*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, 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.