*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, March 2, 2009

Make 'Em Want It Bad.

And by "it," I mean a super-low key, refreshing Endurance ride. The kind that leaves them refreshed and ready to take on the world... as opposed to ready to take a nap.

I introduced a ride a few weeks ago with this premise. That we can't conquer our worlds if we're exhausted -- so, therefore, we should probably pace ourselves. People giggled/chuckled/etc. (I even thought I heard a bona fide "guffaw" coming from the back). But I was serious. And they knew it.

I'm writing this post, inspired by four big-deal personal experiences within the past week:
1) I received a most LOVELY email from an instructor who reads "Spintastic," describing her challenges of showing her riders the light of aerobic training -- as well as her steadfast resolution to stay true to what she believes in. I was so encouraged (actually a bit misty-eyed), knowing with full confidence that this coach is absolutely making a difference in the world around her.
2) By some crazy fluke, I taught the best ride of my Spinning career last Friday -- in the face of two majorly crazy challenges: a) the speakers were broken; b) it was a 90 minute ride... which I'd never coached before, and NONE of my riders had ever ridden before. Getting 25 people to remain focused, engaged, AND aerobic... for 90 minutes? With compromised volume? OH my goodness. I was petrified of this being the worst ride I'd ever presented. Instead, I truly felt like it was some of my most creative and precise coaching language -- I could SEE people "getting it." I even taught them about mid-ride re-fueling, and even got them on board (I expected people to think that they "knew better," not bring food, hit the glycogen-exhaustion "wall" and crash). Not so. Everything just WORKED, right to the tee. And afterwards, three people made me cry. (Noticing a pattern?)
3) I presented a pretty lame ride yesterday, same heart rate parameters, similar themes of focus and mindfulness. But didn't take the time to re-explain fat metabolism from scratch, reminding people of the basics behind why they were being asked to demonstrate self-discipline to maintain a low heart rate. It was scientifically sound and occasionally engaging -- but mostly, it was a pretty boring Endurance ride. But afterwards...? 5 people came up to me asking about HRMs. 24 hours later, 3 of them actually ordered some. No joke.
4) I learned about the actual biochemistry of endurance training today (what hormones are going where to direct a muscle's "choice" of energy substrate: fat vs. glycogen; what substrate uptake molecules kick in; who activates and/or inhibits whom). I was super-existed to soak up all the subtleties that go above and beyond my current knowledge base -- as, clearly, MEDICAL SCHOOL would offer. Turns out, not so much. I was SUPER-underwhelmed at how, consistent with my own experiences and those of my riders and clients, the average doctor knows NOTHING about exercise other than "you should do it." The appreciation of intensity having an impact on... anything? Non-existent.

So what's a person to do when he or she knows better... and knows it? I believe that one, in possession of knowledge that will improve the lives of people who experience one as a resource, has an obligation to share it in a meaningful way.

If that means that your classes aren't packed to the nines like the psychospin cheerleader-type calling for the "10 out of 10" (of resistance, of course -- to layer on the tragedy thicker) hills and balls-to-the-walls 10-minute "sprints," SO BE IT.

It's a matter of figuring out a way to share your knowledge in such a way that people come to LEARN a) what a good, solid aerobic base actually is; and b) why they should train to develop one.

One of my life policies to try to find a new way of doing this at least once a month, to keep it fresh and interesting. I don't do this perfectly by any means. But I did have a line backed out into the hallway, having to turn away people from my Friday night 90 minute "boring Endurance ride." But in thinking back to how it was that I initially commenced my master plan to woo the masses, converting them to fat-burning junkies, I actually did it by tricking them. I'd been teaching for about 6 weeks at that point. I made my first loop ride. Called it "Loop It. Loop It Good." (Point of trivia: I hate all of my rides once they are older than 4 months old, as I feel that my coaching -- and even musical -- style changes so rapidly. Even rides from 6 months ago strike me as such amateur stuff -- and 6 months ago, I felt the same way about rides from 6 months prior to then, and 6 months before that and... so on and so on. But I've been doing "Loop It. Loop It Good" for years, and continue to dig it.) I didn't have the confidence to do an all-out Endurance ride... yet. So, I told them that the trick to this ride was that the last 6 minutes were the hardest part -- so that their job would be to pace themselves, to conserve their energy, so that they'd have enough left to really "go at it" when we hit that 6 minute mark. During the warmup, I explained a very BASIC overview of fat vs. sugar as fuel, where your HR or perceived exertion should be to increase your likelihood of burning fat. Periodically, I would remind them of that ever-anticipated "6 minute mark."

So how the profile worked was thus:
3 loops: seated climb + run
6x "accelerations" -- first 5 seated for 30 seconds; last one standing for 1 minute

SO SIMPLE. And they walk out remembering that high-energy finale. A "stunt" to lure them for buy-in.

Then, I built on that. "Hey remember that thing we tried? Wasn't so bad? Can we add another layer to that?" -- start to work in progressive resistance loadings, aerobic speed intervals (maintaining or at least controlling heart rate). Oodles of variations you can do with that. And, turns out, you don't even need that "stunt" at the end anymore if you coach it the right way.

Want them to "want it bad?" Educate them. Make them understand WHY they should want it bad. Choosing your words with precision, translating science into concepts that mean something to people, is a profound responsibility as a coach. It's one of the life skills that I try my darnedest to continue to invest in, as it perhaps has its most direct application to my life as a physician-in-training. It's a big deal, a tremendous privilege.

It's just a matter of making it count.


Kala Marie said...

Amen, Amen, Amen! I am proud to say that I am most definitely not the 10-out-of-10 cheerleader instructor (as you know from my own rants on endurance, haha) but I have managed to win over quite a crowd into "my" way of thinking.

Just keep educating, just keep pushing. Right now I'm reading an exercise phys book myself, and just learned about all those great enzyme -ases and phosphates/ides and everything else, Free Fatty Acids! Woohoo! Haha. ;) Isn't it all simply fascinating?!

Melissa Marotta said...

Thanks, Kala -- not only for the wonderful feedback, as always, but in general for just being such a positive source of energy! You even kind-of made me excited to go study fatty acid metabolism. Kind-of.

Charles said...

Isn't that funny how we look back just a couple months ago and think how amateur we were? Thanks for the reminder that explaining the "why" behind our rides makes all the difference in the world. I am so guilty of taking for granted that my class knows exactly what my intent is, even without me saying it. NO! I have to say it. I have to be the educator. They can't read my mind. I've been attending other instructor's classes the past month or so and have learned or confirmed the fact that we need to be crystal clear in our intent, then ensure they understand the "why" behind what we're doing. I think people will follow you no matter where you are going if you give them good reason to. It's our job to sell them on the facts! Thanks for reminding me of this.

Jennifer Sage said...


thanks so much for such clear yet inspirational words on the simplicity - and beauty - of an endurance ride! I agree with you that it all comes down to educating our students, and Kala & Charles reiterate that need. We've got to make them want it!

I am always so perplexed as to why so many instructors are afraid of educating their own students. Is it a fear that they will look stupid? That they don't trust in their own knowledge? That they won't know how to answer further questions on the subject?

These fears are very valid, because that's human nature. But where are we if we don't venture forth into that unknown? If we don't face the fear and do it anyway? We are stuck in the same place forever, never growing, never learning ourselves, if we don't challenge our own students and make an effort to help them grow.

I came across this at ECA last weekend. Got into a discussion about how much "science" we should be trying to teach our students. Someone challenged me with "Isn't it better to just motivate them to push and sweat, and then be grateful that they even show up? They don't come to us to learn science! They come to us to take their minds off work, their problems, schedules...so we should oblige and give them what they want!"

This is a prevailing attitude among instructors.

How can we overcome it? I believe that people (most, perhaps not all) will appreciate what we teach them and as a result, we will help them surpass their limitations and meet performance goals like never before (of course, we can't turn a class into a physiology lecture - there's a skill and a balance that must take place).

I believe that you (and I) and a few others are attempting to crack that nut through our blogs. Thank you for sharing your wisdom so beautifully. I love reading your posts; they inspire and educate me! And I definitely plan on linking to this post in my blog (once my series on ECA is completed) because you say it far more lucidly than I can (or should I say, 'in a different manner' that I really appreciate).

In fitness,


Melissa Marotta said...

Your comment is most humbling, and I cannot tell you how much it means to me. It's funny -- when I started this blog, it was just a place to post my weekly class schedule (when I taught way too many classes at way too many places for people to keep track). I gradually started writing actual "stuff" -- and then it transformed into a way to elaborate upon the themes and concepts that were important to me to get across to my riders (and, in so doing, improve my clarity in articulating them -- no longer "hidden" behind dramatic music and epinephrine surges!). But now that this has become a place where gifted, passionate coaches like yourself are sharing their experiences and creating a dialogue -- ohhh man, I never envisioned this, and it's so rewarding.

I think you're onto something about instructors' self-imposed intimidation (via lack of confidence) in bringing scientific principles of training to their classes. It goes beyond having the confidence to translate one's own education into a format that is not only digestible but MEANINGFUL to one's riders; the rate-limiting factor, I'd argue, is the appreciation that what one is describing runs 100% completely counter to the expectations of those riders. By and large, the masses think that "more is more" -- and one's efforts to educate them differently and lead them to desired outcomes are, every day, counteracted by the majority of "go go go, balls to the walls" Spinning classes.

When you orient new instructors, are you able to get a sense for how they are starting to prepare to cope with the responsibility of educating in the face of "counteractivity?"

When I started instructing, I don't know that I "got" that -- because I had been training under people who knew what the hell they were doing; I was drawn to those people, drawn to their science. When I'd taken a class with a psycho-Spinner, they really did come across as totally nuts; I wrote them off, they had absolutely no credibility. I sort-of thought that other people would make those same determinations. Turns out, not.

I "did my thing" nonetheless. Felt pretty good about it. But I remember this one day, perhaps about 6 months into teaching -- I remember I was about to do "Loop It. Loop It Good," the ride I referenced in my post. Iona Passik had been in the hallway outside my class, waiting for an elevator. The door was open as I gave my "here's how we burn fat" intro, that I had given a gazillion times. But, in that moment, I was scared as hell. I knew that I knew what I was talking about -- but in the climate of pressure, where the stakes felt higher (they're always high! these are people's lives we all have the opportunity to impact!), I started to experience some distrust of my own knowledge store. I remember that experience often, every time I deliver an explanation of which I'm now proud and confident.

But I think that's where the problem really is -- helping people to get to "that place," that they believe in not only WHAT they are saying -- but in their ability to convey it.

Lane said...

I just read your post from last June on "How to become a fat burning machine." It is very well written and convincing. The next time someone asks me how I lost so much weight I am going to point them to your words.

Now I want to hear the "heres how we burn fat" intro.

Melissa Marotta said...

Thanks so much, Lane!
I'm trying to discipline myself to one epic post per week (i.e., to be a responsible medical student). Next week's posting, I'll do a whole thing on ways I find that work well to explain fat metabolism in "digestible enough for a class intro" format. Saying stuff out loud succinctly and memorably is tricky, as we know.