*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, February 15, 2009

"Practicing Commitment" -- Part II

This is a follow-up to a post I just made on my other blog (about medical school). "Practicing Commitment -- Part I" was about life off the bike (contrary to public opinion, I do have one!), reflecting on recent experiences identifying the causes and intentions that are most important, meaningful, and compelling to me. I've spent most of the past six weeks since returning to school working through this theme of "committing" to the things I believe in, a theme that has made its way into my Spinning classes in some way or another.

Behold, a ride I debuted on Thursday, "Practicing Commitment." This time, on the bike. I'm including this as part of the "Coach Yourself" Training Corner (which I haven't updated in forever) because it's just so easy to re-create. Even all you non-instructors out there -- take 45 minutes of your favorite tunes with a steady beat, and follow along this veeeeeeeeeery simple structure:

The concept is simple. Pick something important to you, and commit to it. Maybe it's your pedal stroke (to micro-commit: make the next 45 minutes be all about paying attention to dropping your heel a bit lower on your pedal stroke). Make it's your breathing. Maybe it's your heart rate. Maybe it's something more abstract. Whatever it is, spend a few minutes thinking about why it's important to you -- why it's WORTH committing to, what's it going to take to make it happen.

The ride was then all about imposing challenges to one's commitment. With speed, with resistance, with temptations of rhythm. No matter what happens, you're committing to that "one important thing."

The specific structure is something I do in pretty much ALL my own training sessions: pick a heart rate and commit to it. Change the pace, change the workload, throw in some speed intervals -- use strong, solid breathing to keep the heart rate from going anywhere. It's so simple -- you can do it with your classes, you can do it by yourself, you can do it on a Spin bike, an elliptical/Arc trainer. It's so easy -- and yet so scientifically effective. You are training your heart to get efficient at working at x intensity, and developing your breathing in order to navigate challenges in your road. Building endurance. Building self-efficacy.

I did this profile three times in a two-day period to test its diversity. Giacco (my Spinner NXT -- I need to post a photo soon; he's so pretty!) and I rode this at 80% MHR. When I coached my class, I kept them at 75% exclusively. Yesterday, I did it again myself on an elliptical trainer at 70% MHR. Equally fabulous at all intensities!

The structure is simple:
Warm-up -- working up to 65% MHR, investing the time at the front end to set the stage: to what are you committing, and why? Those are the things you're going to tap into when you start to lose focus, to get tired and/or bored. The trick is in the "why."

Loop #1: Progressively load up to target HR. Seated climb, 3 "surges" (see: "The Ride that Never Gets Old" for my description of how I coach "surges") seated or standing. Maintain target HR by adjusting breathing, resistance, and speed. Pay attention to the effect of relaxed upper body posture, specificity of pedal stroke technique, and diaphragmatic breathing.

Loop #2: Recover to 5% below target HR (i.e., 70% when your target is 75% MHR). As soon as that point is hit, start progressively loading up to target HR again. Seated climb, 6 "surges." Maintain target HR by adjusting breathing, resistance, and speed.

That's it. That's seriously it.

Despite the scientific soundness of such a profile, I was afraid of two things: 1) that people would get bored, regardless of how artfully I coached this -- I'm a mild- to moderately decent saleswoman for the benefits of lower-intensity aerobic endurance training (see also: "So, who wants to burn some fat?!"); 2) that those riders without a HRM would not reap the benefits of such a purely technical ride.

Turns out, #1 wasn't so much of an issue. I often remind my class that the #1 reason people get bored during training is that they simply don't have enough goals -- and that, once they are triggered to set those realistic, short-term, measurable goals for the specific training session at hand, that they can close their eyes and think about those goals any time they start to find their mind wandering. I arrived at this approach by getting bored during my own training. For all my talk about focus and discipline, I have a 5-second attention span at baseline -- I've had to develop all sorts of coping mechanisms to stick with ANYTHING, both on and off the bike. That's where most of my coaching cues come from. And this is precisely why I advise new instructors and veteran instructors who struggle with the age-old challenges of burnout, to just get on a bike and RIDE -- and to give themselves permission to create rides and cues that come directly from those experiences. What's effective to tell one's self is not only appropriate, but ideal, to share with your riders. (Heh. Minor digression with a key exception: Many of my riders know that I've been known to be quite a profane self-coach when I'm racing. I scream crazy things at myself that I would never ever ever say out loud to a class! But, hey, it works for me...)

So that leaves us with #2: whether the experience of non-HRM wearers is in any way compromised with a profile that is so, so, so precise and technical about heart rate control. Well, yeah. Duh. Was it TOO compromised? I don't think so. I feel obliged to use an RPE scale (which I hate hate hate hate haaaaaaaate more than anything, despite appreciating it as better than nothing) but more effectively, I talk a lot about how people should feel -- "able to have a conversation with a TON of effort," "able to chat with me with no effort at all," "able to talk, but something you HATE -- you absolutely HATE." I walk around the room and make people talk to me, is my latest thing that I'm really starting to dig. So did non-HRM wearers feel entirely left out? No. I worked hard to keep them engaged.

But the best part was that they did feel a LITTLE bit left out. Just "wanting" enough that their ears perked up when I closed out the cool-down/stretch with the following:
That I hoped that, even without a HRM, that people were able to get a sense for the relationship between speed, resistance, and intensity -- and how breathing can moderate all of it. That those of them with HRMs felt proud of themselves for improving their attentiveness to the specificity of their training. And that, for those of them without a HRM, that perhaps "a seed had been planted" (borrowing a snippet of a phrase that Jennifer Sage wrote about a few weeks ago that I *knew* I would one day find a way to integrate into my world when the moment was right...) and that, if they had questions about how to get a cheap HRM and upgrade their lives... that I'm here for them.

I've never had such a long line to talk with me after class.


Kala Marie said...

Awesome post Melissa. It really compliments what I was just thinking/posting about at my blog on the importance of Endurance rides. Very nicely done! :)

Charles said...

You are exactly right about the reason people get bored. I was one of those guys that rode, especially indoors, without specific, short-term goals. That makes so much sense to me now. I am going to step out and try this with my class. I think I am almost there but there's still the fears you mentioned. Thanks for inspiring. Just joined FB so I've neglected my bluddies (blog buddies) ;)

Melissa Marotta said...

Kala - Thanks so much! Left you a comment about your stellar Endurance-themed post, too ;-)

Charles - Uh-oh. Prepare to have all your free time sucked away by FB for at least a few months til you remember that you used to have a life. Thanks for your comment! Love your blog, by the way.