*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.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Training for "Something"

Sunday, I decided Winter should be "over" -- and thus, it was. For me. After 5 months of hibernating in the closet, I took Triumph (my bike) out for our first ride of 2009. Turns out, we'd been a bit overly ambitious; though it hadn't snowed in Burlington in *gasp* two weeks and actually hit 50 on this particular afternoon, I'd forgotten that even as awesome as my new town is, bike paths don't *get* plowed -- which I was reminded when I fell flat on my face, riding over a patch of solid ice. Good times. I needed a matching battle wound on my right knee to match the uber-impressive one on my right arm. Clearly. Besides, I got to watch the four physiological steps of the inflammatory response play out in sequence right before my very eyes. Dork.

Anyway, wipe-outs aside, it was an AMAZING ride. Why? Because it was so clear to me that, through my winter training, I'd actually gotten better at the specific things for which I had trained. The parts of Burlington where I mostly rode for my few bike-able (for me) months in my new home are false flats -- a concept I knew about and coached about indoors, but truly had never lived until I got here. I learned about them after repeatedly having the experience of cruisin' smoothly on a "flat" down the block from my condo, glancing down at my HRM and seeing 85% MHR -- and taking forever to get it to come back down, as I wasn't fully warmed up before I hit it. Not okay. Stop that. So, yes, I decided that I would stop that. In my own raining on my Spinner this winter, I incorporated a lot of simulation of the terrain I knew I'd want to get better at climbing. It's not ALL I did; but I spent a lot of time playing heart rate games, getting good at making subtle changes in resistance to accomodate 80 rpm hills at 80%, then 75%, then 70% MHR at varying levels of speed. I wasn't training for any special race; I was training for life, just envisioning getting better at navigating the routine challenges of merely getting around.

I knew it was no accident that this translated outdoors -- and yet, when it happened, I was shocked. Stretches of road that, previously, I was pushing at 85% MHR (or higher!), I was now able to cruise quite comfortably at 65-70%. The coolest part of this non-accident was that it was just that: NOT an accident. Even in the moment, I was so mindful of the fact that my improvement was the direct result of deliberate goal-setting, thoughtful planning, and commitment to execution. And in the moment as I accelerated, breathing out forcefully and rhythmically out the mouth, I could honestly tell myself: This is what you were training for. See it. Feel it. DO it. Just as bringing lessons outdoors to training on a Spinner, it was a pretty darned cool experience to take it in the other direction.

So, I decided to plan a ride based on that concept for my class the next day.

The premise of "Training for Something" was simple: identify what, exactly, you're training for -- and make choices throughout the 45 minutes that reflect those goals, being mindfully absorbed in your work and reminding yourself how your work will lead you to what you will accomplish. This was nothing new to my riders; I'm forever talking about the merits of being "
always climbing for something" and self-coaching to remind themselves of their technical, mental, and spiritual (i.e., sense of themselves and their place in the world) goals.

I opened with my story above, and then posed some examples. A lot of my riders are
participating in the annual Burlington "
Ride for a Reason" 6-hour indoor cycling marathon (benefits the Special Olympics) at which I am instructing in a few weeks (petrified but BEYOND excited!). I asked them to envision that day, and how they want to feel -- and to give thought to what they needed to do TODAY to reach that point. (I've been sending them weekly mailings of things they should consider wanting to feel -- it's not always intuitive to someone who has not done this before; i.e., HR control aside, your feet are going to hurt like hell unless you invest time NOW perfecting your pedal stroke -- eliminating ANY remnants of mashing, being mindful of "top of the foot" pedaling.) And wouldn't it be great to improve their mental focus, knowing that to get through an endurance challenge like requires maintenance of super-low HRs -- thus susceptible to distraction-seeking. Knowing that many of my other riders use my classes as cross-training for the Burlington Marathon in May, so I suggested the merits of perfecting breathing control. And for those riders who are "in training for life," wouldn't it be just great to invest in their self-concept as fat-burning machines?

The ride itself was simple: Find target heart rate and commit to it for each of four blocks. Use controlled breathing techniques to modulate the interplay of speed and resistance.

Block 1: 3 minute seated climb - 3 accelerations (30 seconds, 45 seconds, 60 seconds).
Block 2: 6 minute seated climb -- 3 accelerations (60 seconds each)
Block 3: 9 minute seated climb -- 1 acceleration (2 minutes)
Block 4: 6 minute seated climb -- 1 acceleration (2 minutes)

Yes, I kept my class seated for 45 minutes. For the first time in my career. It was AWESOME. They were awesome. We took one super-speedy posture break, and I certainly gave options to stand on a few of those accelerations (with the caveat that this was only available with sufficient breathing to control their heart rates entirely -- and that these efforts reflected the goals with which they started). And you know what? All but two people stayed seated the whole damned time. I was so proud of them... it was so clear to me that they "got" it. That they appreciated the science, saw how it applied to them, abstracted another layer of meaning, and disciplined themselves to commit to their goals.

At the end of the ride before the last acceleration (a particularly dramatic one with temptation to go anaerobic), I offered that there were three key things between people and their goals, as I saw it:

1) Actually having them.

2) Knowing the specific things required to make them happen, and plan to do those things (i.e., effective intensity parameters, desired terrain, focus on form and technique, self-coaching techniques)

3) Remembering WHY those goals exist, to fuel one's discipline to stick with it

As David Campbell said, "Discipline is remembering what you want." To be training for SOMETHING -- anything -- means to be mindful of those three things at all times.

And you know what? They ALL stayed seated.


Kala Marie said...

Ah, great post again Melissa :) :) Congrats on reaching your goal too! That is one thing I need to work on myself, I am a monster at hill climbing, but quick flat roads can be tough to sustain! I may borrow this ride for one of my classes, and of course will say that I got it from my super talented fellow instructor! :)

Melissa Marotta said...

Thanks so much, Kala! Borrow away -- it would be an honor!
It's tricky -- the "balanced menu" concept of training really is true. We only get better at doing everything if we DO everything.
When I used to work in forensics, we used to say: "Competency is task-specific" (as in, competency to draft a will, competency to give a confession, competency to waive Miranda Rights -- they all had specific evaluation points). So it is in training. I can ride my Spinner for 6 hours (in fact, I'm doing it in 3 weeks for a big charity ride at which I'm instructing), I can climb a SICK hill and still maintain 70-75% MHR. But you know what? I can't climb a friggin' flight of stairs without going anaerobic.
What's the difference? Training for the specific task.

Lane said...

You are so very right about having a goal, but I think it is just as important have the reason why you want to achieve the goal.

One of the most memorable points of a business book I read last year are the exact same three points you have come up with, just in reverse order.


The mission drives you to the process which gets you to your goal.

Mission: Why you want to get to the goal.
Process: How to get to the goal
Goal: What you are trying to get to

Each of these three items are equally important. You must have a mission to motivate you. You need to know the process to get there. You need to know where you are trying to get to.

Last year I considered training for a triathlon (all the "cool" kids were doing it). It was easy to find the process and the goal, but the mission wasn't there, so I didn't do it. I simple didn't have the motivation.

Some of my goals:
Mission: Live long enough to see my children's children.
Process: Eat healthy, Exercise, and Reduce Stress.
Goal: Lose weight, lower blood pressure, and lower cholesterol.

Mission: See the world from my bicycle.
Process: Train, fail, learn, repeat.
Goal: Be able to ride 50-60 miles per day for six days in a row.

I've met goal #1 (diligently maintaining), still working on goal #2.

Sorry for the rambling comment. I been thinking about this all day.

Melissa Marotta said...

WELL SAID, Lane! I love that you were able to synthesize the things you think about all day, why they're important to you, and express them so brilliantly. You're absolutely right; the "reason" behind goal-setting is absolutely key. If a given objective is not meaningful and compelling, the steps required to get there are downright tedious. Your triathlon story illustrates that perfectly. I did the same for a marathon -- "everyone else is doing it," but I don't even like running. Stupid. So I bailed.

Congratulations on committing yourself to the things you hold important, and developing the exquisite self-awareness required to do such a thing. That's awesome.

I didn't touch on this "reason behind the goal" issue in this post (which surprises me, because it's what I talk about most -- the "WHY are you climbing?" question, literally or figuratively) but usually do. You might dig this one from March '08: http://spintastic.blogspot.com/2008/03/from-spintastic-archives-goal-setting.html