*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, January 25, 2009

The Ride that Never Gets Old.

One of my New Year's resolution "concepts" was that if I find myself lapsing into a bad, energy-draining habit, that I am supposed to replace it immediately with something energy-boosting. I'm not going to lie: I have my share of terribly energy-draining habits, far worse than the one I'll now describe. But one that I've been trying to deal with once and for all is my AWFUL procrastination tendencies. I've analyzed them over and over and over and over and over again -- and what I've come down to is that, for me, procrastination is a self-handicapping mechanism. If I think I don't have access to the tangible and intangible resources (including the "perfect" energy or mood) to do the best job ever in the whole world, I simply don't attempt the job.

I did a few mild- to moderately AWESOME rides over the past few weeks that I've meant to write up for my "Coach Yourself Corner" of do-it-yourself training sessions, the feature I added to Spintastic over the summer designed for my riders, the original audience of this blog. Over the past few months, I've come to appreciate that some indoor cycling instructors have started to read this thing -- which humbles and thrills me but also inspires me to internalize a lot of pressure to, as I just described, "do the best job ever in the whole world." If I don't have the perfect amount of free time, the perfect environment, the perfect attention span... I just don't write. Cue: BAD HABIT. MUST REPLACE.

Truth be told, I don't have the perfect set of resources available to me at this present moment to write about my rides in "Coach Yourself"-style. When I write up rides for that segment of the site, I have a very specific vision for which I'm a real stickler -- what I want people to think about, what I want people to feel. I have to memorize the pathophysiological mechanisms, virulence factors, symptoms, and treatments for 50 bacteria within the next two hours; I really can't justify writing how I want to write. But I can write SOMETHING, I'm now telling myself. And so I will.

I'm going to let you in on a little secret. This is a secret that will probably be of interest to you whether you're one of my riders, a rider who's never met me, an instructor who knows me, or an instructor who's stumbled upon this collection of my rantings. Ready...?

I, Melissa Marotta, STAR 3 Spinning Instructor, have done the same damned profile EVERY class I've taught over the past month (with the same exact group of riders). And you know what's better? I've done it on purpose. An experiment. An intellectual challenge. I've spent hours preparing them, too. Hours preparing the same damned profile every day for the past month.

Kidding you, I'm not. And nobody can tell the difference. Why? Because that exact same ride profile with a different purpose, a different theme, a different focus is actually a completely different ride. And that's a concept that illustrates that it's not always a "brilliant" profile, the kind one puts pressure on one's self to create, that leaves a mark. It's something that takes place during that ride profile -- the way a rider feels about himself or herself, appreciates the profound synchrony of movement, breathing, feedback, focus and empowerment. The feeling that rider takes out the door.

And you know what? Turns out, you can create that feeling, fresh and new -- over and over and over and over and over again -- even with the same damned profile for an entire month... if you play your cards right. And it's awesome.

Oh, and guess what? This "how on earth are you not sick of this?" profile is an Endurance ride (per parameters of the Spinning program). I've done a sub-LT profile with a room full of "more is more" (wrong!) recreational athletes who haven't even been riding with me long (see also: I don't have that much "street cred"), and they friggin' love it. Imagine?

I don't purport to represent the "magic answer" to the struggles of designing perfect classes. I sure as hell don't teach perfect classes. But I can tell you about my month-long experiment, and how it worked out for me.

A colleague of mine, a brilliantly creative Spinning instructor, lamented last week by email that she's been feeling overtrained, burned out, and not at all energized to teach her classes. That she's falling into the age-old trap of feeling pressured to "kick (her) classes' asses" in order to keep them engaged. That she knows better - but can't break out of her rut. She stopped believing in herself as a resource, as a coach. She stopped believing that her knowledge of a "better way" was supreme to the myths held by the masses. The themes of her rides, once varied and inspired, became limited to that oh-too-familiar harder, faster, "give it all you've got"-types -- which, while exciting and important at appropriately timed training sessions, isn't the best thing for her riders to be doing every single class. Not good for their bodies, not good for their minds. And not good for their coach, either. And because of that, she forgot what SHE loved about indoor cycling in the first place. She didn't fall in love with it because of how it felt when her ass got kicked; she fell in love with it because of how she was able to make HERSELF feel. The ride profiles that de-energized her didn't reflect that.

One of my personal life upgrades when I "downgraded" from a full-time cycling coach to a relatively sedentary medical student was that I actually started maintaining a healthy, balanced training schedule. Since I wasn't teaching as much (or at all for my first month in Vermont), I was able to spend time just RIDING by myself. I bought myself a Spinner NXT for my bedroom, named it Giacco after the puppy of the amazing woman who taught me how to ride a bike outdoors, set up my whole space to accomodate the VERY specific mirror placement, and made time to connect with what *I* loved about Spinning in the first place. I made myself cry at least twice a week, because I'm just that dorky. When I started teaching again, I actually just plum stopped riding with my classes. When I coached off the bike in NYC (the majority of my classes by the end of my time there, since I was teaching 21 of them a week), it was because I had to. Now I'm choosing to. I'll hop on to model good form during transitions, but otherwise I'm workin' the floor. Why? Because it's hard, and I like forcing myself to get better at it? Sure. But also because, when I'm on a bike during my classes, it's not about me; it's about the 25 people in the room. When I ride Giacco, it's allllllllllllllll about me. And that's where I come up with many of the themes for my rides. It might be a thought, or half a thought even. An experience, a sensation, that I never would have had without taking the time to ride for ME. Away from my class.

This thought occurred to me last summer during WSSC (at which I actually didn't ride that much -- maybe twice the whole conference?), which was the first time I'd ridden "for me" in a while. Josh Taylor's "Just be AWESOME!" (which I remembered from the previous two times I'd ridden with him, but had forgotten about) changed my life. As an athlete. As a coach. I've based at least 10 rides on that line by now. So simple.

A month later, I began the first phase of my experiment. I didn't ride any of my classes for two weeks, and spent all my free time hopping about NYC taking classes I'd heard were "really really bad." It was my research time, preparing for Week 7 of my Summer 2008 Theme Scheme -- which, to coincide with the launch of the "Coach Yourself Corner," was about how to one's best coach is one's self. How great music and great instruction was better seen as the frosting, rather than the cake itself. I spent those two weeks enduring pretty tedious training sessions (which were tedious mostly because they weren't actually presented as training sessions), and presented a ride (and an accompanying "survival guide") based on my experiences. My classes found it hilarious, but I never intended it to be. The whole point was, literally, what do you tell yourself during a training session -- what do you think about? What do you see? All of my cues came directly from the things that popped into my head while I was "enduring" these rides of zombie-esque or cheerleader-esque instructors and music that didn't "do it" for me. Now, "taking bad classes" is one of the top pieces of advice I give beginner instructors (along with riding with inspiring coaches, too, of course!). Underappreciated value in experiencing what not to do, but also discovering what YOU instinctively do to coach YOURSELF... and then, later, appreciating how you can teach your riders to do the same.

These things you come to tell yourself -- they can become the themes for your rides! Spinning MI Jennifer Sage wrote a brilliant piece on her blog a few weeks ago about the importance of setting objectives and sub-objectives during every training session. I make a huuuuuuuuuuuuuuge deal about this with my classes. I talk about it more than HRMs, if that's possible. I encourage my riders to "always be climbing for something" -- for every effort to mean SOMETHING; not everything, but something. Technical purposes, physiological purposes, psychological purposes -- no matter. But something that's going to be a big uniting theme that every effort should reflect, like middle schoolers are taught to write research papers: one thesis to which the topic sentence of every paragraph relates, with every sentence within each paragraph relating to both the topic sentence and that one big thesis. If a sentence doesn't meet those two criteria, it gets cut. That's how I design my ride profiles, at least. And that's how I select my cues, too. (For example, I would NEVER talk about pushing outside of one's comfort zone when my theme was about how rewarding it is to train at lower HRs to become a fat-burning machine -- unless, of course, one's comfort zone is "pushing as hard as you can," thereby rendering "outside" to mean "restraint." I've definitely made rides like that.)

I've been writing for an hour, which is inconsistent with my "bugs and drugs" memorization responsibilities, and I probably could have written up my profiles for "Coach Yourself" at this point. But no matter. I'm ALMOST about to make my point. I'll get there eventually...

I wrote a little bit about one of my rides from last week on my other blog, which is more of an audience-less collections of my experiences during my training in medical school - some relevant, most not; some articulate, most not. I don't usually write about rides on that one, but this one was very special to me. I called it "The Impact Ride" -- and the premise was as follows:

I began, spontaneously, with a quote from Obama's inaugural address, which had been given a few hours before this class began. It wasn't perfectly relevant, but it was timely enough that I made it fit. He was talking about how people should have the freedom to pursue what gives them purpose and happiness. Maybe he didn't say "purpose," but I equate the two and thus subconsciously linked them and, accordingly, that's the version of reality I presented to my class. I then suggested that, often, we don't know what makes us happy. That we don't think about it. So, for the next 45 minutes, we were going to think about it -- and maybe, just maybe, get on track to pursue it.

Part 1: How can riding this here bike make an impact on you? What would have to happen? How do you want it to happen? Is it the feeling of control over your HR? Your breathing? The belief that your physiological experience can match what you intend? What would you need to do to sell it to yourself, that you can have that kind of impact on yourself... right here in this room, on this bike?
Part 2: Now that you've accepted that you can have an impact on yourself, what are you going to do with that? What do you want to accomplish? What kind of impact on the world -- large or small -- would give you a sense of purpose and passion? What would it take to make that happen? What specific, concrete actions can you take?
Part 3: What makes you feel most empowered, like you can do anything? Building on the belief that you can have an impact on yourself, with a clear idea of what is meaningful to you to do with that, climb for it.

Loop ride. Duh. A boring, simple loop ride.
Loop 1 - 70% MHR seated climb, 3 "surges" (I'll explain shortly) up to 75%
Loop 2- Seated climb 70% to 75%, 3 "surges" to 80%
Loop 3 - Seated climb 70% to 75%, 3 "surges" to 80% with an option to 85% on the last one
That's it.

When I use the word "surge," I mean it as an opportunity for an effort of a prescribed period of time - from 30 seconds even up to 2 minutes. I coach it as an opportunity that they can choose to meet however they see fit -- with speed, with resistance, with a change in position... or not at all. I tell them to only take the "opportunities" that mean something to them. I use this device a lot. People used to get really anxious, the freedom of movement. So I address that liability before they can get anxious. I tell them not to let freedom make them anxious... just to try to go with it. Even the most anxious people seem to have come around...

Onto today's ride. I've spent months graaaaaaaadually building the concept, but put the actual ride together in 10 minutes... 10 minutes before I had to leave to go present it to my class. I NEVER planned to finish this ride today - but at the last minute, was inspired to wrap up this ever-building concept and make a "go" of it. The ride was called "Synesthesia," after the concept that one can experience something with one sense (ie, sound) and very vividly extend that experience to another sense (ie, sight -- as in, color). Ever felt that? I bet you have. I experience it fairly frequently, and I thought it'd be pretty sweet to make a ride out of it.

I've been subtly making casual "notes to self" about the particular sounds that evoke -- for me, when I'm riding FOR ME (see above) -- experiences of other senses. I used absolutely no new sounds. I used my go-to power standards, that my classes have heard 500000000 times, and told them to give themselves permission to hear and experience the same sounds differently. To close their eyes and "see" the rhythms. To breathe the rhythms. Smell them. Taste them. To respond to the images they invoke for themselves, of themselves. Tapping into the thoughts and images that empower them. Relating them to SOMETHING, anything, for which they're climbing.

Loop ride. Duh. A boring, simple loop ride.
Loop 1 - 70% MHR seated climb, 3 "surges" (I'll explain shortly) up to 75%
Loop 2- Seated climb 70% to 75%, 3 "surges" to 80%
Loop 3 - Seated climb 70% to 75%, 3 "surges" to 80% with an option to 85% on the last one


Really? That's it? You've been doing THAT for a month and nobody's realized, and your classes are packed... and they tell you how unique and inspiring they are? YES. I AM SERIOUSLY NOT KIDDING.

Am I going to use this profile for the rest of my life? Of course not. I'm going to do something different tomorrow, in fact. But has this month been a fascinating experiment? Aaaaaabsolutely.

It's not what you do. It's how you can inspire them to use their own minds to think clearly, to empower themselves to accomplish whatever they need to use their time to work on. It's what they take with them when they walk out the door.


Charles said...

Wow! Great Post. Are you thinking about Psychiatry? Question? How long have you been teaching and please tell me back in your early years you did in fact use the term give it all you've got"? If not, then I may have to give up my certification. This is a great post but I am not there yet. I taught Jennifer's Moving Mountains class after New Year's and it went really well but I realize that I still have a looooong way to go after reading your post. Thanks for sharing. So, I take it you would recommend WSSC. We go on our family vacation every year to Siesta Keys, FL which is not too far from Miami. I think WSSC is the weekend before we go. I've wanted to go but never took the time. BTW, I'm with you on the whole procrastination thing. I feel the same way.

Melissa Marotta said...

Oh no! I have to apologize. The irony is that, on my other blog, I just wrote about the importance of speaking with precision -- and I was totally imprecise about my "give it all you've got" remark. I actually just took it out in response to your very very thoughtful comment. What I actually meant by that was referring to the kind of coaching where someone says that line so often that it becomes cliche and slightly stale -- or when used inappropriately (as in, doing crazy "max efforts" every single class). I absolutely used to use that expression all the time, especially when I first started teaching. It surprised me how much time it took to develop an arsenal of even more powerful, active language that speaks more dramatically to people -- and can inspire them to reach deeper while still remaining true to their target heart rates. I started reading a lot of sports psychology books, and made that realm of my life -- in theory, a preparation for THIS realm of my life -- a separate hobby.
I've been to WSSC only once (last year) -- I could never take off work, and this year I have an exam the day after... so that won't exactly fly. It was life-altering, even as a one-time experience. Being able to inhale and inhabit the energy of people from all over the world who are passionate for the same thing you are, it was just awesome. And many many of the workshops were beyond valuable -- practical stuff you could take home and just start using right there and then. I don't know what's being offered this year, but there are usually a fair amount of workshops specifically oriented towards the challenges of cueing language (since everyone experiences it as a challenge). If nothing else, it's a treat to feed your creative juices. If you can swing it to coordinate with your family vacation, aaaaaaaaabbsolutely go for it!

Melissa Marotta said...

And USED to be thinking Psychiatry. When I decided to go back to school and do my pre-reqs and apply for med school, it was with the intention of pursuing Psychiatry. But for 3.5 years, I had a pretty toxic job that turned me off to the mental health profession. Will I rekindle my interest when I start my rotations? Maybe. But I'm thinking gastroenterology (which is what I've been doing research in for the past 3 years before med school) as of now ;-)

KalaSpins said...

Wow, Melissa. I somehow just stumbled across your blog about 3 weeks ago and had been waiting for you to write a new post. I'm a newbie instructor (certified just under a year) and this post really made me think.

I think that is totally amazing that the same profile can be used for a month without the participants knowing it because of the way it is presented.

That is the true beauty of the spinning program- it's just riding a bike.

It's the coaching, the teaching, the pushing and encouraging of a knoweledgable instructor that can make all the difference.

Thank you for this post, very thought-envoking. :)


Charles said...

I tried to reply using my Blackberry but it seems to never work so I'll send another. Thanks for your blog. You have inspired me to start one for my class. Your blog is incredible. I have gotten so much out of reading it, along with Jen Sage's and others. I hope you don't mind me sharing some of your insights on cycling, coaching, and life in general on mine. I promise to give you credit for things that I share. Please stop over and give me some feedback or email me for some "expert" advice.

I thought your words were precise on this post. It's hard/impossible to sense sarcasm and tone when writing but I was only kidding about the "give it all you've got" phrase. I have said that in the past but you are so right. I have started to replace that phrase with other powerful, more meaningful, appropriate phrases. Keep up the good work!

Melissa Marotta said...

Charles - Ohhh, I am so excited about your new blog! I'm still in the process of catching up on back entries - but I've read your first three, and they're incredible. What a fantastic resource you are. (And of course I am honored that you even WANT to share anything you take away from "Spintastic."). I am seriously SO excited about your new undertaking.

Kala - Your comment made me feel SO happy and rewarded. Thank you!
It is fantastic that you're clearly exceptionally invested in your development as an instructor - learning, writing, reflecting. It all means something, and it all translates into a very special resource for your riders. In what kind of setting do you teach?

Terry Schmidt said...

This is a real eye opener. I have spent hours upon hours developing each ride. I wonder however, would it not help to grease the "mental wheels" by giving one example with music? When I see profiles with music, I might find one or two songs I really love, but the point is to make it mine by comparing and contrasting the given playlist using my own arsenal of music.
Keep feeding those of us who teach in places where the room is filled solely because of the music and there is no profile or plan whatsoever!!!! I want to scream when I walk into a room and the saddle is all the way down for a woman with a 30" inseam, etc. etc.
You people help me to win my classes over to the "real thing" one blog at a time.