*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, July 26, 2009

Practical Applications of Life on a Spin Bike

One of my "life themes" centers around the synergy between my "Spinning instructor life" and my "physician-in-training life." For better or for worse (and I'll argue passionately for the former), my coaching life isn't just a side gig. I invest a TON of cognitive and emotional resources into this realm of my life, not only for the rewards that come from empowering people through fitness -- but because I see INCREDIBLE parallels between the opportunities that I have as a coach that directly translate to the skills I need to develop as a doctor.

Note: I try to keep the scope of THIS blog to cycling/Spinning, given my perceived audience -- but if you're interested, here are two kinda-neat accounts on the Spinning/medicine interface from my 'med school life' blog: how I figured out how to reach a woman who was ignoring my efforts to correct her Spinning form by kicking into "doctor/patient mode"and how I figured out how to reach a woman with seveeeeeeeeeere, treatment-refractory depression by kicking into "Spinning instructor" mode.

But back to cycling. I rode my first 70 mile outdoor ride yesterday, and credit my performance ENTIRELY to my experiences on a Spinner. That's a pretty bold statement, so I figured I should write about it.

As many of you know, I am training for my first Century ride. In theory, I should feel confident on the basis of having completed several indoor equivalents AND my belief that, with adequate heart rate control and fueling, one can do ANYTHING forever. As many of you know, however, my self-concept as an outdoor cyclist is ENTIRELY different than my self-concept on a Spinner. I've trained myself and others to ride a Spinner pretty damned well, for pretty damned long periods of time. I have moments of clarity on a Spinner where I genuinely believe that I can do ANYTHING (cure cancer, take over a small country -- literally anything). When I take to my outdoor bike, I believe that I'm going to fall and land on my head. Slight difference, see?

So, I decided to ride 100 miles on a bike that scares the hell out of me as a mechanism for 'practicing commitment' to my self-efficacy as an outdoor cyclist -- that is, my belief in my ability to navigate the challenges of my world. I reasoned that, if I were to ride 100 miles, I'd have no choice but to conceptualize myself as a "real cyclist" -- and that, if that frameshift were to happen, that this would have major ramifications for my confidence in my ability to have direct control over the specific ways I see the world. When I talk about the importance of "training for something," THAT is my 'something.' BTW - if you've not read my "Training for Something" post linked in the previous sentence, it has a pretty sweet ride profile with a description of its theme/coaching language. And the "why" of that 'something' is pretty clear. If I truly believed that I have 100% control over my thoughts (i.e., my responses to situational adversity), think about the applications of that to, uh, EVERYTHING.

Most Spinning classes I teach center around opportunities to invest in this construct -- that is, to apply a certain skill on a Spin bike more globally, to other aspects of people's lives. "If I can do X here, I can do X 'out there.'" That's how Spinning fits into MY life -- and, accordingly, that's the overarching theme I find rewarding to share with groups of people.

"At the end of the day, we're riding a stationary bike. But, since we're here -- and since we've taken the rare opportunity for time that is completely ours, where we have to answer to nobody but ourselves -- not our boss, our spouse, our kids; nobody but ourselves -- why not see if we can make it more than that?

Why not see if we can create an experience for ourselves that stays with us a little while longer? To use this time to improve the way we think, the way we organize our thoughts, the way we process the world around us. To learn to coach ourselves through challenges. To moderate the way our body responds to adversity, through our breathing. To practice skills that are fundamental not only to the way we ride a bike, but that we can apply to the rest of our lives?

Why not see if we can do that? Who's game?"

That's how I talk through a warm-up with a group that's chock full of people who have never ridden with me before. That's also how I describe my coaching approach to new people outside the Spinning realm of my world. Despite my propensity for uber-cheesiness, the concept behind "my schtick" when presented in the context of "these are things we should be doing ANYWAY; why not do them on a bike?" doesn't actually come across as all that hokey).

When people who train with me give me feedback about how "life on the Spinner" indeed translates into how they approach the rest of their lives, I can't fully describe how much that means to me. It makes sense, of course -- that's what I present as the WHOLE POINT -- but to hear that my desired outcomes actually happen is a special, humbling, and enormously rewarding experience that I am most privileged to have on regular occasions.

When I apply my schtick to my own life -- on the bike, and off -- I a) see results, and b) expand my creativity in communicating "how I see the world" to my riders. The stuff that comes out of my mouth during Spinning classes is the direct result of the things I tell myself when I'm training, and when I'm going about the rest of my life. I'm never "out of ideas" for ride themes or coaching language simply because I never stop talking myself through the events of my day. It works, and I'm lucky to have carved out an existence where I have the opportunity to walk groups of people through my own coping mechanisms amidst a backdrop of holistic wellness and life-altering, all-consuming rhythms. What a life.

Training for this Century, symbolically, has been a test of these very coping mechanisms.

When I rode my first 50 miler outdoors, I called upon my experiences on the Spinner to coach myself through it. When I identified specific areas where I needed to improve, I went right back to the Spinner to tackle them.

Each of my solo training sessions on a Spinner had a specific sub-subobjective. I micromanaged specific sub-sub details of my form (the specific angle of the bend of my elbows, the angle of my right hand on the handlebars, the tilt of my left hip), and literally dedicated entire training sessions to each of those super-subtle details. I got really damned good at sustaining my adjustments for 3 hours, 4 hours, even 5 hours (imagine 5 hours on a Spinner centered entirely around the angle of my pelvic tilt?!). I got good at enduring uncomfortable, wet clothing. Got good at coping with "hot feet." Got good at knowing exactly how frequently to eat and drink, and WHAT to eat and drink. I learned to see myself as an endurance athlete -- not just somebody who can DO sporadic endurance events. It's a subtle distinction, but an important one.

When I rode my next 50 miler and had the opportunity to test the tweaks I'd made indoors? Rocked it.

Yesterday I dropped a bunch of money on an organized 110K ride to enforce that I continue to improve without bailing early ("oh, looks like rain..." or "oh, I could definitely do more - but let's go home"), and every cent was worth it.

68 miles (+ 2 round-trip to commute to base) = my first 70 mile ride. Stayed ENTIRELY below LT (even on some pretty ridiculous climbs), and felt like I at least another 5-10 miles in me. With two more months of training, this Century is in the bag. Not a bad shift in self-concept for the woman who thinks she's going to land on her head every time she touches her bike.

Like I did with my post on my first 50 miler, here's what I learned:

1. Invest in your psychological fuel.
If one is responsible about one's intensity (i.e., not going out too hard, too early), endurance efforts are NOT about physical resilience. So I applied my own go-to coaching language about the merits of rehearsing (in advance) coping mechanisms for adversity. I invested time at the front end collecting "thoughts" to fuel my self-dialogue. I asked experienced cyclists what they tell themselves when they're flying down steep hills at the speed of sound and feel themselves tensing up. ("Sit up!" "Check your shoulders!" "Where are your hips?") That's the stuff I told myself when I got scared.

I also posted a status update on Facebook the morning of the event, announcing that I was doing this craziness, knowing that 50-something comments would flood in RIGHT before the ride started (which absolutely happened). Some of those comments were really quite specifically meaningful, and I absolutely tapped into their sentiments. I knew that would happen.

The most meaningful were a couple from people I train who threw expressions that I recognized as my own go-to "isms" from Spinning classes, right back at me. I got tearful -- and you'd better believe I thought about that when my feet were numb and my crotch was on fire.

2. TRAIN for adversity.
When I do these 3 hour, 4 hour, and 5 hour Spinning rides -- I tell myself that I'm going to be proud of myself for finishing, of course. But more importantly, I tell myself that completing this particular training session will uniquely entitle me to feel a certain way.

I KNEW that I wanted to be able to reason with myself, which is why I bothered last week to spend 5 hours on a Spinner in the same pair of soaking wet bike shorts (despite having two extra pairs in my bag), eating ricecakes/PB/bananas while vacationing in the Restaurant Capital of the World. Seriously?

Yes. Because I was uniquely preparing myself for that very specific moment yesterday at mile 53, where I had NO desire to keep going -- but could tell myself, "Hey Self, remember when you rode the equivalent of 75 miles last week? Then you were SOAKED, dripping all over the place, with heinous saddle sores on your thighs. You lived through that -- THIS is no way as bad as what you just did. So why the hell can't you keep going now?"

Good point, Self. You win. Ride on.

I conceived of how well I respond to "discomfort training" when I was preparing for the 6-hour Spinathon I co-led in April. I knew that 'hot feet' were my Achilles heel -- so I did ALL of my endurace training on the elliptical trainer, knowing how much more opportunity I'd have to practice curling my toes and shifting my weight around to relieve compression "on the go." You'd better believe that the stuff I learned how to do those hours on the elliptical ABSOLUTELY reared their head yesterday.

3. Subtleties matter.
I made two major changes in my form. When I describe them, I will appear completely neurotic and ridiculous. But I cannot tell you how much of a difference they made.

My wrists are turned outwards at a 10 degree angle at the ends of the handlebar. THAT subtle. I used to ride my bike (a hybrid with a horizontal handlebar) just like I rode my Spinner. So I changed the way I hold my Spinner; in Hand Position 2, I rotated my wrists entirely indistinguishably to an observer. And that change alone kept me from median nerve compression. FASCINATING.

I made the tiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiniest tweak of my pelvic tilt. The tilt I use indoors, when outdoors (i.e., actually moving forwards and subject to momentum), was forcing me to lean on the handlebars when that hasn't been a problem for me EVER. So I changed it indoors, translated it outdoors -- and BAM: I have complete control over turning my wrists outwards (as described above).

4. It's ok if this lasts forever.
For my first two years of Spinning instruction, my favorite compliment was when people told me that they thought a particular ride "flew by." To me, that meant that I'd done a good job planning the training session, framing it with a good intro context and "skeleton" of what to expect (by which to mark progression towards a goal). More recently, as I've become increasingly into all this 'mindfulness' stuff, I'm no longer striving to present stuff that 'flies by.' Instead, I want time to not matter. It's the ONLY time during most people's days where time can POSSIBLY not matter. I even took the clock off the wall during that special mindfulness course I taught. I wanted everything to be a moment-specific phenomenon, completely inhabited moment-by-moment present tense. It made people anxious at first -- but over time, it came together.

That said, in my classes it is NOT unheard of to climb a steady hill for 40 minutes. You talk yourself through the process of commiting to it, question what it means to you to honor your commitment, and analyze what it's going to take to follow through.

Yet when I ride outside, I want every hill to FLY by. I pick up my pace and power through. I used to suck and dismount midway through much of Vermont's "routine" hills, but I got my pace/gear/balance/steering schtick a bit better coordinated over time. I don't ride cliplessly outdoors (UGH; in major need of a life upgrade) so I can't use my hamstrings. I don't stand up, ever. So all that's left is my speed. I trained for it all winter -- surging up to LT, holding it a minute, then recovering. So that's how I climb hills outdoors.

Then I met a hill that wasn't receptive to this approach. Towne Hill Road in Montpelier, VT. My arch-nemesis. It comes out of nowhere, even though I drive up it every day. Every day, it gets steeper - I swear. An unrelenting banked curve, a mile pure insanity. No shoulder. Rocks everywhere. Cars everywhere. The first time I rode it, I approached it in my usual fashion -- and seriously thought I was going to die (though my HRM assured me that I was just a few beats above LT, and would thus be fine). Faster faster faster -- are you STILL not at the end? -- faster faster faster -- When is it going to end? -- Faster faster ohhh, tired tired tired. Nooooo, end end end, you need to end! I'm a medical student -- free time is hard to come by; this is no way to spend free time.

When I climb hills, I forget that I like to climb. I rush through them and gauge my success by how quickly I can climb them. I'm NOT a racer; if I were, that'd be different. So Towne Hill Rd and I had a face-off a few days ago, and I approached it entirely differently -- symbolically, even. I'll eventually make a ride about it. I just settled into a comfortable pace (64 rpm is something I train for indoors, ALL the time) in a low gear and just CLIMBED. 10 minutes, same pace in my lowest front and back gears. There I was on this AWFUL hill -- just BEING, moving, soaking up the views of the mountains the the pines and the fluffy clouds. I hadn't seen how beautiful Towne Hill Rd. was when I was busy fighting it. I was sub-LT, to boot. Relaxed my shoulders, my grip. In that moment, I was "ok" if Towne Hill Rd. lasted forever. (It lasted 12 minutes; that was probably "forever" enough.)

And it occurred to me that Towne Hill Rd was a great metaphor for medical school. Instead of rushing through it as quickly as possible, worrying about when the end is going to come, I really try to enjoy every day of it -- to be aware and attentive, soaking it all up, learning from everything around me.

There were some pretty epic hills yesterday -- hills that literally did seem that would last forever. And in those moments, I truly was OK if that were true. Because I'd trained to be ok with it. And I was.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Streeetching for Success, Sanity, and Sanctity

My life as an NYC nomad hit an all-time low last night. I've felt FINE throughout my week of couch-crashing whilst logging 350 miles (indoor/outdoor) and schlepping the most wretchedly heavy suitcase and backpack known to mankind. But last night, I slept on a (carpeted) floor. Now? I'm hobbling all over the place.

As many of you know, when I actually lived here, I hobbled quite a bit. After suffering a third-degree strain (tear) of my iliopsoas tendon in April 2008 and re-injuring it too many times to count (after prematurely returning to the saddle, and delaying physical therapy WAY too long), it was pretty uncomfortable to be me for a while. The iliopsoas is our prime hip flexor, after all: forget cycling; basic walking was a big ordeal.

But I don't regret a minute of it. Why? Because this experience taught me the importance of stretching to prevent injury and to promote muscular repair/growth. This happened to me because I used to teach 5 Spinning classes a day -- and even though I was super-responsible about my heart rate control and recovery time, I simply did not stretch sufficiently. I'd always be scurrying about from one club to another, and largely did not attend to my stretching beyond that which I was incorporating into my own classes. I paid the price for that. Now I consider it an important part of my role as a coach to share this message, and to teach people how to incorporate adequate stretching into their fitness regimens.

In NYC, I had a lot of constraints. 45 min classes attended by riders under a lot of pressure to rush back to the rest of their lives. I used to do a 5 minute combined on-bike (cool-down/light upper body stretching)/off-bike (lower-body stretching). So inadequate. I'd then explain why these stretches were inadequate, and encourage people to join me on the mats outside the Spinning studio for another 5-10 minutes of extra stretching. I'd never get more than 1-3 people take me up on that; sometimes none at all.

In VT, I had the advantage to walking into a new place and declaring that "this is the way I do things," and just... doing them. Anxiety-provoking, yes. Somewhat ballsy, yes. Successful? Absolutely.

So in my 60 minute classes, I spend 5 minutes leading a cool-down on the bike with light upper body stretching. Then another 5 minutes off-bike lower body stretching. Then 5-7 minutes on mats at the back of the room, focusing on lower body, upper/lower back, neck, and even breathing techniques.

I've received a few emails from instructors and riders asking about the specifics of what I actually do. I've meant to write this up forever ago, and I apologize for taking so long. Here goes. I'll include a little bit of cueing, in case anyone will find that helpful.

With the exception of the shoulder rolls/overhead extensions (shorter), I coach to be held 20-30 seconds. Hamstring stretches, longer.

1-3 minutes
Back off the resistance a bit, still supporting some resistance. Breathe. In through the nose, out through the mouth. Lengthen the breath a bit longer on the way out, to bring your heart rate down. Back off the resistance a little bit more. Flushing it out, still breathing. [I'll then say something to summarize whatever the ride had been about]. If you've got any resistance left on the flywheel, back it off.

Shoulder rolls (front/back x 4-8)

Overhead stretch x 3 --> Back --> Chest
>> Let abdomen expand as you inhale, bring arms up. Contract as you exhale, bring arms down. [On third inhalation]: lock your fingers up. Press your palms towards the ceiling. Exhale, reach out forward and round out the back. Reach behind you up tall, open up the chest.

>> Drop your shoulder, support with the opposite hand. Reach across and downards. *The key is the shoulder drop before the extension. Switch.

>> Reach up for a tricep stretch. Try to keep your head straight as you pull your elbow down, extending your hand down your back. Switch.

>> Let your head fall gently towards your shoulder. Option: hold the stretch as you are, or gently assist the hold (same hand as shoulder). Option: take your opposite index finger, point down towards the floor to gently lengthen the stretch in the neck. Switch.

Lower Back
>> If your heart rate has returned all the way back down to where you started, press down hard on your red knob and come to a complete stop with one knee up. If your heart rate is still accelerated, keep pedaling. Hold onto the back of the seat and twist the lower back, looking over the back shoulder. Switch.

>> Holding onto the bike, take the inside of one foot. Tuck your knee under your hip, tuck in your tailbone. Squeeze the quadriceps. Hold.
>> Next, to deepen this stretch: inhale and as you exhale, pull the knee back an extra bit and push out forward through the hip flexor in the front of your leg.
>> Next, for an extra challenge to your balance: take your opposite hand and grab your heel. Pull the shoulders back and push out through the chest. Think about your core muscles to keep you steady. Not sucking them in, just paying attention to them. Hold. Don't be afraid to grab onto the bike if you find yourself unsteady.
>> Repeat for opposite leg.

>> Take the heel of your shoe to the lowest part of the bike frame, right there in the center.
>> First step: flex your foot as far as you can, toe up towards the ceiling. When you've got that flexion, hinge forward at your hip -- keeping your back as straight as you can. Reach for the ankle and hold without bouncing. The key to this stretch is the flexion in your ankle, not how high you have your leg -- the lower the better [that usually corrects people who attempt contraindicated positions].
>> Next, to deepen this stretch: Inhale - and as you exhale, flex your foot a little bit more -- toe towards you.
>> Next, for a bit more intensity: Take your opposite hand, turn away from the midline of your body and align your shoulders. Targets the top of your hamstrings as they adjoin your lower back, and even gently stretches the inner thigh a bit.
>> Repeat for opposite side.

>> Cross one shin over the opposite thigh, sit all the way back as though sitting in a chair.
>> To deepen this stretch: inhale -- as you exhale, sit back deeper.
>> Switch

>> Step up to the front or back of your bike, press the ball of your foot up against the flat part. Step in and hold. Switch.

FLOOR (ON MATS) -- if you have access to this in the room, fabulous. Otherwise, skip to the end and then encourage your students to join you in the gym's stretch area for this stuff. THIS is the stuff that makes a huge difference.

Here, I do a lot of combination stretches -- movements that work multiple muscle groups simultaneously. Repeatedly cue to remain oriented to breathing, in through the nose and out through the mouth. People forget to breathe when they exert themselves, as we know.

Start on lower back. Bring knees to chest. Takes tension off the lower back. Rock side to side, massaging the spine.

>> Extend both legs ahead of you. Squeeze one knee to your chest, sliding the opposite heel out along the floor -- extending the leg even further. Feel a gentle pull in the EXTENDED hip.

Hamstrings/Lower Leg (anterior tibialis, fibularis brevis, fibularis longus, gastrocnemius -- I don't think you're getting the soleus much here when the knee is extended, but maybe)
>> Extend your full leg, heel up towards the ceiling. Support your leg either behind your knee, behind your thigh, or walk your hands up your calf. Try to keep the leg straight, wherever you're supporting
>> Gently start to roll your ankle in one direction, slowly. Focus on making the motion a complete circle. If you start to detect that you are making ellipses or other fake circles, slow it down and really focus on making the motion circular. As your muscles fatigue, they don't want to contribute equally to this motion -- which makes the motion fall apart, and contributes to muscular imbalances. Slow it down until you can make it a circle.
>> Switch directions.
>> Flex the ankle up and down a few times to flush it out
>> One more time. One direction circles. Switch directions.

** I tell people that this exercise will not only help to prevent calf/hamstring soreness but will make them better cyclists. By giving the ankle more range of motion, you are better able to drop your heel in the 5 o'clock --> 7 o'clock portion of the pedal stroke. More power on that backstroke is HUGE. I tell people that I do ankle rolls all day long -- under my desk, waiting in line, in NYC when I used to spend hours on subways. Definitely NOT while driving everywhere now, though ;-)

>> Cross one shin over the opposite thigh. Reach through between your legs, pull that opposite thigh to your chest. Feel this pull in the outside of the glute on the crossed leg.
>> To deepen this stretch, inhale - as you exhale, pull the thigh closer to your chest.
>> Switch.

>> Turn over onto your abdomen, face down towards the mat. Align your hands with your chest. Push up through the chest, giving a nice stretch to the lower back. Look straight ahead or up at the ceiling, whatever makes you happy.
>> Sit back over your heels, broadening the shoulder blades. Feel the stretch across the upper back.

More Hip Flexor Fun
>> Sit up into a kneeling position. Lunge out forward with one bent leg. Place all your body weight on the opposite hip flexor.
>> To deepen, inhale - as you exhale, press out forward a bit more.

>> Find a comfortable seated position of your choice
>> [I then explain how the trapezius is a muscle where many of us carry a lot of tension, and is the source of a great deal of neck pain and headaches. I mention that my trapezius ruins my life all day long, except for the moments in which I engage in the stretch we are about to attempt. I describe the anatomy of the trapezius - anchoring at the nuchal line (ie, "middle of the back of your head") and extending down most of the back.
>> Find a spot where you carry tension in that muscle. Apply firm pressure with the opposite hand. Not enough to cause pain. "Comfortably uncomfortable." Maintaining that pressure, raise the shoulder up as high as it goes. Hold. Lower as low as it goes. Hold. Repeat x10, then switch sides.

>> Return to kneeling position. Push off the knee, come up to a standing position
>> Reach up for our final stretch. Inhale up at center, exhale out to the side. Inhale back up center, exhale out to the other side. Inhale back up one more time, reach up as tall as you can - right through the core. And pull it down. Give yourself a round of applause!

Wow, I didn't realize how completely automatically scripted my cooldown/stretch cues were. This post has been quite strange to write.

Time to talk about my most important personal life upgrade in the past 5 years (only because my cycling shoes and heart rate monitor entered my life before then). Self-myofascial release -- aka "foam-rolling."

You've seen them around. They look like "noodles" on which to float in a pool, and you either see them laying around with nobody paying attention to them (because nobody has ever shown them how to use them) or people doing funky things with them. Foam rollers are dense cyllinders of styrofoam -- and the premise is that we use our own body weight against gravity to give our dense connective tissue (fascia) more flexibility/pliability. Connective tissue can become tight, knotted, and thick over time (especially after repetitive movements) -- which restricts our movement (i.e., with "tight hip flexors," it's hard to keep our knees from flaring out to the sides when we ride), and can cause pain/soreness (i.e., just ask anyone with a tight IT band to tell you how they enjoy their connective tissue immobility).

You can foam-roll ANYTHING. Your IT band, hamstrings, iliopsoas, quads, arms, chest, neck, back -- ANYTHING. I could describe a few positions but photos will be more helpful. Just Google "self myofascial release" and your body part of question, and you'll find illustrative photos all over the place.

There are multiple ways to use foam rollers to do this (i.e., rolling vs. holding a single spot). I recommend the latter, as it keeps the distribution of force even. Find a spot where you feel tight, line it up on top of the roller and stack as much body weight as possible onto that one spot. Hold 10-20 seconds, then move to another spot in the same area. Keep going.

When one first begins incorporating self-myofascial release, it hurts -- I'm not going to lie. The tighter you are, the more it hurts. The corollary to that is that, the more you do this --> the less tight you'll be --> the less it will hurt. Performing self-myofascial release 1-2x per DAY (even if you do not feel especially tight) is a solid preventative measure to keep the tissue that supports all of your muscles and bones in optimal conditioning.

Whew. No wonder I've been procrastinating writing this post for months. Hope it's helpful!

Let me know if you have any questions/comments, as always.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

The Brazen, Ballsy Things I've Done in NYC: On the bike, and off.

It's funny how things evolve sometimes. Just six months ago, I was lamenting how I didn't feel that I'd ever be able to truly express the coaching realm of my identity in Vermont -- how my true sense of connectedness could ONLY take place in NYC, and that nothing would ever be the same.

Now I'm NYC, teaching all these old classes of mine (and other random sub gigs), and I feel like someone has tied my hands behind my back and muzzled me. Fascinating.

And frustrating.

When I get frustrated, my go-to coping mechanism is to do something drastic and dramatic to shake me out of my frustration/anxiety. The night before a troublesome med school exam a few months ago, for example, I spontaneously gave myself a pretty dramatic hair cut. Some of my boldest declared "life policies" are borne under conditions of excessive anxiety.


So, behold the Top 5 Brazen, Ballsy Things I've Done This Week in NYC.
1) Had the confidence to "do my thing" independent of eagerness to please
2) Led 10 minute cool-downs/stretches (this does NOT happen in NYC, ever -- people complain if instructors end early, and even start fights over it. It's a major trigger for melodrama in my crazy homeland.)
3) Presented nonstop Endurance rides (I don't call them that -- I just talk about fat-burning and the idea of rationing fuel to be able to last longer without fatigue; people go for that).
4) Started making rides about all the egregious things I see in NYC Spin studios
5) Went through 80+ Itunes playlists of old rides and deleted 70 of them. No joke. And in the process, got enough creative fuel for new rides to last me the next 6 months.

I'll tell you about each of them.

1) Had the confidence to "do my thing" independent of eagerness to please
An instructor colleague of mine took my class a few mornings ago and observed that, since she last rode with me (January), I am an entirely different instructor -- almost an entirely different person, even. "Unrecognizable" was the word she used. Fascinating. The specific aspects of the class and my style that she cited as enjoyable were precisely what I was going for, precisely what's important to me -- and yet, I was shocked when she noted how dramatically my style had evolved. I knew I'd changed -- as I write all the time, I evolve so rapidly that I literally permanently delete rides older than a few months (excepting some self-declared "classics"). But "unrecognizable?" Really?

My last few months in NYC before I moved to start medical school (Summer 2008) was when I started getting really into the psychology of training, started incorporating global "life themes" as ride themes. That really took off as I was departing, and took on a life of its own in my new setting. Were there aspects of mindfulness training, exploration of self-concept, self-efficacy, and the like? For sure. But never as "in your face" as now, and I'm proud of these changes.

As I wrote in my last post, this Mindfulness/Cycling Fusion course I just ran in Burlington was life-altering for me. As I predicted, it's really hard to "regress" to life before coaching as I gave myself permission to coach for the past few months. Because I really do see it as a regression. The concept of using a Spinning training session as a forum for mindfulness training -- that is, practicing the art of paying attention on purpose without interpretation or judgment, as a mechanism for focus, clarity and empowerment -- is hardly rocket science, and hardly unique. But my former population doesn't get exposed to this -- it's new, and new is scary. It's been an intellectual challenge to "sell" it from scratch -- and, by and large, I've done a pretty good job the past few days.

Close your eyes. Raise your hand if you've ever been distracted.
Giggles erupt. 35+ hands go up, theoretically from unique end users.
Thought so. Well, research shows that mindfulness training -- that is, training one's self to pay attention on purpose to external stimuli and one's physiological responses to those stimuli - combats stress and anxiety, lowers blood pressure, and all sorts of things that we, in theory, want to accomplish. The problem, though, in our crazy NYC lifestyle, is that we rarely take the time to sit still and invest in this known effective strategy. So we're here on a Spin bike. Is it possible that we can use this time -- that is, time that is entirely OURS -- to invest in ourselves this way? Who's game?

I don't know if that intro was effective or not, but I found myself using it for a few different rides that had nothing in common theme-wise but had many elements of "Vermont Melissa" of which I'd have felt lousy for depriving them, and for depriving myself of coaching that way. And, yes, I did ask 35 sleep-deprived, concentration-deprived, sanity-deprived New Yorkers to close their eyes and just "be." This is distinguished from closing their eyes and asking themselves questions, or thinking. People who rode with me were used to being asked to think. But to just "be"? Whole new ballgame.

In Burlington, I trained my riders to work up to 20 minutes of a steady pace to a steady beat, synchronized with steady breath at a steady HR with a steady flow of self-dialogue. They rode without my coaching. They rode without music. This was huge -- and I got spoiled by my own success.

In New York, I aimed far lower. 2 minutes without me talking. 2 minutes with their eyes closed. 5 minutes before a song changed (I didn't realize how my music style has evolved! No wonder; I never thought New Yorkers had the attention span for anything that lasts longer than 5 minutes, apparently -- and apparently, I continue to believe that. A lot of my recent go-to favorites, I don't have the balls to play here. It used to be the other way around -- how a Vermont crowd was "limiting" to my style. Go friggin' figure.)

Some people loved it. Some people loved ME but didn't love the ride. Some people walked out. And you know what? I was completely fine with ALL of those outcomes -- because I was confident that the style I've developed is "me," and is EXACTLY how I want to be at this point in my life. Not bad for the self-proclaimed External Validation Junkie.

2) Led 12 minute cool-downs/stretches (this does NOT happen in NYC, ever -- people complain if instructors end early, and even start fights over it. It's a major trigger for melodrama in my crazy homeland.)
As many of you know, I make a BIG deal about cool-downs and stretching. As a physician in training, I value the importance of safely redirecting blood flow back to the organs that so generously went without it at the expense of skeletal muscle's fuel-hoarding -- and of avoiding the negative consequences that come from skipping cool-downs (sudden drop in BP leading to dizziness, nausea, fainting; blood vessels remaining dilated can lead to pooling of blood in legs/feet -- static pools of blood can lead to clots). As a trainer and an often-injured athlete, I value the importance of stretching in preventing injury and promoting recovery.

The "jump off the bike and run back to work" phenomenon is SO widespread in NYC. It's insane. I used to always wrap up my 45 min classes earlier than many other instructors to limit the "excuses" for leaving without it. In VT, I'm spoiled -- my classes are 60 minutes, yet I unapologetically cut off the "work" at 42-45 minutes with the rest reserved for cool-down, on-bike, and off-bike stretching (even full-out mat stretching).

My first 12 min cool-down/stretch in NYC was an accident. My riders' shortened attention span to a couple of long-ish tracks inspired me to advance the tracks early. A ton of tracks. 30 seconds here, 1 minute there -- that all adds up. Oh shit, I think when I see the clock at the start of what I know is my last piece. Wait, no oh shit. Let's actually do a legit cool-down and stretch. Yeah. Make it look purposeful, not like you screwed up. Awesome.

Turns out, it was so fluid that I actually went a few minutes OVER the class' end time. Nice.

So I kept doing this, legitimately purposefully. After one class, one of my former regulars came up to me and thanked me for paying so much attention to stretching. It was one of my favorite moments of the day.

Three cheers for promoting safety AND preventing my own injury/soreness.

Since I promised one reader a thorough account of my cool-down/stretch approach, it seemed fitting to do it here. But this post is getting super-long -- so next one, for sure. I have my laptop with me as I'm playing nomad this week, so I'll be writing a ton.

3) Presented nonstop Endurance rides
'Nough said. I've always conceptualized my role within the particular NYC Spinning community in which I've operated to be to offer what my riders are NOT getting elsewhere. They're getting anaerobic intervals; they don't need more. Earlier in my career, I used to approach Endurance rides as a specific type of training session that is SO important, SO essential, SO (everything good in the world) -- even though they're not fun and require tremendous commitment and restraint. I'm over that; I really am. Now I'm all about how GRADUAL resistance/speed are loaded -- if one makes gradual changes, the idea is to train one's self to get more work done without working harder (ie, at lower, aerobic heart rates). In my book, there's nothing more rewarding then conquering an ABSURD hill and looking down and seeing a sub-LT heart rate.
Why? Because it's not a fluke. It's because one TRAINED for that experience.

4) Started making rides about all the egregious things I see in NYC Spin studios
Want a quick, easy idea to come up with ride themes? Think about all the specific aspects of riding that people struggle with. Aspects of form, breathing, pedal stroke, whatever. I've been doing that for years, and it works out quite well.

But now I'm on a mission. I have 2 weeks to make a meaningful dent in the crap I know that my former regulars are being exposed to -- how I know this is because I've observed ridiculous form lapses that didn't exist 6 months ago in specific people, and because I've observed sub-ideal instruction.

a) How to do LEGITIMATE anaerobic intervals (I made this ride in Vermont -- it's deliberately painful, and only comes out monthly. One of my greatest accomplishments is that this ride really IS awesome, and yet my Vermonters do NOT prefer it over the aerobic stock. "Ugh! Not a sprint!" -- ha, imagine? That's my new world, and it's fantastic.

I'll post the profile later in the week after I present it to my old class Wed night. I *need* to do it here. People don't "get" it, because the average instructor doesn't "get" it.

b) A tour of basic aspects of form -- pedal stroke, center of gravity, upper body, pelvic tilt, etc. and the WHY of each. Will be talking minimally, with the challenge of carving out language they'll keep with them when some jackass tells them to lead on the handlebars, run upright with fingertips, ride seated in "aero," etc.

5) Went through 80+ Itunes playlists of old rides and deleted 70 of them. No joke. And in the process, got enough creative fuel for new rides to last me the next 6 months.
No, really. I did that. I sat myself for 4 hours in my former favorite cafe and just started cleaning house, according to the following criteria:
a) Did you use this ride recently?
b) Do you even remember what you were trying to demonstrate, conceptually?
c) Is this devoid of your go-to music that you already overplay?
d) Does this ride have any value-added in its current form, or would you need to edit it?

I'm not allowed to edit. When I edit, I end up "melding" a ride to look like whatever the last few rides I made. I swap out song after song, until the initial framework is gone -- so I may as well start from scratch.

So if any ride failed the above criteria, I dragged any "oooh, I forgot about you!" songs to a "FOR EVALUATION" playlist and then just plum deleted it. Bye.

Crazy. Shedding of my amateur works of yesteryear (if by "yesteryear" I mean "last month").

What I DID do, however, was write down the titles of what I deleted, if they reflected a particular theme/concept that I'd like to revisit. Because of this effort, I am literally all set with ideas for new rides for at least the next 6 months -- even if I never had another remotely creative impulse ever again.

Just a few:
* "Empowerment by Restraint" (about control of HR, discipline to stay at an aerobic target)
* "Coach Yourself" (about self-dialogue -- form, goals, self-concept)
* "Operation: Anti-Mash" (concept was simple: "hear a beat, lift your knee" -- to try to address the too-common phenomenon of heavy beats breeding heavy quad-mashers. When *I* ride, I go for upstrokes on the downbeats -- so I taught my classes to do that. ABSOLUTELY time to revisit that.)
* "Squeeze & Release" (a Strength ride built entirely around the concept that by contracting then relaxing a muscle, one's heart rate drops. I use that often in my own training but somehow stopped talking about it in my classes)

Sure is stimulating to revisit the past, in the context of the present -- and of the future.