My day was supposed to begin with masochism. Instead, it was one of the most rewarding of my coaching career.
There's a framed poster in my medical school's library that I really dig: "Knowledge is making the people around you feel smarter." When I saw it for the first time eight months ago, I saw it as a most profound concept that applied to both my medical and coaching "life spheres" -- and from then on, walk a few steps out of my path every so often just to see it. The poster makes me smile; the concept makes me get out of bed in the morning. Conceptualizing my role in the world to try my darnedest, every day, to teach somebody SOMETHING that empowers him or her to make a meaningful contribution to his or her own life -- the art, of course, being to develop the tools necessary to convey that SOMETHING in the specific right way for the right person.
A while back, I accepted a colleague's request to sub her 6:30AM class this morning -- forgetting that I'd be working til 11PM at the rural medical clinic (an hour away) where I recently started training. In New York, I used to teach 6:30AMs every day: they were my favorite. I taught one in VT over my first four months here before I found my "groove," and it was miserable. I counted down the weeks til I could drop the class. Today would be my return to the AM scene, and I was not excited. I anticipated that I'd have zero "regulars" (I teach a permanent class tonight, too; they'd be at that one!), and running on four hours of sleep (after having woken up at 4AM yesterday to make time for studying AND the gym, going to school all day, then spending nine hours on my feet at the clinic and two hours of interstate-driving was sub-ideal to say the least.
I hadn't officially even decided what ride I'd do. I don't wing rides (when I do, they suck -- and, as a general life policy, I try not to suck) but at any given point in time, I'm typically prepared to present 2 or 3 different profiles (an old habit from my 21-classes-a-week days in NYC -- I'd often get sick of myself and want freedom to "abort mission" whenever I so chose). I hadn't decided because I just plain didn't want to present ANY ride. I just really friggin' didn't want to do it. I wanted to go back to bed and sleep as long as I can maintain 65% MHR (i.e., forever).
As I got into my car and thought about how awful life was in that moment, I had an epiphany. Even without caffeination-induced clarity, it became clear to me what ride I would do.
The ballsiest one in my arsenal.
Yes, at this sub gig, a 6:30AM sleepy crowd of college undergraduate strangers with whom I have 0% street cred, I would do the most TEDIOUS endurance ride in my arsenal. Clearly, it was not enough to keep 'em aerobic for 45 minutes when I know they're used to, ahem, something different. No. I would go for broke. I would take these complete strangers, keep them exclusively between 70-75% MHR (not that they'd have HRMs...), and keep them seated the entire time. And I'd friggin' make them love every minute of it.
Oh, and for kicks, I also decided to coach it entirely off the bike (but for periodic demonstrations of posture).
Suddenly, I got a burst of energy -- and it wasn't just from the loud, booming techno blowing out my ear drums in the car.
Arrive to class. Meet n' greet, mingle, all that for 15-20 mins. Nobody's awake. There's no way this is going to work. Intellectual challenge. Intellectual challenge, I repeat to myself. Shut the lights (I coach in darkness with some white Christmas lights for safety, always. The mirrors are nowhere near the bikes to monitor form-- annoying -- so there's really no reason NOT to facilitate complete self-absorption). Introduce myself, give my safety "I'm only here as your guide" speech and permission to ignore me whenever they feel uncomfortable.
When I do a ballsy ride, I always open with a purely absurd comment. Not "kinda strange." Blatantly ABSURD. It's all in the way you grab their attention. I employ the same device in my writing.
"I woke up yesterday at 4AM just to practice feeling awful..."
But now they're listening. I see it in their eyes.
"... Indeed, there's something about waking up at the crack of dawn to get our workout in before the day, because we're "supposed to," and feeling like we should 'make it count' by pushing hard and giving it everything we've got..."
Starting to lose 'em... window of opportunity closing. Gotta make it count.
"...which is great. Until 3 hours later, when we fall asleep in class or at work and are completely USELESS for the rest of the day."
Oh, they're listening again.
"See, as it turns out, it's a myth that the harder we push, the more results we get. In fact, physiologically, we have different energy storage systems -- different ways we use fuel. And as it were, the system that allows us to burn fat actually ONLY works when we're working moderately intense -- able to use oxygen to carry out those processes. I don't know if you guys have heard this before -- but, a good way to think about it is that majority of fat-burning takes place, loosely, when our heart rates are low enough to be able to talk.
So, this morning we're going to 'shake things up,' OK? Your job is going to be to BURN AS MUCH FAT AS POSSIBLE by paying attention to your breathing, which I'll teach you how to do, to control your heart rate to feel like you're able to have a conversation the entire time. You're not going to push as hard as you can -- you're going to work at a level that you can SUSTAIN the entire time. This way, when you're done, you are PROUD of yourself for waking up and investing in yourself -- ready to take on your day and conquer it... not ready to go back to bed. Ready?"
They didn't cheer or hoot or holler or any of the "validation signs" that I so value from MY classes. But they "got" it.
How do I know? Because my class of strangers, who didn't know me from a hole in the wall, who owed me nothing, stayed in the saddle for 40 minutes when I ABSOLUTELY know that this is not what they usually do.
I didn't tell them not to stand. In fact, I kept giving them the option to stand. And they DIDN'T stand. It's not that they weren't working, either. I saw them adjust their resistance as I coached them through three blocks of progressive loadings with accelerations (yes, profile will follow...). I saw them breathing. I heard them breathing.
I kept reminding them about their controlled intensity, their breathing, their form, and how they were training their heart to get better at doing more work without working harder. I cued them to think about what it meant to them to control their heart rates, the physiology of their being, how proud and strong they felt to have that kind of power. I asked them to think about what they were able to accomplish, with their newly empowered energy. I asked them to soothe themselves with their forceful, controlled breathing.
When I invited them to stand, I did so with the caveat that they acquired this option solely by the ability to control their heart rates to continue to burn "oodles of fat."
And they all stayed seated.
And it was awesome.
PROFILE: "SHAKE IT UP" (45 mins)
Loop 1: Maintain 70% MHR - 3 minute seated climb (progressive loadings) + 3x accelerations to maintain 70%
Loop 2: Seated climb 2 minutes 70%, 2 minutes 75% (progressive loadings) + 3x accelerations to maintain 75%
Loop 3: Seated climb 2 minutes 70%, 5 minutes 75% (progressive loadings) + 3x accelerations to maintain 75%
Yes, that was it.
Afterwards, one girl came up to me and said: "I've been Spinning for 2 years... I've never done a ride like that, making those adjustments to keep the same heart rate. It's crazy: I feel SO energized."
I didn't need more coffee anymore. That was enough for me.
*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.