*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.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Do your riders know WHY they're riding?

Have you participated in my research on the psychological effects of heart-rate training? If you've ever worn a HR monitor during exercise, you can take my 5 minute survey here. (You can also tell all your friends, colleagues, and riders about it, too!) I've been getting responses from around the country (and even quite a few international responses), and I'm learning SO much fascinating stuff that I can't wait to share with the world. But for now, I must bite my lip and refrain from biasing future participants.

I will, however, tell you where the first two weeks of this study have taken me. So far, it's been a sweet ride.

Last week, I had the unique opportunity to guest on the Indoor Cycle Instructor Podcast this week. John Macgowan (who is one of the coolest people EVER, as an aside) invited me on to be interviewed about my investigation of the relationship between HR monitor use and self-efficacy: one's belief in one's ability to navigate the challenges of one's world. Listen to my interview here. I was super-nervous and awkward, and somehow took on a Southern accent -- despite never having lived in the South -- but it was a fantastic experience nonetheless. And next week, after my awful awful awful neural science exam, I'm going to write up a step-by-step guide to my protocol for helping new HRM users (who resist my encouragement to commit to even ONE metabolic testing measurement or a sub-max field test) figure out their training zones. I was so focused on NOT talking too much in this interview that I inadvertently came across as super-vague when this came up, as you'll hear.

This experience prompted me to observe how I truly wish I could talk and write and breathe "this stuff" all day long. But as it turns out, medical school isn't quite so conducive to that. But as I sit here brainstem-deep in the torturous treachery of neural science, I constantly remind myself WHY I'm doing this. I'm doing this so that when Mr. Smith tells me that his right knee is going numb and that he's falling down, confused and scared, that maybe one day I'll have a clue what the hell to do to help him. Because you know what? Right now, I don't -- and I want to.

I find myself wondering, often, if my riders know WHY they're doing whatever they're doing on the bike. For all my talk about deep, thoughtful analysis of physical and mental training goals, I can't help but wonder whether it's possible that SOME of my go-to "cues" have become so automated that I no longer take the time to explain -- with precision -- their origins and significance. Could I go deeper? Could they go deeper?

As per usual, I decided to make a ride about it.

"TELL ME WHY," as I titled it (they aaaaaaaaalways have titles: contributes to the vibe of having every class feel like a big event worth coming to), took four basic technical "concepts" and challenged people to probe the root of what each of them meant to them, their training, and their lives.

Pedal stroke. Posture. Breathing. Heart rate control.

I talk a good game about each of them ad nauseum, and I'm proud to say that my "regulars" are largely on top of all of those fronts. I glow when I see people respond to my cues -- and when they don't, I consider it an intellectual challenge to devise alternate ways of describing the same point until they are prompted to self-improve. Communicating to a large group in such a way that each individual internalizes one's words, interprets and processes it as a unique, individualized experience is a challenge, fo' sure. But the REAL task, as I see it, is to communicate in such a way that said individualized experience lasts. Inspiring someone to take away something that they can apply to their experiences training solo, training in other people's classes, and even when they're not training at all -- THAT'S where it's at.

So am I to assume that because I teach a group how to execute the Perfect Pedal Stroke, that Sally in the corner really 'gets' why said Perfect Pedal Stroke matters? When I coach a group to flatten out their foot to engage the muscles in the back of the leg and hamstring, does Sally do that because "I said so" -- or because she gets, at a deeper level, why one even WANTS to engage those muscles? Does she care why EFFICIENCY (a term I use often) is going to do her any good? Does she see why it's worthwhile to attempt to get more work done without working harder? Does she see how her pedal stroke directly impacts upon muscle imbalances -- and if so, why that's something we care about avoiding? Does she know how to become a fat-burning machine?

Don't get me wrong: I am ABSOLUTELY thrilled that Sally stopped pointing her toes. But you know what? If Sally doesn't 'get' everything at the root of why I coached her otherwise, Sally's going to go right back to pointing her toes when she leaves my class. She may have been riding just swell in my class -- but if her new practices don't 'stick' when she takes someone else's class, I have failed her. If I had an opportunity to translate my knowledge into a forum that could be meaningful to her and I blew it, that's unacceptable to me.

Hence, my new ride.

Here's how it worked:


4 loops. Each loop emphasizing one of those concepts:
1) Perfect Pedal Stroke
2) Posture
3) Breathing
4) Heart Rate Control

1) Perfect Pedal Stroke
5 minute seated climb --> 3x seated accelerations
I explained the Perfect Pedal Stroke and why it mattered, whether one rides outside or not. I explained why we can ultimately get MORE work done (support more resistance, more speed) if we allow 100% of our leg muscles to work instead of merely mashing down with the quads. I asked them to close their eyes (for an anonymous poll -- I employ this technique often) and raise their hands if they were opposed to any of my questions: Who's opposed to being able to demonstrate their own strength to themselves? No hands. Anyone opposed to seeing more sculpted legs? No hands. Anyone opposed to being able to last longer without needing to take a break? No hands. Anyone opposed to preventing injury? No hands.

Didn't think so.

So with that, I explained the Perfect Pedal Stroke -- went through the clock metaphor, and the three "secret power moves" I wanted them to focus on: the FORWARD drive, the BACKWARD wipe, and the powerful UPSTROKE. I explained which muscles they should feel working during each part. Then we did pedal stroke drills for 6 minutes. Imagine? Ballsy as hell. They loved it.

Direct all your energy into your right leg. Left leg is still moving but just let it go to sleep.
First, FORWARD strokes on the downbeat. Generate the motion from your glute, extend the leg. Kick your heel out to the front of the wheel.

Repeated left. Then right and left working together -- all just the FORWARD.
Repeated for the BACKWARD. Generate the motion from your hamstring, calf involved in the "WIPING" motion - like you've got something disgusting on the bottom of your shoe. Dropping the heel a smidgeon just to keep the foot flat. Right, left, right and left.
Repeated for the UPSTROKE. Motion comes from the hip flexor. Squeeze the hip flexor, forcefully pulling your knee straight up to your chest. Right, left, right and left.

I encouraged them to develop their own language to "coach themselves" through each part of the pedal stroke -- something that would ultimately become automated. Using the beat of the music in whatever way they found helpful.

UP / UP / UP

Threw in 3x accelerations (30 seconds) seated, challenge to commit to the PPS.

Progressive loading -- seated climb --> heeeeeeeeeeeeavy seated climb (60 rpm - I don't talk cadences with my classes at UVM; I just give 'em a beat) --> 3x accelerations
Explained the merits of relaxed upper body posture to promote efficient breathing, to prevent momentum from being transferred to the joints.
Your challenge as you load more and more resistance is to breathe extra calmness into that upper body. As you accept more opportunity to demonstrate your strength, your upper body gets LOOSER and LOOSER. Find that natural groove to your shoulders. Give the energy you're creating somewhere to go.

3x accelerations -- get those shoulders movin'!

Seated climb --> progressive loading --> heeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeavy seated climb

Start at 65% MHR. Every time you touch the resistance knob, DEEP BREATH in through the nose and LONG breath out the mouth. Heart rate goes nowhere. Extend the breath on the way out even longer. Heart rate drops. When heart rate drops, add a smidgeon more resistance. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Any time your heart rate does not come down, do not add any more resistance. Keep breathing, keep lengthening the exhalation. Smidgeon more. Smidgeon more.

At the end of 5 minutes, this hill is INSANELY heavy. 60 rpm. It's a "no joke" hill, as I call it.
But where's your heart rate? Still at 65% MHR because of HOW gradually you accepted that challenge, using your breath to fuel your ability to take on each opportunity to demonstrate success.

* This is my absolute favorite progressive loading drill. I call it "Increase and Breathe." I named my other blog after it, as I see it -- cheesy or not -- as a metaphor for life. *

Seated climb --> 3 intervals: first, speed; second, resistance; third, change resistance
Pick a heart rate. Observe how your body responds to challenges. Practice using breathing to maintain the same level of intensity.
(Trying not to fail out of school... so limiting my elaborations! I refer you to my "SURGES" described here.)

Choose one of those themes. Make every effort reflect a pure commitment to it. Make it mean something.

20 minute climb. You choose how to climb it. And why.

At the end of the climb, I took another closed-eye anonymous poll.

Who feels like they accomplished what they set out to do today?
Who feels more self-confident, like they used their time wisely?

I reminded them that their training is THEIR time -- and that everything they do should be done for a SPECIFIC reason. And that if there's ever anything that I coach them to do -- that anyone coaches them to do -- that they should demand to "TELL ME WHY."

Tell me why I spent 90 minutes blogging about a Spinning ride instead of studying? Oops.

One more shameless plug, as justification: Please encourage everyone you know who has ever trained with a HRM to participate in my study!


Kala Marie said...

What an awesome ride. Seriously, I wish I could be as awesome are you!! I have been trying to get everyone I know to do your survey! Can't wait to hear the results!! Spin on, sista!

Melissa Marotta said...

KALA! You ARE awesome. You're totally awesome. You have so many gifts that you so expertly share with the world. Thank you SO much for recruiting participants. I'm hoping to collect responses until mid-June, when I have the cognitive resources available to start coding data (i.e., when my first year of med school ends!).

Charles said...

I love the "Why" question but I've never built an entire ride on it. Good for you! I'm excited about WSSC and all the psych classes I'm taking. Congrats on the study. Can't wait to read it.

Melissa Marotta said...

Thanks, Charles! It's funny - I used to be scared about basing entire rides on very subtle, singular thoughts. Now it's what I do for EVERY ride -- it actually makes it EASIER to introduce the overview/objectives of a ride, gives riders a specific purpose on which to focus. I started teaching a mindfulness/cycling fusion class that I'll probably make time to blog about tomorrow -- the greatest challenge in coaching people how to focus is to focus MYSELF on shaping one microdetail of the experience. As a practical matter, it also keeps the ride ideas flowin' -- every thought one ever has can literally be an ENTIRE ride. It's cool.

I'm SO excited about WSSC for you! If I regret anything about my experience last year, it's that I didn't make the time to blog about 90% of the subtleties I soaked up. I didn't share my excitement, and then let it get buried by... Life.

SpinSmart said...

Great idea! I would love to structure a class like this. May I borrow this idea ... and use some of your "script"? Just what I need now.

Melissa Marotta said...

It would be my honor if you borrowed some of my language. That's why I wrote this! Let me know how it goes.

SpinSmart said...

I did it ... and I rocked it! I think this is one of the best classes I have ever taught. I've now taught it at two locations and I must say that I've had the most questions and comments after class - to me, that says it all. I could see a few students roll their eyes but overall the reception was very good. AND, it has managed to get at least 3-5 students to buy HR monitors (success). I changed it a little: Strength profile - 5 eight minute segments. Each segment had a 5 min song that started on a light hill - progessive loading. Second 3 min. song was partly or mostly standing to practice the technique standing and occasionally added surges, jumps, etc to play and add interest. Last, fifth climb, was them to practice.

I had so many questions about the Heart Rate section that I pulled your Q&A (3-2-2008 Endurance Training - Why we do it), made it into a handout and the next class was all about endurance training - once again I "took" a lot of your verbage (from Avoiding Overtraining 3-15-08) and it really hit home ... Three more students bought HR monitors. I can not tell you how well both of these classes went.

With both classes I gave you full credit (even putting your site on the Handout). Thank you so much and please keep the great ideas coming.

Melissa Marotta said...

OH my goodness. You have absolutely MADE my day -- my month, even. You have no idea how much it means to me to hear how this panned out. Wow.

I like your modifications -- I have a profile like that on the 'Coach Yourself Corner' somewhere... the "3 Ways to Climb" ride. But moreover, I am SO impressed with how you made this concept into a larger educational moment, complete with handouts. Look at what kind of an impact you've made already -- those new HRM wearers' lives are forever changed, and the seeds you planted in the minds of others will blossom soon enough. You should be so proud! This is just AWESOME.