes, I tend to keep pedaling when I'd otherwise stop. Do what works for you.

Your call... hold the seated climb, or come up to a...
Run - 3 minutes
Sunrise - Milk Inc.
For nostalgia's sake, what do I always say when I play this song (yes, I literally never play this song without saying this one specific thing...): Remind yourself why you're climbing this hill and what you needed to get out of it. Devote the next 3 minutes to it.

Faster when you feel it. Slower when you feel it. But maintain 80%

If you're so inclined, transition out to a...
Standing Climb - whenever the music strikes you... just maintain 80%
What Do You Want From Me - Cascada
Here's your "AWESOME! Just be AWESOME!" climb. MUST end with a power song, or you might be tempted to give up. Put your favorite song right here. Accelerate at the chorus (this one has two choruses... yours might have more), maintain 80%.

Aaaaand you're done!

Broken Wings - Mr. Mister
(insert your favorite "thoughtful," guiltily-emo alterna-chill rock) -- gently bring your heart rate down, then streeeeeeeeeeeeetch until you feel like you can't possibly feel more amazing.

Congratulations: just by completing this training session, you have improved your cardiovascular efficiency and boosted your metabolism. Awesome.

BTW - as an aside, one of my medical school classmates who has become a regular at my classes up here, has taken up a FANTASTIC routine. In the middle of something totally non-fitness related (i.e., studying at a coffee shop, riding in the backseat of my car...), she'll bust out with:
"Hey, Melissa... guess what I'm doing?"

'Nough said ;-)

Saturday, September 6, 2008


Procrastinating studying for my biochemistry exam, and thought I'd write up the profile of a training session I personally did fairly frequently last month in training for my first bike race. What distinguishes this ride is that, here, we are training ourselves to stay at 80% MHR for pretty much the entire session. Our recoveries are brief, and they are not that substantial a drop below 80%. Why is that important? We are teaching ourselves to recover while still working very hard (a VERY adaptive skill!), and we are training our bodies to use pure fat as fuel in order to sustain extended endurance levels.

Had I written this up when I first designed this, I couldn't have included this tidbit: BECAUSE of this profile (and others like it, which I will post eventually), I was able to do a 15 mile race at 80% MHR. I've continued to do the bulk of my training specifically at 80% (sustaining it for 45-55 minutes), and it's fascinating how much adaptation is occurring. Science is VERY cool like that...

So here goes, the FATBURNER EXTRAORDINAIRE. This is a loop ride -- meaning, we're doing the same thing repeatedly. When we do that, we build "muscle memory" which makes an effort easier to do the next time around. What that means is that with each repetition, we make slight adjustments to maintain (or increase) the intensity level to overcome that muscle memory.

Purpose: To work at a high-level fat-burning zone while maintaining awareness of form and breathing.
HR Parameters: Maintain 80% MHR for the bulk of the session. Recoveries at 75%; dipping no lower than 75%... HR *not* reaching 85%.

(6 mins) - Give the muscles time to gradually activate and prepare for the work ahead.
Goal for this segment: Become aware of your breathing; that's what will get you through this ride.
3 min: 50-65% (discipline yourself not to cross 65% yet... focus on breathing. Feel your abdomen expand every time you take in air; contract, force the air out of the lungs. Shoulderblades retracted, shoulders down - back should feel like it is expanding and moving with every breath). READ HERE FOR MORE BREATHING TIPS.
3 min: 65-70% (continue breathing techniques...)

(15 mins)
* 2 mins 70-75% (keep tinkering with the resistance to gradually bring the heart rate up - deep breaths continuous)
3 mins 75% - every minute, add resistance and breathe the heart rate down. Maintain 75%

* 2 mins: 75-80% (same as above)
3 mins 80% - every minute, add resistance and breathe the HR down. Maintain 80%

* 2 mins 80% -- transition to standing run. Relax the upper body, engage core muscles, breathe the HR down. Try to stay at 80% even now while standing. As the HR comes down, add resistance if you start to dip below 80%.
3 mins - 3x slight accelerations (use the choruses of your song) -- as you accelerate, breathe the HR down. Do not cross 80%.

BLOCK 2 (15 mins)
* 2 mins: Recover seated... as SOON as you hit 75%, gradually load resistance to maintain 75%. Try your darnedest not to dip below 75%
3 mins: 75-80% -- keep gradually loading resistance ("increase and breathe"), focusing on the breath and building up to a heavy but fluid seated climb at 80%
4 mins: MAINTAIN 80% by whatever means necessary. Every 30 seconds or so, check in with your HR... if you drop, keep adding. Hold it seated if you can, focus on your pedal stroke, movement of your knees, movement of your back. It's just 4 minutes of the most important endurance work you can be doing right now. You are burning SO much fat right now...

* Jump Set

2 minutes of jumps / stay up and run for 2 minutes / 2 more minutes of jumps
>> maintain 80% the entire time! Use your breathing, use the resistance. Be aware of your breathing technique, your hip/knee alignment, the engagement of your core muscles... the SMOOTHNESS of your transition from seated to standing and back. Use those core muscles to lower your body weight back down elegantly.

(note: this is 6 minutes of work that will FLY by. Think how you can use this in future training sessions. If you repeated it 3x, that's almost 20 minutes -- half of a training session! Use your prep time in advance to find music that works for you.)

BLOCK 3 (15 mins)
* 2 mins: Recover seated... as SOON as you hit 75%, gradually load resistance to maintain 75%. Try your darnedest not to dip below 75%
3 mins: 75-80% -- keep gradually loading resistance ("increase and breathe"), focusing on the breath and building up to a heavy but fluid seated climb at 80%
5 mins: MAINTAIN 80% by whatever means necessary. You've built muscle memory now -- you're going to need more resistance to sustain that effort. Think about how powerful and sculpted your legs are getting as you drop your heels and smooth out your upstrongs.I

5 mins: Active recovery to 75%. Maintain 75%. The worst is over; this just feels good...

COOL-DOWN: 3-4 minutes
Gradually decrease the resistance, breath the HR back down. Do not stop moving until you hit 50% MHR again, where you started.

After your cool-down, streeeeeeeeeeeeeeeetch for as long as you can. Don't forget your psoas stretch!

Ride on! Let me know how it goes...

Friday, September 5, 2008

Time for a Life Upgrade! Where to get a HR Monitor...

Just two classes into my tenure at the UVM Fitness Center, there've already been tons of questions about how/where to go about buying cheap Heart Rate Monitors (HRMs) to maximize the benefits of your training. LOVE it.

For those of you new to "Spintastic," new to Spinning, new to exercise, new to the concept of HR monitors, as a brief overview: HRMs consist of a transmitter (usually worn as a super-lightweight chest strap) and a watch that reads your heart rate while you train. Why do we care?
1) At certain specific HR ranges, we use different sources of fuel (i.e., stored fat vs. stored sugar... and when we run out of stored sugar, we start breaking down muscle; we do NOT burn fat unless we train at specific fat-burning heart rates).
2) We can tailor our training schedules for sufficient variety to help us accomplish our fitness goal - preventing undertraining (working at too low intensities) or overtraining (working at too high intensities), according to those fitness goals.
3) We can actually measure improvements in our fitness -- improved recovery rates, decreased resting HR, increased lactate threshold (the point at which we stop burning fat and switch over to sugar-burning)
4) Perceived exertion can be totally flawed! Sometimes we think we're working very hard, and we're actually not. Sometimes we think we're not working hard at all, yet our HR is through the roof -- and we get tired too quickly to sustain our effort and maximize our training.

In summary: Our heart is our most important muscle, and a HRM is the only way we get to see it! We can't flex it in the mirror like a tricep or a deltoid... HRMs are all we've got.

To catch you up on everything I've written over the past year on how HRMs work, why you should love them, and how they will change your life, click here!

Once you've decided to upgrade your life, here's what I recommend that you do:
Go to amazon.com and search for "polar heart rate monitor." Polar is the brand I recommend, since 95% of cardio machines ANYWHERE are Polar-compatible. You know when you see the hand grips that allegedly read your heart rate? They're inaccurate (it measures your pulse in your hand - which differs from sweat and how tightly you are gripping) - but if you wear your HR monitor, the machines will read from that and be accurate.

On Amazon, they have two main kinds of models: 1) chest strap transmitters + watches; 2) watch-only models. You should absolutely go for #1. Most models of the second type force you to hold your wrist to your chest while working out - it's absurd. The chest strap is totally light-weight and no big deal... and it works. I actually once accidentally wore it to a bar after a Spinning class I taught... it's so lightweight that I forgot I had it on!

You should get any model in your price range. I have the Polar F6, which is kinda fancy ($109-ish) and potentially overkill for your first monitor. The cheapest model they have will be fine, and will probably cost around $50 or $60. If you can afford it, look for a model with the OwnZone feature (which means that it doesn't cross signals with other people's monitors). It's not necessary, but I personally really like that feature. When I ride next to someone who is wearing a HRM, I get furious when I can't receive my own feedback (when my monitor reads the other person's transmitter). My current model has OwnZone - but there are cheaper ones that also have it.

If you find a model that you like within your price range and you want me to check it out before you buy it, feel free to email me a link to it at melspin@gmail.com. Always happy to help!

Questions/comments, just say the word.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008


8.26.08: I did this training session today on the ArcTrainer (some of you know it as the Gazelle?). You can do this on any cardio machine, a Spin bike, running, skating... whatever. Just be aware of your chosen modality's mechanism for increasing your heart rate (increasing resistance? increasing incline? faster pace?).

Purpose: To take control of your day. To accept a challenge head-on, and insist on owning it. (Background: Medical school, as it were, has a way of making me feel like I'm not in control of my life at all times. It makes me anxious. I decided to take my only 55 minutes of free time and conquer that anxiety, through a specifically designed training session. Ever feel like that? If not, find something else you want to work for!)
HR Parameters: Maintain 80% MHR for the bulk of the session. Recoveries at 75%; dipping no lower than 75%... HR *not* reaching 85%. Remember: training juuuuuuust below lactate threshold (the point where we switch from fat-burning to sugar burning) helps us to increase lactate threshold! What these HR parameters accomplish: 1) Increasing our fat-burning level; 2) Setting a difficult, but manageable, goal. 80% is no joke... remember, that's "comfortably uncomfortable" -- can talk with a lot of effort, but you HATE it.

Preparing for Battle (Warmup/Intro Effort: 7 mins)
3 mins: Gradually build up to 65% MHR.
2 mins: Gradually build up to 70% MHR
2 mins: Gradually build up to 75% MHR

Go Get It. (15 mins)
5 mins: 80% MHR (adjust resistance/pace to maintain HR)
45 seconds: 75% MHR
5 mins 80% MHR (adjust resistance/pace to maintain HR)
45 seconds: 75% MHR
6 mins 80% MHR (adjust resistance/pace to maintain HR)
2.5 mins: 75% MHR

Key points: Remind yourself of the goal you started with. Close your eyes any time you get bored. Find a groove, a rhythm you can make your own. Talk yourself through it.

Focus and Breathe (~10 mins)
SPEED INTERVALS: MAINTAIN 80% THROUGHOUT (quick recoveries at 75%)
Find 80%. Find two songs (~ 5 minutes long each) with choruses that make you feel empowered. Pick up your pace at the chorus, while BREATHING your HR down. Do not let your HR come up higher than 5 beats past 80%. In between these aerobic intervals, recover to 75%... as soon as you hit it, load the intensity again to ensure not to dip below 75%. You are training yourself to recover while still working very hard.

Count it down. 3 more... 2 more... 1 more. Don't worry about how many seconds each interval last -- find the chorus... you know when it's coming, you know when it's ending. Anticipate each one - and when that chorus is just about to kick in, BAM! Power with control. Keep that HR at 80%.

One More Time (~15 mins)
5 mins: 80% MHR (adjust resistance/pace to maintain HR)
30 seconds: 75% MHR
5 mins 80% MHR (adjust resistance/pace to maintain HR)
(Tell yourself how refreshing the last 5 minutes are going to feel... almost there....)
5 mins: 75% MHR... nothing higher, nothing lower!

Cool Down (~3 mins)
Keep moving til you get back to 50-55% MHR. Keep moving and breathing. Then go stretch and foam-roll and tell yourself you're awesome.

*Music Tips: The Riddle by Marco van Bassen is an amazing 5.5 minute song that is PERFECT for that 5 minute sustained 80%. For the aerobic intervals, I've been rockin' "First Time" (Lifehouse) and "What Do You Want From Me" (Cascada) a lot. Another good song for the sustained 80% movements is "Pump It Up" (Danzel) -- which, as an aside, I can't stop blasting in my car either...

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

New Feature: Do-it-Yourself Rides & Other Cardio Training sessions

Thanks to so many of you for your exceptionally thoughtful emails this week! I am so privileged to have been able to connect with so many special people through Spinning.

For as long as I'd announced I was leaving for medical school, people have been asking me if I would record rides for do-it-yourself training... at first, I laughed; then, I thought about it; then, I realized that it'd be technologically improbable (and likely even illegal, from a music copyright issue). Today, I had an epiphany about how I could accommodate these requests, while not consuming all remaining free time and not breaking any laws. Imagine?

Behold, the "Coach Yourself" Training Corner. On the left-hand side of my blog, I will devote a section to featured Ride Profiles and even non-Spinning cardio training sessions. Some of them will be profiles from actual classes I'm teaching (I finally start up again next week!), but mostly they will be my training sessions. Why? The training I do myself is far simpler, far easier to replicate, and requires far less self-discipline (I'm human; I'm subject to the same psychological challenges as you!). If time allows, I'll include music and "coach yourself" tips that end up being particularly effective.

Over time, I hope that you'll see the power in the simplicity of what you'll see here. Though these will be mostly be improvisational training sessions that I devise "on the fly" during my own workouts, I tend to uphold the same principle that I do when I plan my Spinning class ride profiles: Structured and purposeful.... with said structure and purpose as SIMPLE as possible. You'll see that the simpler the structure (and just having structure at all!), the faster these will fly by... and the easier it will be for you to improvise your own spin-offs. Being able to effectively (and happily!) train yourself is an amazingly empowering experience. So let's make it so...

Check out the "COACH YOURSELF" TRAINING CORNER on the left! The profiles themselves will be regular blogpots (so that those of you subscribed to my RSS feed will see new updates), but the Corner will have a link that pulls up all the profiles at once. (So far, there's only one... but over time, that master link will be more useful...)

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Conquering Hills: On & Off the Bike

Just three weeks ago, I used to ride a bike for a living. I thought that no crazier a parallel universe did exist than that of being able to do and share what I love, to connect with so many people, to learn so much about people and about myself... all day long.

And then I moved to Burlington, a parallel universe unlike any other.

By way of introduction, so much has happened the past three weeks. I've had the noblest of intentions to update this blog every time something worth sharing (see also: universally applicable and/or otherwise interesting) arose: some cool cardio training profiles, my first ridiculously amazing biking adventure through the hills of Vermont, how I'm training for a triathlon, teaching my first class at UVM (anticlimactic, I thought -- I missed NYSC so much! But I did "Kaizen," the best ride ever, and rocked the "this hill doesn't need to mean everything... but make it mean something!" speech like the cheeseball I am. Love it.), how I converted a few classmates into buying heart rate monitors already! Heh. I wanted to rave about how idyllic it felt to live here, and go all "rah rah health & wellness wooooooo hoooooo!" on you. I've put off writing, in part, because I had all this oh-so-exciting stuff to write about -- and hadn't yet decided what angle to take with it.

But then, everything changed: I got sick of those cardio profiles, so just stopped doing them. I decided it was most time-efficient to hit "snooze" a lot, eat pizza and cookies for meals, drink bottles of red wine on my porch, and pretty much forego any and all physical activity (says the woman who taught 5 Spinning classes a day... just THREE WEEKS AGO!). I sideswiped my brand new car into a dumpster on my way to school (for those of you who never heard me talk about this over the summer: a nearly-lifelong urbanite, I *just* learned how to drive... and suck at it), which costs more than a month's rent to fix. I gave up on a steep climb and walked my bike up feeling like a failure. My triathlon is in 3 days and I just... stopped training.

And then I knew what I *needed* to write about...

Recently, I read an article written by a fellow Spinning instructor where she "outed" herself to her classes as a "failure" biking up what sounds like an absurdly ridiculous MOUNTAIN (the fact that the word "mountain" is used is beyond me, already). She talks about the pressure to be a super-human, to be insanely awesome at everything she does - and how she felt like upholding those expectations actually served to distance herself from her students, in that she was unrelatable. By openly (and utterly bravely) talking about what she perceived as her shortcoming, she reflects on how this served to connect better with the people she coached.
While I don't necessarily experience the same pressure to play "superhuman" (likely because if that were my goal, I'd fail miserably at it... so it's just never been a goal!), I was inspired by this woman's bold self-reflections in offering her experience from which others can hopefully learn.

Last week or so when all the above-cited craziness transpired, I coped surprisingly well -- by calling up some of my go-to Spinning bits. When I crashed my car, I actually told myself (out loud) to breathe.. and successfully averted a panic attack. (I similarly deep-breathed myself to calmness when I got the estimate from the autobody shop a few days later...) When my brakes felt like they were giving out as I was plummeting down a hill at 28.8 mph (via Triumph -- who only pretends to be a car but is, in fact, still a bike), I watched my HR monitor as I diaphragmatically breathed my heart rate down and told myself that my core muscles could keep me balanced no mater what happened.... and that all I had to do was hold on and bear down.

When I coach, I try to bring concepts and techniques from riding outside as can be applied to Spinning indoors. But now, I'm going to reflect on the reverse: how the experience of Spinning can be applied out in the world... both on the bike and, more significantly, off the bike.

Whew. Long intro. Here goes.

1. Talk to yourself. No, really. It works.
If you hadn't read my epic post from my last week in NYC, you should -- it was pretty awesome, if I do say so myself. I wrote about the merits of positive self-talk, and how the way you talk to yourself can shape the way you see the world. I wrote about positive affirmations (with and without powerful imagery), identifying negative thought patterns and engaging in insta-"thought stopping" and immediately replacing negative thoughts with empowering ones.

I do this "in life," but haven't really had the opportunity to apply this to an athletic scenario -- mostly because since I started teaching full-time, I really haven't done anything terribly challenging (in my own classes, if I'm actually working hard -- rare -- I feed off of my outwardly-directed energy ... or mostly, off of YOUR energy... and in my own cross-training, I've pretty much taken it easy for months with all my injuries, etc.). The hills in Vermont are incredibly humbling. I don't ride clipless outside (for those of you who don't know, "clipless" is a counterintuitive term that means "without toe-clips/cages" over the pedals... like we have on Spinners. "Clipless" is actually the same as being "clipped in" with cleats on the soles of your shoes. Can be a bit confusing.... but the "clipless" part refers to what's over your toes.) because in NYC where I learned to ride, I felt like I had to be able to stop on a dime with crazy taxi cabs coming out of nowhere for no reason other than to run you down. (It's SURREAL to ride here on wide open stretches of road here...)

Moving on: You know how I coach you to "pull up" on the pedals, using the backs of your legs -- with cleats, just lifting your knees; with toestraps, pulling up against the straps? The steeper the hill, the more important that becomes -- otherwise you're using your quads alone to push down -- totally inefficient. Outside, I use toe clips which are marginally helpful to the WIPE BACK part of the pedal stroke (remember: "forward / wipe back / lift"?), but it's so hard to LIFT on a tough hill without cleats or toe straps. Take-home point: Vermont ain't flat. These hills are VERY humbling.

I've found that I've been able to climb a lot of these hills just by talking to myself and breathing. Thought-stopping is key. Every "I can't do this" gets shot down IMMEDIATELY. "You can do this," "You're strong!" -- even a simple "YES!" -- all of which have made a world of difference.
I've also been rockin' the "pump those legs!" a lot lately, and find it pretty effective.

2. WHY are you climbing?
Every time I told myself that I wanted to get up the hill so that I didn't embarass myself in front of my new riding buddies, I slowed down and had to get off the bike and walk. Don't climb for other people. Don't climb to AVOID something negative. Climb FOR something positive. Maybe it's because you want to accomplish something you didn't think possible -- the thrill of triumph, the exhalation of victory. Just have a reason... avoidance doesn't fly.

3. The Nuts & Bolts
Pedal stroke fluidity is key. If you STOP on a tough hill, you'll just fall off. Yeah, I did that, too.
Constant circles - "forward / wipe back.... as the knee comes up, other knee goes forward/ wipe back." Climbing a hill even while shifting to a lower gear, pick the pace UP even -- just that forward /wipe back... forward / wipe back." Repeating those words, "forward - wipe back" over and over can be outrageously helpful. Try it. The minute you slow down, you're toast. The "wipe back" is actually where you can sneak in an outrageous amount of power. "Wipe back" with one (remember: drop the heel) and whip the other up, around and over. Practice it on flat roads (as an aside, it's the coolest feeling ever to have miiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiles of open flat stretches to cruise at 18-20 mph -- this could NEVER happen in NYC), and then keep the same technique on the hills... shift down, pace up, pump and go. Just like that. The minute you slow down, you're toast.

BREATHING is beyond key. Need to keep the heart rate as low as possible, or your muscles will fatigue like whoa. How do we control the heart rate? "FORCEFUL EXHALATIONS OUT THE MOUTH." Practice opening up the airways, letting a big breath in as the abdomen expands. When it's time to take on the hill, think: BREATH IS FUEL! Hear those words in the deepest, most powerful voice imaginable. I once took a workshop where a Master Instructor (from whom I took that line) played BEYOND creepy music, took on a BEYOND creepy tone, and started SCREAMING that over and over and over again... it was bone-tingling, in a NON-creepy way. That's the voice I always hear...

You should be breathing forcefully enough to hear your exhalations LOUDLY.

To recap:
See hill coming. Breathe your heart rate down. Prepare. Mentally rehearse how it's going to be.
Coming up to the hill: Faster faster faster
As you hit the hill: shift down - faster faster faster, "go go go"
all the while: "HEUH" "HEUH" "HEUH" faster faster faster "pump"
(yeah, those "heuhs" are forceful breaths out the mouth...)

BTW - riding a Spinner is a PERFECT place to practice this -- just instead of shifting down to cope with that hill, you're loading resistance to simulate that hill. We don't to overtax the heart by increasing resistance and speed at the same time (if we can avoid it).... so try increasing speed first, then increase resistance at the same speed.

Note: you MIGHT notice a pattern here...
1. Talk to Yourself. No, really. It works.
EVERYTHING I wrote above holds. Tell yourself you are calm, and you will be calm. Tell yourself you're in control and you'll be that way, too. Tell yourself that you can do whatever it is you want to do, and have specific short-term steps to get you there.

2. WHY are you "climbing?"
I'm mostly using the term for poetic effect, but it really does hold. Your challenges are hills all the same -- things to overcome. Last New Year's, I wrote a piece on goal-setting -- and one thing I talked about was the importance of attaching a reason to a goal, to help it stick.
I'll follow my own advice and share three of my goals right now: to incorporate physical activity into every day no matter what (you'd think this was a no-brainer for me! It's not -- this whole "medical school thing" is getting in the way, already!), to speak more mindfully, concisely and precisely, and to go to sleep earlier. Ok, that sounds great... but where's the "why?" For physical activity, it's because it feels so good... and psychologically, I like being at least somewhat of a"fitness good-example" which I feel guilty about not doing at present. For the mindful/concise/precise speech, not only will it make me a better coach for now, but will ultimately dictate the kind of physician I will become. Sleep? Because it will better equip me to navigate the challenges, and enjoy the wonders, of the days ahead.

Goals are good. Goals with reasons are better. Reasons are the things of which you remind yourself, every day - all day long. I once read a great quote... I forget who said it, otherwise I'd cite it: "You are what you tell yourself all day long." Brilliant.

Goal-setting is great, but what about acute crisis-mode situations (i.e., wrecking your brand new beautiful car)? Still, you are what you tell yourself -- and telling yourself WHY you should be a certain way can be incredibly effective.

Consider the following:
Car crashes. Negative thought pattern presents: Oh shit. Life is over.
Thought-stop/replace: "Life is not over. Life will be fine. You are fine. You are calm... see?"
Negative thought presents: You are not calm. You are screwed.
Thought-stop/replace - provide reason: "You are calm because you need to handle this now. You need to deal with this, get on with your day, and be a patient and even-tempered physician-in-training because you will be proud of yourself for doing so, and society expects this of you. So do it."
Negative thought attempts to present: Well, uh, yeah, I guess I can't argue with that...

(Ok, how this really worked is that after this dialogue, I *bawled* on my 10 minute walk from being stranded to class.... and then had the same dialogue again with myself, and decided it was pretty good that I didn't get hurt, and that this happened so that I could eventually write a Spintastic posting about how Spinning self-talk/breathing techniques can be applied to car accidents... and then I smirked to myself and carried on.)

3. The Nuts & Bolts
I feel compelled to take this section on in the context of go-to Spinningisms, just because I think it'd be funny...

"It's all in the way you think about it" -- break it down.
Insurmountable goals are... insurmountable. We need sub-tasks... those we can handle. The shorter and more specific the sub-task -- just break it down -- the easier it will be. Just like "Be It. Own It. Control It.," eh?

One of the classes I'm taking, which is kind of a touchy-feely, mushy-gushy small group self-reflection on personal/professional development that every first-year med student here is required to take, required everyone to set specific goals for the class, the semester, the year. Ok, fine. But the assignment went further: "List two specific sub-steps you are going to do to accomplish that goal. Include timeframes." and then... "List two specific ways you are going to evaluate your progress on these sub-steps." To be honest, while a lot of my classmates griped, I thought the assignment was brilliant and I really got into it. (Of course I would... this is what I "do" all day!)

"Find a rhythm, and make it your own."
While it'd be cool to have a heavy techno beat following us around all day, I'm talking about establishing a routine.

Some people take readily to new routines, some people need a few weeks. I personally thought that I'd wake up at 5AM, study til 7AM, shower/eat and take the bus to class by 8AM, study from 3-6PM, go to the gym, eat dinner, and go to bed by 10PM. As a practical matter, I sleep til 7, shower/eat in panic mode, miss the bus, freak out, get to class late, study from 3-8PM, NOT go to the gym, eat dinner and junk food, and alternate studying/time-wasting til 1AM. This routine is clearly not flying. That's ok: I submitted it for evaluation, found that it failed, and will find a new one -- after all:" "If you do what you've always done, you'll get what you always get."

"Increase, and breathe."
It's funny -- when I came up with this drill as a brand new instructor, I did it as mostly a time-filler to be honest: how to get a 5 minute seated, easy climb to go by quickly. As I did it a few times, I had this epiphany that it was actually a scientifically brilliant concept wherein one can trick the heart to NOT elevate by loading resistance eeeeeeeeeeever so gradually, and thus be able to support a ridiculous work effort at extremely low, fat-burning heart rates. If one were to load up to the end-level resistance all at once, the HR would spike and would not be able to be sustained for more than a few minutes. This is how this would-be "time-filler" inadvertently became my coaching career-defining drill. Go figure.

Over time, I became a bit overly enamored with it - to the end that I actually stopped explaining it for a while. I was privileged to have a lot of "regulars" in my classes -- and over time, I made the assumption that people either KNEW it or at least would figure it out. To some extent, I'm sure that people did -- especially if I made "resistance-loading" gestures in the air, or disciplined myself to coach it more specifically.

What I *never* foresaw that people, on their own, would take "increase, and breathe" and run with it. Some people have described their experience of using it in their lives, taking on challenges a little bit at a time and calming themselves as they did it. I ran with THAT. I started coaching it like that (think: "Give yourself permission to accept this last challenge, smidgeon by smidgeon"). I've had people tell me that they've told themselves "increase, and breathe" before quitting their jobs, breaking up with their boyfriends, proposing to their girlfriends, and all sorts of crazy stuff. No joke. This "time-filler" took on a life of its own -- a life to which it really does lend itself.

And, so, if you never knew the scientific meaning of "increase and breathe" (progressive loading to prompt cardiovascular adaptation), now you know. But as for the psychological meaning, that's all your call. Whatever it means to you, that's what it means.

Before I sign off, super-advanced notice: I will be in NYC to teach on Fri 10/10 (my classes: 12:30PM Water St and 6PM Irving), Sat 10/11 (I'll sub 2 or 3), Sun 10/12 (my classes: 9:30AM 41st/3rd and 11AM Varick). And mark your calendar: paaaaaaaaaarty Sat 10/11, Mustang 85th/2nd.

Ride on,

P.S. Med school's awesome ;-)

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

The Next Chapter.

So here I am, folks, officially in Vermont. Crazy.

In the days and weeks leading up to my move, people asked me what I was going to miss most about NYC. After half-jokingly expounding upon my love of electric stimulation at physical therapy for my hip, I told them the truth: coaching you guys. As many of you know, I am Change's hugest fan -- but I'm finding it a bit daunting to conceptualize my departure from a rewarding existence as something other than "loss." It's all in the way we frame things, though, and I'm trying my darne
dest to "walk the talk" and use my attitude to control my thoughts and feelings. Small adjustments... those are the ones that endure.

It was a WONDERFUL summer, I must say - and, especially over the past week, some of the most humbling and moving experiences of my life. I remain most grateful for the opportunity this has been - not only to share my passions for cycling a
nd wellness, but to have been able to hear from so many of you about how "this thing we do" (Spinning) has in some way impacted you on a scale slightly or more than slightly larger than a 45 minute class. That's what I'll miss the most.

I want you to know that I will continue to be available to you, to help you in whatever capacity you need. Got a new HR monitor? Email me, I'll help you set it up. Tips on cycling gear and training plans? You
bet. Whatever you need, I'll always make time to help to the extent that I can -- or at least be able to direct you accordingly. Same email address as always: melspin@gmail.com.

As a practical matter, you're probably wondering what's going to happen to my classes... I'm sending out a guide (with commentary) by listserv. If you
're not on my listserv, just email me with questions.

There is no more fitting closure than to post my Summer 2008 theme scheme, the concepts I want most to leave with you. I hope that you take from them what you will, and make them your own... on the bike, or even off.

Week 1 (week of 6/2):

As a reminder, I will continue to update this blog on a regular basis -- cycling/training tips, along with a new section on music (i.e., what I'm playing in a given week during my Vermont classes). When I solidify my teaching schedule for my first NYC visit (Fri 10/10 - Sun 10/12), I'll send out a listserv posting. But beyond that, you'll probably not get emails from me... so if you want to keep up with the blog without having to remember to check it, sign up for an RSS feed (linked at the bottom of my blog, or here...). It will notify you whenever there's new content...

Here's to the next chapter.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

"It's All About How You Talk to Yourself"

Baseball Hall of Famer Yogi Berra was once out for pizza with his teammates. "Hey Yogi," the server asked, "Do you want this pie cut into 6 slices or 8 slices?"

"Better make it 6," Berra replied. "I don't think I'm hungry enough to eat 8."

Think about that for a second - a minute, even. Go ahead and chuckle (I do adore Yogi-isms...), but really think about what that means.

What and how you think really does affect how you perform - mentally and physically.

The past few weeks' classes have been rockin' the ever-so-important themes of coaching/motivating yourself, goal-setting, and connecting your goals, thoughts, and performance. My mission, as your coach, has been to try to help you think clearly and to use your mind effectively to accomplish your goals -- whatever those goals may be. Above all, what I've been hoping to instill is that you are in complete control of your thoughts and reactions -- and that this is vital to your training. From practicing coping mechanisms during boring Spinning classes, to mentally disciplining yourself to hold true to the challenge of training in your fat-burning endurance zone, to pushing yourself slightly outside your comfort zone in a killer Strength ride -- all of that directly relates to how you CHOOSE to see the world, and to respond to it.

As I am 4 days away from my own great challenge (leaving the comfort of NYC, where I've been my whole life -- to the far-off, strange land of Burlington... not to mention the parallel universe of actually starting medical school!), I thought I'd spend this posting addressing the things that *I* think are effective ways of working through the mental aspect of your training -- and how that can translate into all the other realms of life, too.

In my New Year's posting on goal-setting, I talked about the merits of always being "in training" for something -- even if that "something," is merely life! You don't need to be training for the Boston Marathon (which, parenthetically, two of my students qualified for -- citing their awesome breathing skills they learned from Spintastic! Awesome. Just awesome.) -- just have some sort of goal! Something that you can get a fire burned up over -- something that makes you want to DO something. I contrast this with motivational factors that make us want to AVOID something (i.e., "I go to Spinning class so that I don't get/stay fat." >> not an especially effective motivator!).

Is it easier to wake up at 5AM because you want to feel energized and refreshed to start your day? Or because you... uh.... "don't want to get fat?" It's a no-brainer.

Goal-setting is an art, though. Points you may wish to consider:
* Short, specific, measurable performance goals - directly under your control, with reasons attached to them!
- "I will remain below 80% MHR for 25 minutes today, so that I can become a fat-burning machine"
- "I will keep my heels down so that I can achieve the perfect pedal stroke, and get really toned legs!"
- "I will focus on my breathing so that I will fatigue far less easily."
- "I will interrupt my thoughts every time I think something negative, so that I do not undermine my efforts."

The reasons are key! Reasons behind goals make goals stick!

The shorter-term and more specific, the better. When we try to change too much at once, we often fall short. One of my favorite quotes of all time, part of which I often paraphrase in class:
"Mastery is made in increments, not in leaps. Be brave, be fierce, be visionary. Mend the parts of the world that are 'within your reach.' To strive to live this way is the most dramatic gift you can ever give to the world."
- Clarissa Pinkola Est├ęs

Have a step-by-step game plan for longer-term, realistic outcomes goals.
- "I will lose weight... by training 4 days a week in x heart rate zone, to make sure I am burning stored fat."

* Know how to accomplish your goals!
- Read read read... from the Spintastic archives, to books/websites/journals. Empower yourself through actively learning!
- Ask questions to help you clarify and effectively sift through a huge volume of available sources (i.e., not all sources are created equal!)
- Get a heart rate monitor! Get precise feedback on your performance. Take the guesswork out of your training -- making sure to be working hard enough to have an impact, as well as not to push yourself when you are too tired to get the benefit. Measure quantifiable aspects of fitness training like recovery time!

"Discipline is remembering what you want." - David Campbell

Often we say that we like a particular instructor because he or she is "motivating." What we usually *mean* by that, however, is that we have the experience of really tapping into our OWN motivation -- that there was something about that instructor, or that music, that allowed us to inspire OURSELVES. The neat thing is that we can do that allllllllll the time - just by acting as our own coach, talking ourself through our challenges and achievements.

* Try to frame your words in "DO" format, as opposed to "DON'T"
This is something I find personally challenging as a coach -- "don't bounce" vs. "keep your hips level." Same thing, totally different vibe. The brain responds better to positive cues.
- "Don't look at the clock!" vs. "Close your eyes. Pay attention to your breathing."

* Include positive affirmations -- make them in the present tense, and make them as powerful as possible
- "I am strong."
- "I WILL do this."
- "I am smooth, like a well-oiled machine."

Make your affirmations personally meaningful.

* Include imagery -- tune into not only the thoughts, but the images, that empower you.
- You can experiment with the viewpoint of your imagery. I personally like to imagine watching myself as a third party; other people like to visualize from their own viewpoint (i.e., what they see as they climb a masterful hill).
- Visualize your form -- elbows lowered towards floor, upper body loose, dropping heels to dig into a seated climb for powerful strokes upwards. Whole body working fluidly together on a standing climb.

I did a combination of these today while getting my VO2 max re-tested (I've been training deliberately to increase my aerobic base and lactate threshold - where I switch from fat-burning to sugar-burning) ... I had to maintain 85% MHR for a sustained amount of time, with no music and nobody speaking. Daunting for sure -- but I chose to see it as an opportunity to a) build confidence, b) practice these techniques I rant to all of you about. I really can't tell you how good it felt to accomplish that. I visualized what I looked like, felt my form as perfect, breathed my way through it -- but it was those empowered self-cues. I'm big on the "smooth machine" affirmation - but whatever works for you!

Get to know yourself. Do you speak negatively? ("I can't do this!" "This is boring." "I hate this.")
Do you allow yourself to get distracted?

If you identify your mental weaknesses, you can formulate a specific game plan to turn those weaknesses into strengths.

4. SUBSTITUTE BAD THOUGHTS FOR GOOD THOUGHTS!Once you identify your thought patterns, you can start to banish the undermining, counterproductive ones.

"This is hard, there's no way I can do that."
"I'm not good enough for that."
--> all of that stuff limits our breathing, and makes us shut down.

Instead, every time you detect that you're having a thought like that, use that as an instant trigger to STOP the thought and SHIFT the focus. Instantly replace it with one of your positive

I do this ALL the time -- when the downtown 4/5 ruins my life and forces me to BOOK IT at the speed of sound so as not to be late to teach a class (I am *not* a runner); when I have to carry Triumph up the stairs of my 4th floor walkup (he's lucky he's so pretty...); any time I have to execute some sort of medical activity that I'm technically qualified to do but scared as hell about (i.e., Spinning mental-speak totally got me through my first time drawing a patient's blood!).

At first, this requires a lot of deliberate effort. Over time, however, you will get better and better at it -- and you will build confidence in your ability to control your own destiny.

The mind is incredibly cool in that it can focus on all sorts of negative, irrelevant things -- and then, just like that, it can be re-directed in a productive, meaningful way.

With that, I will close with a quote that is personally meaningful. I came across it last week in a fantastic book I read (“Mind Gym” by Gary Mack) and appreciated that it completely summarized the way I see the world.

“Act the way you want to become... until you become the way you act."

Just as your thoughts determine your actions, your actions can influence your thoughts, too.

Case in point: Contrary to public opinion, I do not bound out of bed at 4:45AM oozing with enthusiasm and passion for life and Spinning and all things worthy of bouncing around the room. I wake up wanting to be asleep, and to stay asleep -- all day if I could, really. But I tell myself that I will act energetically and accept the responsibility of motivating other people to act energetically – and soon enough, I start to genuinely feel it. I do this not just at 6:30AM (or, more significantly, 8:15PM) Spinning classes – but during meetings, interviews, tedious social events, etc. It works for me, at least.

Give it a shot…

Tuesday, July 15, 2008


Yes, folks, it's Week 7 of my Summer 2008 theme scheme: Spinning Survival -- the theme I've pitched all month as traveling "the world" (uh, Manhattan) to soak up the most boring, tedious experiences and develop teachable coping mechanisms to share with you guys. What I found, however, is that the only difference between enduring a "motivationally challenged" class and (for lack of a better expression) one that doesn't suck, is your sense of attribution. Do you think you get through a class because the coaching is really good or the music is really good? Or does that coaching/music just allow you to more easily tap into your own sense of motivation for being there?
(Hint: That's what good coaching/music do -- help you motivate yourself).

My new ride the first part of this week is called "Coach Yourself," and is designed to teach you to do just that. I did it a few times yesterday with varying levels of efficacy, and have been distributing a Spinning Survival Guide I authored based on the principles I included within the ride. I decided it would be more effective, however, if I gave you guys a sneak peek at it in advance of coming into that ride or the other one I'll do this week. Enjoy!

Coaching Yourself: How to Transform the Insulting to the Inspiring
Melissa Marotta, STAR 3 Spinning Instructor (melspin@gmail.com)

Step #1: Establish your motivation – your reason for being there. Be specific so that you can tap into it later, as your own amazing coach.

>> Why are you here? What did you want to accomplish today?
*If you get bored in class, you do not have enough goals*

Step #2: Set “the 3 P’s”: Conceptualize each ride as a training session with purpose, plan, and HR parameters. Always.
>>How are you going to accomplish the goals from Step #1?

If no purpose, plan, or parameters are given to you, set them yourself. Be specific.

Step #3: “Mindful Modifications” -- control your “Structural Ability”: the environmental factors/triggers to help you fulfill Steps #1 and #2. Remember “Spin-etiquette”– any modifications must not distract your fellow riders or the instructor (i.e., sitting while class is standing is always fine; however, standing for more than a short posture/stretch break while class is sitting is obnoxious! Be smart, not obnoxious.)

1. Talk to yourself
* Pedal stroke techniques: “forward / wipe / up” – “ankle-up” -- “pull up” >> synchronize
self-talk with the music!
* Remind yourself how what you’re doing relates to your goals. Just a few examples:
- Aerobic (<>
- Active breathing to boost recovery time and support work efforts
- Mental focus/self-discipline to build confidence and pride!
- Training between 75-80% with minimal recovery to increase lactate threshold
* Aim for short, measurable mini-goals (“I’m going to coordinate my breathing with my pedal stroke for the next minute”)

2. Use the music
* Close your eyes. Listen to the beat and lyrics. Find something external to connect with your internal existence.
* Find something about the music to compensate for the coaching

>> Is there a pattern you can use to time portions of your pedal stroke or your breathing? Try to find one.

3. Bend your attitude.

* Control your thoughts. The only thing in this world that you are 100% in control of is your attitude. Learn to use your mind, or your mind will use you. If you think negative thoughts (“this sucks…”), you will feel negative. Use the opportunity to build and practice good habits, skills, and good self-talk.
* Thought-stopping techniques >> re-framing, re-focusing.
* “What am I learning from this?” – mental/physical skills and techniques

4. Make your ride like a well-written thesis or paper! Don’t just go through the motions; make everything mean something. Be mindful of every pedal stroke, every breath. Make everything relate back to your original goals – the big picture.

5. Focus Strategies: Train your mind like you train your body

* Anticipate distractions and rehearse coping mechanisms! Conditioned response when you detect a distraction!!
>> Change breathing/resistance; closing eyes; shifting posture; squeeze/release grip; roll shoulders – whatever works!
* Visualize muscles, breaths, pedal strokes
* Bargain with yourself (“I will stay in the moment for 45 seconds”. Every mini-goal builds confidence for the next).
* “Change one thing” – technical change, strategic change, attitude adjustment, growth of experience ("I will keep my head lined up with my spine for the next 45 seconds, I will change only that.")
* Give yourself feedback about every short, specific mini-goal. Excellent coaches give feedback – be your own excellent coach!
* Best tip: CLOSE YOUR EYES. Don’t look where you don’t want to go – out the window, at the clock.

And the #1 way to make a good OR bad Spinning class flyyyyyyyyyyyy by:
6. Heart Rate Games!
* Upgrade your life: GET A HEART RATE MONITOR!
* Maintaining HR over changes: Progressive loading of resistance (“increase and breathe” – my favorite game!) or cadence

* Make up your own HR games! Increasing/decreasing HR over changes. Quantifying recovery time.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Analogue between "Rate of Perceived Exertion" (RPE) Scale & % MHR

I refuse to engage in 99% of physical activities without wearing my heart rate monitor. A heart rate monitor is a tool that provides objective feedback of your physiological response to intensity/challenge. Just as I would never drive my car without a speedometer, I don't drive my heart without a heart rate monitor.

In my NYC classes, most of my students wear HRMs to class. In Burlington, this will not be the case. So I need to get more comfortable coaching to a Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE) scale to give those without HRMs a construct by which to gauge their intensity.

And truth be told, all HRM-wearers are best served maintaining an awareness of RPE even as they train with their HRM's. If there is a mismatch between HR and RPE, this is an important clue to an underlying situation: overtraining, fatigue, volume depletion, certain medications influencing heart rate. Don't ignore it. Under those conditions, RPE is actually MORE useful than your heart rate monitor.

Before I describe how I use a 0-10 RPE scale in my classes, I'd like to discuss a few issues on my mind:

1) Lack of proper usage
* "Resistance scales"
There are no scales of resistance level!!!
Ever hear this one?: "Give me a 9 out of 10 of resistance" >> no, guys, there are NO scales of resistance. It is actually a "taboo" contraindication of the body that certifies Spinning instructors, in fact. Resistance loading is ENTIRELY arbitrary and subjective. Every bike is different, every person is different. We don't care about a specific amount of resistance -- we care about using enough resistance to achieve a certain intensity. The intensity is what we want to measure and monitor -- that's what impacts your training. Anyone who uses a scale of resistance is doing you a great disservice, and my professional opinion is that you should ignore them.
* Be skeptical. Since you are educated athletes (and you all are), think about it: Why would we want to hold what is described as a "10" for a long period of time to climb a normal, run of the mill hill?
* Be safe. Warming up is so key to not only safety but the efficacy of training. If you spike the HR too early, you will actually have trouble recovering throughout the training session. I experience this *all* the time: all those times that I say I'm coaching entirely off-bike (as in the case when I'm teaching 5 classes in a single day, for example) and then I randomly hop on the bike to do an anaerobic interval with you - my HR spikes without warming up, and I'm a cardiovascular mess all day long. That said, anyone who takes you from the warm-up effort to what he or she calls a "9" without any intermediate stops along the way: also doing you a great disservice. Our hearts, like our minds, prefer consistency -- we try to avoid dramatic change. We like change -- in fact, we love change -- but we are better able to cope with change... physiologically, not just psychologically... by doing so gradually.

2) Lack of consistency

Here is a chart that I made to help link RPE parameters with verbal descriptors, and heart rate parameters. Remember that most people have not and will not ever experience their MHR, and that MHR formulas are inaccurate. I recommend finding lactate threshold (8/10) through a lactate threshold/submax field test, and setting LT = 85% MHR. Reverse-calculate MHR and take percentages from there. Effectively, your training parameters will be anchored to LT -- which is measurable, and modifiable with training.


Description – Standard Language with a Bit of Melissification



0 = in bed. 1-2 = Very easy – conversation not impacted whatsoever. Pre-warmup into beginning of warm-up




Easy. Conversing very very limited difficulty. Start of warm-up



Moderately easy – you can still carry on a full conversation but you're aware that you're actually riding a bike. End of warmup. Something you can hold *indefinitely*. Feels perfectly comfortable, literally able to sustain forever.



Moderate – carrying on conversation would require very minimal effort; a bit more concentration than at RPE 4. But you're very very comfortable. You're aware that you're riding a bike - and you can sustain your effort "all day, but not forever." Feels amazingly refreshing. You LOVE this.



Moderately difficult – conversation would require effort/concentration. You can do a lot more, but you’re working. Thinking that you don’t want to hold this all day. Feels good but not amazing.



Difficult. You can certainly talk - but carry a conversation? Unlikely. “Comfortably uncomfortable.” No burning in the legs; no tightness in the chest. You’re starting to think you not only don’t like this – but, in fact, you might actually hate this.



Very difficult. Lactate threshold = point at which lactic acid accumulation exceeds your body's ability to clear it. Burning in the legs might start. You HATE this. You truly hate this. Everything around you is telling you to stop -- but you don't. You can still track your breathing in through the nose, out through the mouth. All of your mental faculties are consumed tracking your breath and reminding yourself that you're not going to stop, even though you want to. Those new to training: can hold 1-3 minutes. Some conditioned athletes can hold as long as 30 minutes.



Peak effort I ever want you to hit in my classes. You have just enough wind to finish the effort (30 seconds max). Intense burning in the legs. Might feel breathless. You hate this SO much. By the 31st second, it HAS to be over -- so it is. (Make sure you recover back down to 4/10 before you hit this intensity again, for an effective anaerobic interval.)



Heart is going to explode out of chest. Might feel dizzy or nauseated. STOP. STOP STOP STOP.