*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.

Monday, January 12, 2009

The Rewards of Recovery

One of the things I'm worst at in this world is staying away from the bike. For those of you who have been riding with me a while, you've absolutely witnessed how utterly atrocious I am at what is a seemingly simple concept.

I coach off the bike ALL the time -- always moreso than I ride (as was required for someone teaching 21 Spinning classes a week during my last year in NYC) -- and relish the opportunity to walk around the room to facilitate individual connections. But when it comes to staying 100% away from this instrument where I feel most natural and at peace in the world...? I suck at it.

When I had my hernia surgery, I *had* to sit in the saddle to demonstrate proper upper body form. When I tore my psoas, I *had* to join you for my "favorite" (every) part to the top of that "best-ever" (every) empowered climb. When I hit MHR while coaching "Be It. Own It. Control It." and vowed to stay 5 feet away from a bike for the next 48 hours -- and even showed up in clunky snow boots so as to physically inhibit my ability to ride... or when I wore full-out street clothes to my class before our 6-hour overnight ride at Grand Central Station last year -- yeah, guess what happened?

As I wrote about last week, I started 2009 with an independent, introspective enjoyment of my own company and thoughtful new goal setting -- a most powerful experience on which I based an entire ride (that I get to do again tomorrow, in fact, with my Burlington crowd!). I had a fantastic opportunity to close out 2008, over my 2-week break from medical school, immersing myself in My Former Life in NYC (including 32 of my former Spinning classes, most of which I spent in the saddle -- which was totally irresponsible regardless of how low I kept my heart rate, given my newly deconditioned life!). What I did *NOT* write about last week was how I closed out 2008 with my heart waking me up in the middle of the night with palpitations and all-out refusing to help me climb subway steps, and a week-long headache. Ironically fitting for 2008: my year of The Great Crusade Against the Overtraining of the Masses, while every day perpetuating it myself.

I saw this first full week of 2009 as a defining moment. A defining moment in my training and wellness. A defining moment as a coach, practicing what I preach.

What better way to set the tone for the whole year ahead than by investing in myself in a way that I encourage SO many people to do... and yet have never, ever done myself?

I took a passive recovery week. Yes, 7 whole days where I, by and large, did not do a blessed thing. I mean NOT a blessed thing. I didn't pick up a dumbbell. I didn't do a single crunch. And I certainly did not touch a bike (it's helpful that Triumph does not come out in inclement weather -- see also: November - April here; but I didn't touch Giacco, my Spinner, either!). I parked a few extra steps farther from school to get some extra time in the frigidity, and liked those extra steps. I stretched lightly a few times after climbing the steps in my condo. I foam-rolled a few times, just because it's my favorite life activity. But other than that? Nope.

Instead, I slept 8 hours a night. I ate well, consistent with my specific needs for fuel. This evasive state of pure restfulness and rebuilding that I have avoided for the better part of my adult life -- it was mine.

And it was amazing.

Over the years, both competitive and recreational athletes alike have come to me with complaints suggestive of overtraining. Just some examples of the many ways overtraining presents:
Can't get your heart rate up?
Can't get your heart rate down?
Tired all the time?
Trouble sleeping?
Trouble concentrating?
Remembering stuff your friends and significant others tell you?
Remembering stuff at work?
Hungry all the time?
Irritable and cranky?

I make it a major Life Priority to educate people about even the unconventional signs of overtraining, and what to do about it. The first time I appreciated, for example, that I was overtrained (looooong before I became a fitness coach) was triggered because my brain kept shutting down at work. I couldn't concentrate or remember things. I wasn't able to be creative. I was frazzled all the time. I'd been "working out" 6 days a week, taking Spinning classes 3-4x a week. Hadn't lost a pound, and was actually starting to gain. When I got a cheap, no-frills heart rate monitor and educated myself about proper training, I not only lost 40 lbs (no joke -- I posted photos within my "How to Become a Fat-Burning Machine" post during the Summer 2008 Theme Scheme) but was also able to regulate my mood and cognitive abilities. I started having original thoughts again... and could actually remember them for longer than 5 seconds. Amazing. All by incorporating specific heart rate parameters and specific purposes -- transforming "workouts" to "training sessions" -- and by adding in the recovery that my body really needed.

Now as a coach, I suggest to people describing these (and other) manifestations of overtraining that they at least CONSIDER incorporating not only active recovery (which many people also do not do enough of -- working veeeeeeeeery lightly, 50-65% MHR, to promote muscle repair and increased circulation) but total passive recovery (completely OFF). I remind them that elite athletes incorporate this into their periodized training schedules -- that's a GREAT thing. And yet, people balk. They're scared. They're afraid they're going to gain weight, going to lose their conditioning. That they will undo their YEARS of working "so hard" (note: this is part of the problem). That they'll become basketcases with no alternative coping mechanisms to counteract the physiological stress response (though maybe they don't exaaaaactly express that fear that way...).

I always assure them that this is not the case, with proper education and planning. Citing literature, citing famous examples of accomplished athletes' training schedules, citing everything I can imagine under the sun -- and yet, that fear often still carries the day for many people.
So that's why I'm writing...

From Sunday, January 4 11:49AM until Monday, January 11 at 12:49PM, yours truly sat still and looked at beautiful mountains (and hematology textbooks).

And here's what happened:
1) My resting heart rate dropped 7 beats!
2) I lost 2 lbs
3) My blood pressure dropped markedly

And while I didn't do any pre- and post-test assessments (but should have, for argument's sake), I notice subjective improvements as well.
4) I focus and pay attention better... and actually remember the stuff to which I attend -- while in class, while conversing, even while driving.

And when I returned to the wonderfulness of movement today, it was so refreshing! 45 minutes on an elliptical trainer, 65-70% MHR almost all of it. I did a few surges to 80% to test my heart's response to such challenges (mostly so that I could blog about it, actually) and -- not at all surprisingly -- my recovery rate has improved by 50%. Crazy.

I'm not telling you this for a pat on the head. I'm telling you this because I believe that one of my purposes in this world is to help people identify when overtraining is happening, and to spread the word about how to combat and prevent it.

Comments welcome on your own experiences with combating overtraining and experiences with the rewards of recovery! There is street cred in numbers.

My Burlington classes resume tomorrow, which means the return of new profiles. I've never done a sequel before, and thought it'd be interesting to try... if nothing else. Since I'm doing the New Year's Ride tomorrow (I was with my NYC classes, so these folks haven't ridden this yet... so stoked to get to do it again!), Thursday will be Part II. No killer title yet (or a profile, in fact...), but the theme: Anticipating and Preparing for Challenges. I'll post the profile over the weekend.

First, to put my newfound attentional and memory abilities to the test...


Let's Ride! said...

You are an awesome writer! Thanks for this post. I need to be reminded about recovery over and over again.

I was forced to take some time off back in September for minor knee surgery and discovered for myself that proper recovery is necessary for fitness gains! I'm still trying to get out of the old mentality that harder is better. I tell my class that gains are not made in the gym, but during recovery, but fail to take my own advice. Now that you mention what happened after your recovery, I look back and see that the same happened to me. My blood pressure dropped from borderline high to normal, and my resting HR went down about 5-6 beats (to 44 last check) Now that you mentioned it, my mood was better and I could focus at work better too. I knew I was tired and groggy, but I never thought overtraining would cause cognitive problems.

If I'm ever in NYC or Burlington, I would love to take your class. Thanks for taking time to write again in 2009. Just found your blog but I would love to continue to follow it. You have alot to offer.

Melissa Marotta said...

Thanks so much, Charles (not to freak you out -- that came from your user profile!), for such a thoughtful response. That meant a lot to me.

Our mutual struggle is alllll too common. You've actually just inspired me to write another post on overtraining - probably next week - about the general lack of awareness. I've been underwhelmed by how little medical professionals are trained in screening for overtraining (and I certainly am not being taught about it, as a medical student). It's disappointing that there is a myth of "if you exercise, you're doin' everything right." If many doctors don't know better, what does that say? Point is: we're contributing a great deal by educating our classes about working smarter/more efficiently (and of the long list of benefits for doing so) -- but, as you said, it's so hard to listen to our own advice.

A couple of extra pseudo-mantras to throw out there, in case they're helpful: When I started my former life chapter as a full-time cycling coach (it had always been a side job to supplement a day gig), a colleague made the analogy of my body now being my office -- and that my job was to keep my office in the best condition possible. Just as one wouldn't trash his or her office, no matter how convenient it is to make a big ol' mess, so is the same here. What worked better (for me) was devoting more and more of my classes to themes that I'd try to "legislate" as new life policies for myself -- self-discipline for endurance training and its application to the rest of life, that sort of thing. But it sounds like those fantastic improvements in your BP and RHR are tremendous reinforcements in their own right -- congratulations!

Thanks again for writing - it's comments like yours that keep me inspired to keep writing myself!

Let's Ride! said...

I've tried twice to respond to your comment twice from my blackberry and have somehow managed to delete both so I'll try again from my laptop.

I'll try to make this short cause I realize these are suppose to be comments not novels. I have worked with phycicians and medical professional for 8 years now and you are so right about the lack of understanding of the benefits of fitness and recovery. I think we do a good job of giving this area of patient care "lip service" but unfortunately, due to some complex variables that would take too long to discuss on this post, end up taking the easy way out by prescribing a pill or some sort of expensive proceedure or device that will seem to make things better. IMO, you are going to be a breath of fresh air in a profession that has some huge challenges. Just by reading your blog, I think you are in it for all the right reasons. IMO, you seem to have an awesome perspective when it comes to health and fitness and this will be extremely valuable when you start practicing medicine. I think you can definately leverage your experience in coaching/cycling/spin to make you a better doctor. I love your blog about your practice patient. The old guy with nothing on but a robe and a smile. Too funny, but I loved the part about trust! You are so right. What an awesome responsiblity you have!

Lastly, what's up with people NOT commmeting on your blog? You are a gifted writer with some valuable insight when it comes to cycling and fitness. Where are all these people that attend your classes? They are missing out. I found your blog thru Jennifer Sage's site. How good is she? Forgive me for going on and on. Who knows, maybe I'll be inspired to start my own blog.

Melissa Marotta said...

Thanks so much for such kind and encouraging words! It's funny how humbling it is when people actually pay such close attention to the way you express yourself, and actually take away something meaningful from it. I never expected that when I started blogging. To that end, I think your idea of experimenting with your own blog sounds FANTASTIC. Like I wrote in my first New Year's post (not the one with the ride profile), it was actually blogging that I think triggered my evolution from "instructor" to "coach." Processing experiences in real time to make them "share-able," wielding words with precision... I, at least, find those responsibilities motivating. Go for it!

Jennifer and her blog are indeed awesome. And your comment about lack of commenting actually inspired me to leave my very first comment on hers. I was guilty of what I'd imagine explains the lack of comments on mine - people read, nod, and get back to their lives. Thanks for prompting me ;-)

KalaSpins said...

Ah, the art of recovery. It feels so good. I'm glad that you took it! I took a semi-break over the holidays (I teach at a university so I didn't have any Spin classes) and now that I'm back into the swing of things again, I feel so much more motivated and excited to teach and get back to the gym. Of course, that could be the few pounds I added on talking, but you know what? I feel great anyway!

Melissa Marotta said...

Thanks for writing, Kala!
That's awesome that you've found that taking the time to rest and rebuild has not only made you physically feel better, but has rejuvenated your energy to bring back to your riders. Protecting yourself from burnout - one recovery day at a time...