*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.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

How's Your Form? A Checklist for Fine-Tuning

With 22 classes this week, I will be spending the majority of my time coaching OFF the bike -- the perfect opportunity to help you perfect your form. Don't worry -- this is a GOOD thing! When I do form checks, I'll never embarrass you; I'll just quietly (with my mic muted, of course) make suggestions on how to smooth things out so that you are getting the most out of your ride -- so that you are toning and working the proper muscles, and so that you can avoid injury.

With this in mind, here are some things to keep in mind about your riding form:

1. Step 1 - standing next to the bike on the floor, adjust seat height to hip level. Check by lifting your knee so leg is 90 degrees from the floor (like a sideways "L"). Leg should be seat height.
2. Step 2 - climb onto the bike, properly align your feet. Knee should have 30 degree bend (almost fully extended but not quite) in downward-most position. If your knee is locked out (fully straight leg), slide the seat forward to increase the bend in the knee. If too much bend, slide backwards.
3. Step 3 - handlebar height is your call. If you're new or have lower back problems, I suggest riding with the handlebar pretty high. It doesn't matter - it's just a matter of your comfort.

(for detailed tips on the "Perfect Pedal Stroke," check out the aptly named category to the left)
1. Ball of the foot over the center of the pedal; not scrunched all the way forward.
2. Heels down, toes slightly up
3. Scrape/wipe your foot backwards (horizontally) before you curl the leg UPWARDS, leading with your heel

1. Hips square toward your front
2. Knees track parallel to one another, going out NO wider than the hips. Lift the knees straight up towards the chest, top and center.
(Note: if your knees are bowing out to the side, your seat is probably too low!!!)
3. Sit on the widest part of the seat (NOT towards the front of the seat), sitting on your "sit bones"
4. Seat should be far back enough that you are hinged forward at the HIP (not the waist or back). You are not sitting straight upward. If you are, that seat has to go further back.
5. When out of the saddle, hips far back enough to feel the tip/nose of the saddle graze against your butt -- on Runs, on Standing Climbs, on Jumps... all of that, the hips stay exactly the same.
6. As you ride, your hips stay square and level (on a horizontal plane). If your hips move up and down, vertically -- you do not have enough resistance on the flywheel. If you feel any momentum shifted upwards towards your hips, add resistance. If you don't add resistance and you continue to let yourself bop and bounce about, you are going to blow out your knees and hips. You cannot get big legs or a big butt on a stationary bike, so there is absolutely no reason not to add resistance! (See the "Resistance" link to the left for my musings on the scientific evidence that you can't possibly bulk up from Spinning!)

1. Super-light touch on the handbars. In Hand Position 1 (narrow grip -- optional, used for warm-up) and Hand Position 2 (wide grip, used for everything except Standing Climbs and "Jumps on a Hill"... the latter of which I call "breakaways" in class), be sure to be resting on the meaty parts of your hands. Thumbs lined up with wrists to make sure you're not leaning on the handlebars.
2. Elbows IN, bent softly downwards towards the floor.
3. Shoulders down and rolled backwards
4. Head floating on your spine -- smooth slope connecting your head, down your neck, down your spine. Chin is OFF your chest.

Sunday, March 16, 2008


Ahhhhh! I wish I waited a half hour to send out my latest Spintastic listserv posting... even huger news than the new website!
I am officially *STAR 3 LEVEL* certified, as high as an instructor can go in the Spinning program!

Saturday, March 15, 2008

"I Wanna Hear It" -- Song requests?

As you may have observed, my music style is slowly evolving -- maybe it has something to do with the fact that what you hear once a week, I hear 4-5x per DAY. Six months ago, my "power songs" were happy hardcore techno Madonna remixes -- now we're rockin' the Gladiator soundtrack on a regular basis. Awesome.

And has this phenomenon has been unfolding, lots of you have been sharing obscure music artists -- and most of the time, they really work. It makes sense, really. My theory behind ride choreography (yes, I plan the ride first - then the music -- then obsessive-compulsively change everything back and forth for hours) is that I play stuff I'd want to hear as a rider - a beat to drive my upstrokes, a tempo to pick me up when I'm sluggish, a tune so friggin' good that I hope even the most tedious seated climb never ends... if only to hear more of that song. I have an omnipresent ear for new material -- clothing stores, (gluten-free) pizza joints, you name it.

When I hear something that has potential, I pop it onto my iPod and listen to it on repeat (sometimes for months!) until I figure out what to do with it. Some are obvious hits; however, some of the most "successful" songs (i.e., the ones people tell me they love) began as "what on EARTH are you going to do with this? This song is ridiculous..." and required 3-4 months of incubation. The best example of that is the triple set of jumps to the happy hardcore remix of Gangsta's Paradise -- seriously, WHY does that exist?

In any event, I give you all of this background to illustrate that I'm open-minded. If there's a tune you'd love to hear in a ride, tell me about it. Worst case scenario: I'll at least attempt to integrate it into my pre- and post-ride selections.

Leave your comments here or email me at melspin@gmail.com

The Perfect Pedal Stroke

Ahhh, behold the Perfect Pedal Stroke. Here were some of my musings/rantings from Fall 2007 on how to smooth out your perfectly efficient pedal stroke...


Lastly, I have declared November to be the Month of the Perfect Pedal Stroke (PPS, if you will). I will rant about this repeatedly. It will be my month's mission to have all of you riding with flat feet ("like scraping gum off the bottom of your show"), pulling up with your hamstrings in perfectly smooth, circular movements. Some checkpoints to keep in mind for now. Ultimately, these will become second nature if you practice:
1. "How far forward are my feet on the pedals?"
Most people have a tendency to slide their foot all the way forward into the stirrup. You actually want the BALL of your foot on the CENTER of the pedal. This takes the pressure off your arch (note: if you get arch pain, try sliding your foot back). Try tightening the pedal strap with your foot properly aligned to prevent sliding forward by default.
2. "Are my toes pointing down? THEY BETTER NOT BE!"
Of the 200+ students I teach in a given week, I'd estimate that 70 percent ride with their feet pointed slightly. Hell, it's more comfortable! But it's also placing undue pressure on the ankles, and preventing you from maximally working/toning your legs. Flat feet, always. Think about lifting your toes toward the ceiling and extending the calf with the heel down to keep your feet flat.
3. "Pull up, Pull up, Pull up"
I repeat this to myself (silently, to avoid strange looks) even while I'm walking up steep hills. You want to engage your hamstrings by focusing on your upstrokes - the "pull" portion of the pedal stroke. If you pull up forcefully with one foot, the other foot is already halfway around the cycle... Just in time for THAT foot to pull up. Lift the pedals, pulling the knee straight up (top and center, not out to the side).I guarantee that if you start working those circles of repeated upstrokes, you're going to be able to increase your fluidity at stronger resistance levels. And it's going to be awesome.

So, with that, Happy Month of the Perfect Pedal Stroke!



Hope you've had a great first week of Perfect Pedal Stroke Month! (I'm really quite a dork...). One of my Friday AM students told me that she repeats "flat feet, heels down" to herself in all her other spin classes ever since I delivered an epic PPS oration, and that absolutely made my day - and justifies my further ranting.

To remind you all, here are the tenets of the Perfect Pedal Stroke. Check in with them periodically throughout each ride, and I guarantee you'll experience a difference!
*1) "Ball of the Foot on the Center of the Pedal" **
*The first part of the PPS is your foot positioning - an oft-overlooked point. Most people ride with their foot all the way forward in the pedal cage. It's nearly impossible to keep your feet in the proper alignment, if you do this. Pull your foot back and tighten the straps, and periodically
check in with your positioning to ensure that the ball of your foot REMAINS right there in the center (since the tendency is to slide forward, even if you meticulously align yourself to start). You'll have more power on your upstrokes, and less pain/numbness in your toes and arches. *(*NOTE* - If you spin at least 2-3x per week, consider getting cycling shoes with SPD clips. They will keep the ball of your foot exactly where it needs to be. I recommend http://www.performancebike.com/ for stellar discounts. I got $300 shoes there for $45. One pair will last you at LEAST 6-8 years, since you're only wearing them indoors. They will not only make for a MUCH smoother pedal stroke, but they'll utterly change your life.)* You'll no longer have to worry about avoiding curling your toes (which is a common coping mechanism to keep your foot aligned, but stresses the tendons in the ankle and makes for atrocious form!), since your foot will now be kept in the proper pace. All you will have to do from now on is work on those "scraping" backwards motions -- and therefore be able to use more resistance... and burn more calories!
*2) "Heels Down, Toes Lift Slightly Towards the Ceiling... Like Scraping Mud Off the Bottom of Your Shoe."*
Check your heels (down) and toes (up) periodically throughout the ride. Again, the tendency is to shift your feet forward and point your toes down - try not to let that happen. If you're pointing your toes down, you're putting undue stress on the ankles and sides of the knee... instead of
letting your quads and hamstrings do all the work.
*3) "Powerful Upstrokes"*
We want to always be pulling UPWARDS, as opposed to pushing down. It's an uber-efficient way to go. After all, if you pull up forcefully with one foot, the other foot is already half of the way around. Cool, huh? I heard a colleague at a Continuing Ed workshop mention that he likes to use the mantra "Press and Pull" for focusing on those upstrokes. That works for some people... just remember that the "press" part is through the BALL of your foot (with heels down, toes still lifted slightly upwards) and NOT anything to do with pointing your toes. (*Again, cycling shoes make forceful, smooth upstrokes SO much easier to achieve!)


11/21/2007: Trick to Drive Home the Upstrokes... Pull Up on the Downbeats!

I had a minor epiphany during my class this morning that I'd like to share with you. Lately, my rides have been oriented around steep seated/standing climbs to get you to focus on proper pedaling technique while engaging the proper muscles as you *pull up* all the way around a complete circle. To help guide you, I've used music with heavy downbeats - to which I've been cuing you to use the rhythm, so that you don't have to think about anything else but staying with the music. This morning, I looked around the room and saw my whole class climbing in unison... but not in unison with me. Why was that? They were pushing down on the downbeats... when, really, a fantastic way to discipline yourself to truly be *pulling up* is to *make your UPSTROKES be on those downbeats*. It may sound like a subtle point, but give it a whirl and see if it helps.

Avoiding Overtraining

Excerpts from my mailings, relating to overtraining -- how to recognize it and how to avoid it...


My first full week of life as a full-time spin instructor is upon us. I've been at this 4 days, and it's already the best thing ever. But it was a warm-up. Now here's when the 4-5 classes per day begin... which calls to mind my most favorite topic: HEART RATE TRAINING. My new life policy is that I will do absolutely no cardiovascular training without a monitor - if I forget it, done, no activity. Even if you're not spinning 5x per day, it's important to be mindful of not overtraining. Overtraining is NOT reflective of frequency of exercise - it's reflective of intensity. The Spinning program was actually designed to be done 7 days a week... but properly distributed by hr range:
1-3 days Endurance: 65-80% max hr
1-2 days Strength 75-85% mhr
1 day Interval: 65-92% mhr
1 day Recovery (or off): 55-65% mhr

See that? One day a week when you're going "all out" - that's it! For many of you, you're doing 92% far more often than that. Overtraining is totally counterproductive. I did it for years, prior to commencing training with a hr monitor. So let's just... not.

Here are some warning signs that you may be overtraining:
1) Constant fatigue
2) Changes in sleep patterns
3) Irritability
4) Frequent illness/infection
5) Sugar cravings
6) Elevated resting heart rate

If that looks familiar, it's even more important to focus on building (or rebuilding) that aerobic base - specifically, staying below 80% max hr with NO exceptions - for a straight, consistent 4-8 weeks. If you want to do this right, get a monitor! (I often bring my extra one to classes as a conversion tool - ask to borrow it for a taste of just how enlightening it is). If you're still not sold, you can do a bit of guesswork: 80% is that "comfortably uncomfortable" point I talk about in class - can't talk much, but no burning in your legs.

"But if I stay below 80%, I'm not getting a good workout!" I hear that often. It's BULLSHIT. You are getting a fantastic workout, and an important one. Here's what happens when you stay below that burn point:
1) Increase size/strength of your left ventricle of the heart, the part that pumps blood to the whole body
2) Increase blood volume pumped throughout the body
3) Increase fat metabolism - burn fat instead of stored muscle glycogen
4) Increase capillary density around working muscles - so more oxygen can be exchanged, and it's easier to stay aerobic... a circular pattern that keeps these benefits flyin'
5) Increased lactate threshold (the point where you switch from aerobic to anaerobic training)
6) Boosted immune function
7) Decreased blood pressure

Clearly, these are all things we want. Agreed? NOTE: This does not merely apply to cycling! This is hr training in general! I cannot encourage you more enthusiastically (at 3:14 am, at least) to get a hr monitor. Check the spintastic listserv archives for recommended links. Doing cardio exercise without a monitor is like taking the odometer out of your car. And we clearly wouldn't do that - now would we?

Would we?

You Won't Get Big Legs on a Bike!

More from my Spintastic listserv excerpts, compiled by topic for your convenience...


A few thoughts on refuting the age-old myth that Spinning results in bulky legs. A woman in my class this morning (not a member of the Spintastic listserv... all of you know better) approached me after class and said, *"I love you! I'm so glad you have us go fast... I don't want to go slow with... ugh... resistance... and get huge legs." *

This compliment was the furthest thing from complimentary. In fact, I sort-of felt nauseated. It means that I have failed in my attempts to explain this properly in class.

Here's the deal:
In order to build muscle mass in ANY way, we have two requirements:
1) *high weight - heavy enough to overload our muscle fibers*
2) *low repetitions*

This is why, when we lift weights with the goal of building muscle (bulking up), we use heavy weights with approximately 12 repetitions per set (the weight should be so heavy that we feel like we cannot possibly DO a 13th rep... that's what it feels like to truly overload the muscle, to break the muscle fibers). When we lift weights to tone/sculpt, we use lighter weights with lots of repetitions per set.

Here's how this does NOT apply to Spinning. On a Spin bike, the flywheel weighs approximately 40 lbs. For anyone who has ever used a lower body weight machine on the gym floor, you can appreciate how little weight this is - relative to what our lower body can support. So, requirement #1 is already out from consideration.

As for "reps," this is where our pace comes into play. I don't typically talk of specific numbers for our pace ("cadence" is the technical term) since numbers don't mean much to the average student - instead, I select my music so that if you lock into the rhythm, you're going at a specific cadence without thinking about it. It may appear random and unplanned, but it's anything but. The slowest climb we ever do in the Spinning program ever is 60 rpm (revolutions per minute) - and I personally *very rarely* include climbs that slow, at that. But that's the slowest that any certified Spinning instructor calls for (if they're doing contraindicated movements, I can't speak to that...).

So, even at the SLOWEST pace in a Spin class:
60 revolutions per minute x 40 minutes = 2400 revolutions (repetitions).
*2400 reps is not "low" (compare to 12!). *Bulk requirement #2 eliminated.

In my classes, my heavy-beat uber-steep seated and standing climbs support cadences of 75-80 rpm (as confirmed by the sparkling brand new cyclocomputer at 86th/Lex... sigh... I daydream about that thing!). That's even more reps!

So, in sum: *It is scientifically impossible for you to build bulky legs on a spin bike.* Use the resistance to help you burn more calories - don't be afraid of it!

Without the proper amount of resistance:
1) you're not burning the number of calories you think you're burning
2) you risk blowing out your knees and injuring your hips
3) you're just wasting your time

*Here's what you should keep in mind when selecting your resistance at any point in the ride:
**1) How does your heart rate feel? (*If you have a monitor, this is so much easier to gauge!) Adjust your resistance until you're in your desired HR zone - not necessarily what the instructor (myself included) calls for, but wherever you need to be that day.
2) Do you feel a pull all the way around a perfectly circular pedal strike?
If the answer is "no," ALWAYS add more resistance. We don't want any "blindspots" in our pedal strokes, points in the circular arc where the muscles are not engaged.
3) Are your pedal strokes fluid or choppy? If choppy, back off the resistance gradually until you feel fluidity return.
4) Are you bouncing or rocking up/down or side to side? If so, add resistance gradually until you feel the hips "quiet" down.

*#1 is sometimes tricky. For example, I may tell you that I want you to "feel like you can talk" at 70-75% of your max HR... but when you adjust the resistance to get there, your hips may start rocking. It's at that point where you engage the core muscles to stabilize your hips, gently add the resistance back on and use your breathing techniques to bring that heart rate down. I do this ALL the time, in order to keep my form perfect yet still be able to talk to you. If you try this and it does NOT work, come talk to me and we'll work it out together.
Form is the most important thing, always. If your heart rate rides slightly higher for a few extra minutes until you can strike a balance with your core/breathing, that is preferable to letting yourself rock/flop around on a climb.* Form is EVERYTHING. If you are not in the practice of at least occasionally choosing a bike near a mirror, I recommend that you try it. *During the 6 hour spin-a-thon I did yesterday in Rochester, I parked myself right next to the mirror so that I could fine-tune form allllllll day long - which I *never* get to do while I'm teaching (since I'm watching YOU!). It was such a treat to indulge in self-absorption. I know that we all have our "pet" go-to bikes... but even once in a while, I absolutely encourage you to sit as close as possible to mirrors. You'd be surprised how large a gap can sometimes exist between how our posture feels, and how it looks. Before I became an instructor, I used to have neck/shoulder pain every day... I thought it was because I carried a heavy, unbalanced (shoulder) bag. But it was really because of Spinning form: I always rode in the middle of the front row, right in front of my favorite instructor's bike. "My bike" became "my bike" because it was as close to this guy as possible - we used to race and feed off of each other's energy, and had a lot of fun. The problem was that I was shrugging my shoulders ever-so-slightly... I had NO idea (I didn't feel like I was shrugging), and this guy wasn't into form-checking. Riding beside a mirror changed EVERYTHING. Just try it... pay attention to every subtlety. Your body will thank you.


More excerpts from my Spintastic listserv postings off the old site - again, compiled by topic for your convenience.


Sooooo... it's the New Year. As many of you know, I am *obsessed* with the New Year, a time for sanctioned list-making and formalized goal-setting (mine get documented in a color-coded-by-category Publisher document -- no joke -- that I revisit every 6 months to see how I'm doing). If you're not already in the practice of periodic goal-setting and = evaluating (bothfitness-related and non-fitness related), consider it - and consider actually writing stuff down to hold yourself accountable. And if you're going to resolve to do a certain thing or be a certain way, try to attach a reason to it. Research on decision-making has shown that humans are conditioned to respond instinctively to the word "because." When something is followed by a "because," we go for it. So... instead of "I'm going to go to the gym 4x per week," make it "I'm going to go to the gym because I like the way my body feels afterwards." Reasons help those resolutions stick. And if you verbalize the reasons for the things you think you need to accomplish, you may be able to better focus on what you really want - and why. Fitness goals can be both specific ("I'm going to drink 2 liters of water every day -- so that I don't get lightheaded/nauseated") and general ("I'm going to have more energy -- so that I can do more things that I want to do") - whatever you want to set out to do. Just set out to do SOMETHING this year. If you have a goal (or goals), and reasons for those goals, you'll be much more motivated to create a healthy, balanced 2008 for yourself.

If you'd like to chat about your own goals or need help setting out on a training plan/schedule, just say the word. In case you need any suggestions of things to shoot for in the new year, allow me to make a few general suggestions of 2008 Fitness Life Upgrades:
*1) Get a heart rate monitor. *It'll change your life. You can quantify your improvements (i.e., how low your resting heart rate is; how quickly you recover after intense effort), and you can monitor exactly how hard you are working and when. The best way I've ever heard this described, by a Master Presenter for the Spinning program: *"Exercising without a heart rate monitor is like driving without an odometer." (*Can you imagine? "But Officer... it... felt like I was driving 40 mph...").* *For your convenience, *I have re-included the HR monitor links from one of my October postings, at the bottom of this email. *
*2) Drink more water*. In *addition* to your specific recommended daily water intake, you should be adding an additional 1 oz. of water for every 1 minute of exercise you do. For example, with a 40 minute spin ride, that's 40 EXTRA ounces of water - beyond what you would ordinarily consume. I'm absolutely guilty of insufficient hydration... but not in 2008 "because I have to set a good example".. and "because I'm tired of feeling wretched."
*3) Avoid overtraining. *
I've also re-included an excerpt from a previous posting on the frequency of exercise at various intensities. I am also absolutely guilty of this, especially now that I'm making a living at it. Keep in mind that competitive athletes - professional cyclists and beyond - do the bulk of their training aerobically, below 80% MHR. Not every workout is supposed to be "hardcore." Think about how energized you feel after those long endurance rides... not wiped out. They may not be as "fun," but they're the most important. That's where we build our aerobic base (the foundation for everything else), and perfect our form and technique. And if you do them correctly, they're just as much of a challenge as the hardest interval ride around. A different kind of challenge. *See below for previous mailing on Overtraining and tips for avoiding it.*
*4) Don't forget to stretch, strength-train... and recover*. Cardio is important, of course. But strength-training and flexibility-training are *just* as important components of fitness. As is recovery. Next week's post will be all about passive and active recovery, and how to make them work for you.



So, we've officially reached the time of year where we don't feel like waking up early or staying out late or going out of our way to exercise at all. "Ohhhhh... I'll wake up tomorrow." Tomorrow becomes the day after, which becomes a week later, which becomes two months later. Yes, it's cold. Yes, it's dark. Yes, it sucks to wake up early (I've been up at 5:30 am consecutively for the past 3 weeks, with no break... trust me, I know). But think about how good it feels 20 minutes later when you're proud of yourself for making it to [insert destination where physical activity takes place]. And think about how even better it feels an hour later when you're done with your workout! So this week, our first icky snowstorm of the season, let's make a promise that we're not going to let ourselves make excuses. I'm not saying you need to wake up at 5:30am every day and ride with me... you don't have to ride, ever. Just do SOMETHING to keep moving - because you're going to be so proud of yourself when it's over. Just do it.

At my end, tonight I'm officially plugging in my sunlamp. 'Tis also the season for the onset of seasonally affected gloominess for a lot of people who are sensitive to the lack of sunlight, myself included. I've got this really cool sunlamp that gradually turns itself on a half hour before my alarm goes off, so it genuinely feels like I'm waking up with the sun... even at 5am. If anyone thinks that Seasonal Affected Disorder (SAD) may be an issue for them and would like more information, please feel free to ask.


Heart Rate Training & HR Monitors

Excerpts from my Spintastic listserv mailings of yesteryear... compiled by topic, for your convenience.


Here are some warning signs that you may be overtraining:
1) Constant fatigue
2) Changes in sleep patterns
3) Irritability
4) Frequent illness/infection
5) Sugar cravings
6) Elevated resting heart rate

If that looks familiar, it's even more important to focus on building (or rebuilding) that aerobic base - specifically, staying below 80% max hr with NO exceptions - for a straight, consistent 4-8 weeks. If you want to do this right, get a monitor! (I often bring my extra one to classes as a conversion tool - ask to borrow it for a taste of just how enlightening it is). If you're still not sold, you can do a bit of guesswork: 80% is that "comfortably uncomfortable" point I talk about in class - can't talk much, but no burning in your legs.

"But if I stay below 80%, I'm not getting a good workout!" I hear that often. It's just plain wrong. You are getting a fantastic workout, and an important one. Here's what happens when you stay below that burn point:
1) Increase size/strength of your left ventricle of the heart, the part that pumps blood to the whole body
2) Increase blood volume pumped throughout the body
3) Increase fat metabolism - burn fat instead of stored muscle glycogen
4) Increase capillary density around working muscles - so more oxygen can be exchanged, and it's easier to stay aerobic... a circular pattern that keeps these benefits flyin'
5) Increased lactate threshold (the point where you switch from aerobic to anaerobic training)
6) Boosted immune function
7) Decreased blood pressure

Good stuff, right?


This has been the best week EVER. Not only did I get my first med school interview invite but 15+ different people in my classes asked me about getting heart rate monitors! Best thing ever. Riding with a HR monitor will literally revolutionize your training. Among MANY other benefits, you'll be able to:
* Observe your progress in recovery time and increased lactate threshold (how high your HR goes before you leave the aerobic training zone)
* Balance your weekly training schedule to cycle between high intensity and more moderate intensity rides
* Meet whatever your fitness goals happen to be - whether it be weight loss, building cardiovascular endurance and/or strength, etc. (I'm happy to discuss a training plan with anyone interested in where their HR ranges should be, depending on your goal).

Amazon.com typically has great deals. I recommend anything by Polar with a chest strap model. Cheapest, lowest frills: Polar FS2
Next step up: Polar F4
One step higher: Polar F6

If you train in "close quarters" with other HRM users (i.e., Spinning classes with lots of beeping watches), I recommend at least the F4 (if not the F6) to prevent cross-feeding heart rate signals.


I am thrilled at the recent surge of HR monitor converts! I come home every day and report to my boyfriend about all the new HR monitor-wearers who came to me to get their new ife-upgrades set up. It's seriously my favorite thing in the entire world. My second-favorite thing in the world is when people get cycling shoes. But that's for another post…


As Master Instructor Iona Passik says, "our hearts are the most important muscle in the body – and one that we cannot see!" Brilliant observation, really -- so true. The HR monitor is our only mechanism for observing our most important muscle, observing when it is strong, observing when it's not doing too hot, and observing its improvements over time. You can get a decent basic-function one for less than 50 bucks (ask me for shopping help! I look at web links students send me all the time…). For those of you who have never seen one, it's a light strap you wear around your chest, with a wrist watch that reads from the transmitter strap.

Without a HRM, you're going on perceived exertion – and perceived exertion is totally fallible. For example, I rode today at what I thought was REALLY REALLY hard effort (burning, pain, the whole nine yards). Looked down at my monitor: 118 bpm. Seriously. I wasn't working at all. This happens ALL the time.

Step 1: Open box. Strap on transmitter.
Step 2: Gasp in shock that your HR is through the roof, even when you don't
think you're working that hard.
Step 3: After you chat with me, you discipline yourself to spend the next 4-8 weeks remaining completely below 80% max HR. You slow down your pace. You stay in the seat for most of the ride, no matter what the class is doing.
Step 4: You complain to me that you're bored, you feel like you're not working hard, you're miserable. You miss pushing really hard and getting that endorphin surge.
Step 5: After 4-8 weeks, you have so greatly re-built your aerobic base that you find that you actually need to push HARDER with MORE resistance to hit that even that 80% aerobic barrier than you were using when you thought you were going "all out."

This is called *adaptation*. When we let the body work in the heart rate zones that it's supposed to work at, it gets damned good at it. It just requires a little bit of patience – an investment at the front end – to be able to get to that point.


Everything we do in HR training relies on taking percentages of our "max HR" – i.e., below 80% MHR is aerobic training. The problem is that most of us do not know our max HR!

Since it is the anchor point for *all *of our training, we at least need to take an estimate. We can do that in one of four ways: (1) actually get it measured in a laboratory setting (best way, but costly and inconvenient); (2) lactate field test (very good way, but requires a lot of self discipline); (3) sub-max HR test (pretty good way, requires a bit of self-discipline); and (4) age-predicted calculations (not ideal, but better than nothing!)

Of these, I will walk you through the ones we can do ourselves. *All of these should be done when we feel rested, and have not engaged in intense anaerobic exercise (both Spinning and non-Spinning – anything above 85% MHR – any BURNING!) in 24 hours.*

*1) Foster Sub-Max HR Test (developed by Carl Foster, Ph.D.)*

* **I have modified the descriptions to make more sense than I think the actual Foster scale instructions read:*

Step 1: Warm-up adequately for 5-10 mins
Step 2: Get yourself to 120 bpm. Recite the Pledge of Allegiance out loud.
* Ask yourself: Can you speak COMFORTABLY? "Yes" or "Uncertain"*
Step 3: Increase your exercise effort to raise your heart rate by 10 bpm (i.e., 130 bpm)
After 90 seconds, recite the pledge of allegiance out loud.
*Ask yourself: Can you speak COMFORTABLY? "Yes" or "Uncertain"*
Step 4: Repeat this every two minutes until your answer is "Uncertain." *Record your HR (in bpm) at the point where you answered "Uncertain."* **

Step 5: Cool down adequately for 5-10 minutes
Step 6: Calculations/mathematical adjustments:
If you are in poor shape, add 50 bpm
If you are in average shape, add 40 bpm
If you are in excellent shape, add 30 bpm
If you are in competitive athletic shape, add 20 bpm.

Step 7: *Arrive at your calculated estimated maximum heart rate*.
This is the number we then multiply by 70%, 80%, 85%, etc. for our various
training zones.

*2) Lactate Field Test* ***Requires a HR monitor that records average HR!*

Step 1: Warm up adequately for 20 minutes.

Step 2: Get on a tough seated climb. Accelerate until you are pedaling as fast as you can while sustaining that resistance, keeping all your weight toward the very back of the seat. NO BOUNCING. If you're bouncing in the seat, slow down. Think: MAX EFFORT WITHOUT BOUNCING. *Start your HR monitor.*

Step 3: Hold this for 30 minutes. Yes, 30 minutes! *Stop your HR monitor*.

Step 4: Look at what the HR monitor reports as Average HR. That is your field-measured 85% MHR value (otherwise known as "Lactate Threshold" – when we start to go anaerobic). If we then want to reverse-calculate your max (to then calculate the other percentage numbers), take Lactate Threshold divided by 0.85 = Max HR. Then we can work with that number further.

*3) Age-Predicted… with a new twist that I just learned today!*
You've heard me (or others) talk about age-predicted Max HR values. In the
fitness world, we use the age-predictive formulae as follows:
For men: 220 – age = Max HR (then we multiply by percentages)
For women: 226 – age = Max HR

This of course does not account for fitness conditioning level, body composition (fat vs. muscle), or the phase of the moon. It's just a starting point, when we have nothing better.

There's a standard reference chart where one can find their age and then see all their percentages pre-calculated. I have the one for men posted on my website, http://spintastic.googlegroups.com/ under "Features." Women are a bit different, since it's based on 226, not 220 – age.

I took a Spin instructor continuing education workshop today and learned the COOLEST trick ever in the entire world, to adjust the numbers to make them more accurate.

I'd like to credit NYSC instructor (and Master Spinning Instructor) Iona Passik for this absolutely friggin' brilliant amazing technique. I'm obsessed with it, and I want to do it for all of you who have HR monitors. And it's just so amazing that the rest of you NEED to go out and get HR monitors, *just* so that I can do this for you (in addition to that whole "change your life" thing).

Here's how it works. You tell me the highest HR number you've ever seen on a HR monitor during what you call your most intense, ridiculous over-the-top effort. I ask you if you felt like your heart was going to explode out of your chest and you were going to throw up. I add 5-10 bpm to that, perhaps a few beats more if you tell me that you didn't feel like you were seriously going to be sick. That imagery is *fantastic* to recall that feeling of feeling utterly maxed out. We don't do that in spin classes – we don't go higher than 92% in our classes. That's why I add a few points higher. I've been there. For me, it's 198 bpm and I've had it on psychotic explosive runs (when someone else is teaching, of course. I never run at max effort with you guys… I can't talk at 198 bpm!).

We call that your max HR. We then find that number on the standard reference chart, regardless of what age that number is associated with, and read off the other pre-calculated numbers. Starting tomorrow, I am bringing these charts with me to every single class I teach.

*If you have a HR monitor and need help calculating (or re-calculating) your heart rate percentages** per this estimated max HR, PLEASE COME TALK TO ME. I'm seriously so excited to do this for all of you. I'll spit out your numbers to have in front of you, and it'll be fantastic. *

From my previous posting from Dec 16th:
*Overtraining is NOT reflective of frequency of exercise - it's reflective of intensity. The Spinning program was actually designed to be done 7 days a week... but properly distributed by HR range:
1-3 days Endurance: 65-80% max HR
1-2 days Strength 75-85% MHR
*1 day Interval*: 65-92% MHR
1 day Recovery (or completely off from cardio exercise): 55-65% MHR

See that? One day a week when you're going "all out" - that's it! For many of you, you're doing 92% far more often than that. Overtraining is totally counterproductive. I did it for years, prior to commencing training with a hr monitor. So let's just... not.

Here are some warning signs that you may
be overtraining:
1) Constant fatigue
2) Changes in sleep patterns
3) Irritability
4) Frequent illness/infection
5) Sugar cravings
6) Elevated resting heart rate**

*If you train particularly hard on a given day* *(see also: ANYONE who took my class at 41st/3rd this morning…)*, active recovery rides (nice and easy, low HR, work on form, smoothness of pedal strokes, relaxation) or passive (completely off from exercise)* recovery* *days should follow the day after.

Why do we do Endurance work?

Because when we stay below 80% MHR, we burn fat the entire time... as soon as we cross that, we're burning sugar - not fat.
What happens when we don't do Endurance work?
When we train above 80% MHR without having established an "aerobic base" (accomplished for most people by staying below that mark for at least 8-12 weeks - without exception!), we teach the body to *prefer *to burn sugar all the time... instead of fat.
What happens when we burn sugar, instead of fat, for sustained periods of time?
We eat more. Our appetites are ravenous. We get fatigued... if not immediately after exercise, then we can almost certainly expect to crash at some point later in the day. We are prone to injury, compromised immune systems. We are irritable, anxious, and moody.
So why do we LOVE aerobic base-building work, through Endurance training?
Our bodies learn to accommodate greater effort (more resistance, faster speed, etc) -- and thus burn more calories -- while REMAINING aerobic... and thus, burning fat (not sugar) even at that greater effort!
How do we know when our heart rates are below 80% MHR? Can we just "feel"
Uh, sure, go ahead... but you'll be wrong. BUY A HR MONITOR. Check out my archives for links to cheap, good ones on Amazon.com. I'll help you set it up, and it'll change your life.
Does this apply only to Spinning?
Absolutely not! This applies to ALL of our training. When you're base-building, staying below 80% MHR is a requirement throughout EVERYTHING you do. Wear your HR monitor during everything... it's fascinating to see how your heart responds differently to different challenges. For example, I've recently taken up kickboxing as a cross-training mechanism (SO important for one's body to cross-train... not just when you're teaching 16-18 Spin classes a week, either!) -- turns out that, for me, kickboxing is the PERFECT aerobic exercise for me. I don't have to discipline myself to control my HR at all -- I'm square between 65-80% MHR the entire time with no special effort (whereas to remain in that zone on a bike, at times, takes
a lot of control) -- so, perfect base-building activity! So, wear your HRM and experiment to find what works for your body!
Did I have any intention of creating this Q&A list?
No. I'm just ranting now... I'm done. I definitely encourage you to visit the Spintastic homepage (link above) and read through the archives. I've written a ton over the past few months about the merits of training by heart rate.


Now let's chat about Periodization -- a training concept that requires a great deal of discipline and planning, but from which we can derive a rich host of rewards. As an overview, periodization is the concept of dividing the calendar year into different "periods" where we focus on different types of training - recovery, aerobic base-building, cardiovascular strength development, and anaerobic training. Research has shown that this is the most effective way to train for athletes -- which you all are -- of all conditioning levels.

I initially became acquainted with Periodization whilst preparing for my advanced Spinning certification last year - and I started on this training path (and truly started to see its effects in my own fitness!) then got distracted when I quit my day job and started teaching so much. I always wished that I could somehow adjust my life to be able to commit to it - and I've even successfully started a few of you on a periodization plan as you've begun to get HR monitors. Well, now I'm doing it, too! Starting tomorrow. I welcome you to do it with me!

Here's how it works, as an average plan based on a 6 or 7 day training week (not just Spinning - ANY cardio, this applies to). If you're interested, I will be happy to tweak this for you to your own time-availabilities and needs.

*- 4-5x cardio sessions per week - 50-80% MHR
- Every 2 weeks, try to ride a bit longer... arrive to class 15 or 20 minute early to make it a full hour (1-3 hours is what we're shooting for), all below 80% MHR

- 2-3x/week: 75-85% (don't drop below 75% either!)
- 2-3x/week: 50-75%
- Every 2 weeks, as above, 1-3 hours all below 80% MHR

- 1-2x/week: 85-92% MHR intervals (~ 80% inbetween... remember, this is just ONCE per week)
- 2-3x/week - 50-80% MHR
- Note that we exercise fewer times per week during these two weeks

- Either "active" (train between 50-65% for the entire two weeks)
or "passive" (off all-together).
- I swear to you, you will not lose your fitness. I had to do this after my surgery over the summer, and I didn't lose an ounce of what I'd gained in my training before surgery.

You can repeat the cycle just as above - 8 weeks base-building, 4 weeks strength, 3 weeks anaerobic focus, 2 weeks rest. Or, you can do what is called "microperiodization" - where we shorten each phase as follows:
*4 weeks: micro-aerobic & strength combined
*- 2-3x/week: 50-80%
- 2-3x/week - 75-85%
- Every 2 weeks, like before, 1-3 hours <80%>

*3 weeks: micro-anaerobic*
- 1-2x week/ 85-92% intervals
- 2-3x/wk - 50-80%
*2 weeks: rest*
.... then repeat the micro-periodization cycle all over again

Micro-periodization is not effective until you've completed the first cycle with the full base-building period. I know, it sounds rough. But it works. And your body will thank you for it for the rest of your life.

If you feel like reading more, here's an article written by Johnny Goldberg ("Johnny G")- founder of the Spinning program:*
*Just to clarify some of the terms he uses: The Spinning program uses "Energy Zones" to correspond with different HR ranges. When Goldberg refers to the "Endurance Energy Zone," he means " staying under 80% MHR the whole time."


Remember, to be able to get the effect of what I've been promising you about staying below 80% MHR (re-setting the body to prefer fat-burning over sugar-burning) for 8 weeks, there can be NO exceptions (on the bike or off the bike!) -- no matter how good it feels to rip into that explosive sprint or monster climb out of the saddle. *8 weeks of pure discipline.* Adaptation will occur -- but only if you truly commit to it. To that end, I am starting over tomorrow. Not allowed to cross 80% MHR until May 13, and that's final. Do let me know if you want to start with me, and I'll do my best to personally discipline you to stay on-track. Science works... if you
don't obstruct it!

When we train anaerobically before building that aerobic base, we actually teach the body to *prefer* burning glucose instead of fat. *This leads to sugar cravings, irritability, fatigue, sleep problems, and all sorts of other bad stuff.

So, we've got to build that aerobic base. We just have to.



Hope your 2008 is off to a fantastic start -- at *least* as fantastic as mine (on Thursday, I was officially accepted to medical school! Ahhhh!).

I'd like to begin this week's posting with two comments from students this week that really struck me:*
1) "I can't keep my heart rate down and do what all the instructors tell me to do!"
2) "I can't be over-training... I *only* spin 4 times a week... and besides, I haven't lost any weight."*

I'll take them one at a time.

*1) "I can't keep my heart rate down and do what all the instructors tell me to do!"
*The Spinning program was founded upon the belief that training is personal and individualized, with riders modifying in both speed and resistance according to their a) fitness levels; b) training program/schedule; c) any other reason they damn well please.

Right now, commit to a training schedule. *Always be "in training" for something*. It doesn't have to be a Century or an Iron Man. You can be "in training" to improve your energy level through an average day. What are your goals? If you've been away from regular cardiovascular exercise for awhile, it's a good idea to aim to build a solid aerobic base. To do that, you need 4-8 weeks of PURELY aerobic effort - that is, staying below 80% of your max heart rate for your ENTIRE course of exercise (whether that be on a spin bike, a treadmill, or whatever else you're doing). *Any time you exceed 80% during your aerobic base-building period, you counteract any progress you've made.* So commit to it.

Give yourself permission to accept that you know your body better than anyone else. If you're climbing steady, even hills at 75-80% for 30 minutes and then, BAM, your instructor (myself included) throws in a full-throttle push.... even a short one.... *don't do it*. Modify your effort. If you're in an aerobic base-building period (*which *all* new Spinners should be... and many seasoned riders as well!)*, and I coach you through those six 30-second accelerations to Kelly Clarkson and Pink at the end of a ride... *don't do it*. That 3.5 minute speed run to the finish line? Slow it down. *This isn't my ride; it's yours.* *Once you get your heart-rate monitor and can properly gauge where you are, commit to your training program and stick with it.

*Many of my students approach me before class and tell me things like, "Hey, just so that you know, I'm going for Endurance today... didn't want you to think I was ignoring you!" Nothing makes me happier in the world to hear stuff like that. That's *fantastic* when people have HR parameter goals carved out for themselves. *** If you want me to set you up with a plan for your training week/month/year*, I'd be happy to do so -- but you have to stick with it..*. *even if it's tempting to go all-out sometimes. *

You will be happy, later, that you did this. *When I first started wearing a HR monitor years before I became a certified instructor, I was shocked that I was averaging 95% MHR effort during what I thought were "easier" rides. I was further shocked to see that I could not stay below 80% anytime I got out of the seat -- no runs, no standing climbs, no jumps. I stayed in that seat. To give myself a challenge, I'd increase the resistance as much as I could while remaining aerobic -- and it was a completely different ride I was on than that my instructor was coaching. But that's what I needed then. After 1-2 months of aerobic base-building, you'll be able to do all of those runs, standing climbs, jumps, etc. at 80% MHR. And those seated climbs you plowed through? Those will be your recharges.

*2) "I can't be over-training... I *only* spin 4 times a week... and besides, I haven't lost any weight." *
Remember, over-training is not only a function of frequency of exercise! It is also a function of intensity. Even if you train three times a week - but you're pushing so hard to the point of post-exercise exhaustion (because you think that compensates for working out fewer days per week) - you run the risk of over-training. *Elite competitive cyclists do the majority of their training between 60-75% MHR for endurance, advancing to 85% a few days per week for a short period of their competitive year to build cardiovascular strength and get their anaerobic system geared up, then up to max effort leading right up and through Race Day*. *Why would we work harder than competitive cyclists?
As for this student's remark about "not losing weight," this is precisely *because* she was pushing so hard. *We do not burn much fat during anaerobic training. If your legs are burning, you are not burning fat as your primary source of fuel.

I'd also like to take this time to re-introduce the concept of proper Recovery. *Recovery can be both passive (total rest, taking a day off) and active (riding at 50-65% max heart rate with light speed and juuuuuuust enough resistance to feel that pull in the back of your leg).* Those active recovery rides can be quite energizing, indeed -- and it's actually quite effective in flushing out accumulated lactic acid from the body and improving oxygen circulation to tired muscles, ligaments and tendons.

Active Recovery is my new "thing" for 2008, now that I'm teaching so much but don't like to coach off the bike for full classes at a time. I encourage you to join me whenever you want. Just chill out.



Hi everyone!

I am in the process of converting Spintastic's home to Blogger (a trickier process than anticipated...). Please bear with me!

In the meantime, please visit the still-active Spintastic page at http://spintastic.googlegroups.com/
for my permanent & sub classes, as well as a host of informative resources to help you make the most of your ride!

Questions/comments, feel free to email me at melspin@gmail.com!