*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, 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.


Saturday, July 5, 2008

The New Love of My Life

Meet Triumph, the most studly bike in existence. Don't you *ADORE* him?

I named him after one of my favorite rides ever -- a ride we'll actually be dusting off and taking down from the shelves this week for Week 6's theme: "ENDURANCE DOESN'T HAVE TO BE BORING."

<<--- Say hello to Triumph when you see him! He likes to be stroked behind the ears and told that he's pretty (hey, who doesn't?). He's more of a validation junkie than me...

Upper body form, revisited

As a general life policy, I consider it a top priority to help people learn from my mistakes. As many of you witnessed, I took a bad spill off the new love my life (Triumph, the most studly bike who ever lived). I was en route to teach a class on Wednesday night, coming out of Central Park through a path covered in horse excrement. Not wanting Triumph's new tires to get disgusting, I looked down at the ground below me -- instead of "slightly ahead of (me) on the ground" as I coach YOU guys to keep your heads -- and BAM! Missed a rock and went flying.

Here's why we want to keep our "heads lined up with our spines -- looking down but slightly ahead of you on the ground" (as I always say):

I don't know if this photo truly captures the magnitude of my injury, but it was a bloody, disgusting mess -- and I'd very much like for you guys not to repeat my mistake!

<--- *POUT* for bad upper body posture
But three cheers for wearing helmets and HR monitors!

OTHER POINTS ABOUT UPPER BODY POSTURE -- little mantras I hope you can repeat to yourself periodically as you ride:

1) Head/neck
* "Chin off the chest*
* "Gentle space between the chin the shoulders"
* "Head lined up with your spine -- straight line*
* "If you hang your 14 lb. head, you will be cutting off your airway and causing neck and head pain all day long. We hate that."

[*NEW* Tip from a fellow Spinner, Yen Cheong:
"I find one thing that helps my upper-body form (and form in general, I guess), is riding in front of the mirror so I can see myself.... the mirror reminds me to keep my head up and drop my shoulders."

ABSOLUTELY. I personally prefer to ride next to mirrors (as opposed to facing one). Ideally, I can position myself for side and front views... but if I have to pick, side view is more helpful to keeping my head/neck lined up, shoulders back and down, and smooth slope to the back...]

2) Shoulders
* "shoulders rolled back and all the way down"
* "drop the shoulders"
* "retract the shoulders -- pull 'em back"

3) Back
* "as close to a flat back with a smooth slope as possible WITHOUT STIFFENING"
* "smooth slope connecting head, neck, and back"
* "shoulder blades broaden with every inhalation"
* "lower back contracting and relaxing with every breath"
* "always moving, never static"

4) Hands
* in Hand Position #1 (seated, fingers connected at center of handlebar), Hand Position #2 (seated or standing run, hands spread wider on the horizontal part of the handlebar), or Hand Position #3 (standing climb *ONLY* - hands at the top of the handlebars, gripped as cups around the side with thumbs over the top of the handlebar like bullhorns).

If I leave you with NOTHING else, let it be this:
>> There is no Hand Position 2 1/2.

It's 2 or 3. That's it. No grabbing the handlebar halfway towards the top. You will be leaning, always - the geometry of the bike makes it so.

>> We do not use Hand Position 3 while seated.
Spinning bikes are road bikes with fixed gears. Road bikes have what is called a "laid-back geometry" in that their angles are directed backwards. There is no such thing as an "aggressive" posture on a road bike. "Aggressive," as it is called, is a time-trial/triathlon term because those sports use DIFFERENT bikes. On a road bike, if you extend your arms out, you inhibit your ability to breathe by compressing the abdomen. Forget it. If a Spinning instructor calls for hands out at the ends while seated, ignore him or her. It is unsafe and totally contraindicated.
We do not use overhand grips in Hand Position 3. You will be leaning on the bike, forcing you to treat the bike like this big cardio machine like a Stairmaster -- you will never have as smooth, elegant pedal stroke. Wrap your hands around the sides, *thumbs* over the top.

"Light touch on the handlebars. Any time you tense up the grip, you use energy to contract those hand and arm muscles... you rob your legs of energy! Spinning is not an upper body exercise."
* Meaty parts of the hands lightly touching the handlebars. More than the fingertips -- meaty party of the hand.
* "Thumbs lined up with wrists" to make sure no tension/learning
Forearms contact neither the bars nor the towels laying over the bars - totally un-involved. After all, they're called "hand-lebars" not "forearm-lebars"

Ride on... and don't trip over rocks ;-)