*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 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.

1 comment:

Courtney said...

I LOVED the new intro, and thought the ride was great. Looking forward to riding again tonight--great to have you back Melissa! I even worked out over the weekend after being inspired by your class.