*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, August 18, 2009

Operation: Improvement (and training to get rid of lactic acid)

25 year old female with no relevant previous medical history presents 2 weeks status-post Century, tattoo to commemorate said Century ("Kaizen" in Japanese, the philosophy of continuous, incremental improvement -- a theme I adopted as a "life policy" about a year ago), and the start of her second year of medical school. Experiencing symptoms of "ridiculously painful" semitendinosis tendon, sleep/training deprivation, and writing/coaching withdrawal. Exacerbated by studying. Improves with blogging.

And so, I write.

While I have more balanced a life than many medical students, resuming school last week indeed represents a significant change to my lifestyle and priorities. Farewell, 5-hour training sessions and blog novels. Hello, incoming flood of cognitive stimuli. The start of my second year, however, already feels drastically different than when I left this realm eight weeks ago. I feel totally prepared to filter, absorb, and integrate the stimuli around me. Legitimately useful. Purposeful. Everything happening the way it ought to be. It's a nice 'place' to be in -- and a place that exists as a result of the deliberate cognitive, emotional, and physical efforts I've invested to "make it so." The opportunities I've sought and experienced, the "fuel" I've accumulated, the confidence I've built. The continous, incremental improvement.

And so it is with athletic training, too.

Despite 12-14 hour days working at my rural "dream clinic" this summer, being away from my Spinning classes afforded me the rare opportunity to focus on my own specific training goals (with specific purposes, and specific plans to accomplish them). Though my free time is now DRASTICALLY diminished, I still have another 2 weeks before I resume my Spinning classes (I'm teaching 4/week now, including integrating my "Mindfulness/Cycling Fusion" into the mainstream schedule; plus, a"Intro to HR Training" course and monthly progressively long endurance trainings. Stoked to have so much regular contact with the same groups of riders!). So I'm determined to use these 2 weeks wisely. To train with a purpose -- to train "for something."

Months ago, I wrote about the essential importance of "training for something," and in inspiring the people we train to identify their "somethings," the reasons behind those "somethings," and to understand the processes to reach those "somethings." I introduced the concept with a story about how I structured my own winter training on a Spinner specifically to get better at riding a specific false flat near my home in Burlington that used to torture me last summer. We improve our ability to accomplish specific tasks by DOING those specific tasks. And perhaps even more importantly, we increase our self-efficacy for that task -- our belief in our ability to accomplish it.

When I wanted to climb monster hills at 70% MHR, I trained for it. I practiced "progressive loading" (i.e., my "Increase and Breathe" drill) for 1.5 years. When I wanted to increase my lactate threshold, I trained for it. I practiced sustaining 5-10 beats below LT for 60-minute intervals (as a component of a more balanced training plan, of course -- but that's the part that increased my LT by 10 beats this year). When I wanted to get awesome at taking blood pressure and performing fundoscopic exams, I created opportunities to practice them almost every day for my two months at the clinic this summer.

As I prepare for my next Century (Sat. September 26 -- an organized one, this time), I have a specific thing to train for: I will finish it faster. Why? Because if I don't finish sub-8 hours, the "support" goes home for the day. Because I'll have quantifiable improvement for 6 weeks of specific work.

How am I going to do it? Get good at working at higher, still aerobic (still nowhere near LT) HRs.
I've gotten so "comfortable" at getting routine tasks done at 80% LT that it's painfully fatiguing to come anywhere near LT - let alone exceed it. I've been doing all these long, slow distances for MONTHS that I forgot how to surge and sustain sub-LT efforts that in any way approximate "effort."

Essentially, I "can't get it up." My heart rate, that is. I've gotten so good at accomplishing my routine tasks (long, slow distances) and progressively loaded moderate intensities, that my fast-twitch fibers have gone on vacation. We talk about lag/inability to increase heart rate as a sign of overtraining (along with lag/inability to decrease heart rate)-- and, yes, those are tell-tale giveaways -- but an alternate explanation for not being able to elevate HR is being out of practice. Remember, we get good at the tasks we practice DOING. I stopped "doing."

It's Goal #3 where I am concentrating my efforts now: lactate clearance/tolerance. By training 5-10 beats below LT, one improves one's ability to clear lactic acid WHILE working -- and thus prolongs muscular fatigue.

Here's what I've been up to over the past 2 weeks -- and, already, I experience a total difference in my performance. I should also state for the record that I've been taking passive recovery days after each of these.

Training #1: "Surges" to 10 beats below LT.
5 sets (3 surges per set) of 30 seconds apiece, recovering to 85% LT in between.

Later, I varied the surge length: 60s, 90s, 2 mins, 5 mins. It was pretty absurd to remember that, just 4 months ago before my immersion in long slow distance training, I was holding LT for a half hour. (Again, we get good at doing what we practice doing. I used to practice THAT.)

I also varied the intensity (surging to 5 beats below LT), as well as the activity -- Spinner, Arc trainer.

Training #2: Continuous lactate clearance -- sustained work at 10 beats below LT.
Warmed up for 10 minutes (working up to 80% LT), then held 10 beats below LT for 30 minutes. Later, that became 40 minutes. Then, 50 minutes.

Also, varied the activity. Arc trainer and, ultimately, 15 miles on my real bike indeed sustained at that "10 beats below LT mark." That was fun -- flat, traffic-free bike path (i.e., complete control over my intensity). Pretty sweet.

Training #3: "LT surges" with incomplete recovery
To force myself to get good at this, I'm doing a 15.6 mile bike relay leg of a triathlon on Saturday. I'm not a racer. I just want to get good at picking up mileage during my Century without crossing LT, is all -- so I needed something to inspire me to train for it.

A few days ago, I did a pretty neat outdoor training that parallels how I plan to attack this race: 10 beats below LT as my default pace (I'm not looking to win anything: I'm just looking to get good at riding a select 15 miles at THAT intensity), littered with LT surges (30-60 seconds) and "recoveries" to 89% LT.

Training #4: Establishing "My New Comfort Zone"
Yet again, because we get good at doing the things we do all the time, we can determine our comfort zones. When we train for long periods of time at x heart rates, we get good at it -- comfortable with it. This is why people who overtrain at super-intense anaerobic HRs too frequently (often as a result of misguided instructors "kicking their ass" in every Spinning class, in efforts to curry favor from those who don't know better!) don't actually perceive that their exertion is all that high; they get used to it! They suffer the adverse effects of overtraining, they're not making efficient use of fuel, and they're NOT going to accomplish their goals -- but they don't think that they're working all that hard. When they slap on a HRM and attempt to stay, say, below 70% MHR, they feel like they're asleep. Their PERCEPTION acclimated; the initial goal of HR training is to build a legit aerobic base wherein their heart PHYSIOLOGICALLY acclimates to getting more work done without working harder.
My point is: When we train at x heart rate, x heart rate starts to feel comfortable. So long as x heart rate is a sub-LT intensity at which our skeletal muscles have acquired sufficient cellular adaptation (i.e., can burn the right % of fuel from the right sources), we can sustain x heart rate for a really damned long time. (We can then progressively load the amount of work we can get done without working harder -- focusing on breathing techniques to moderate our physiological response to change, so that x heart rate stays right where it is... even with additional speed or load).

I got so good at sustaining 80% LT that I trained myself to get enough done there that I could be comfortable all the time. I want to be able to feel THAT comfortable at a higher intensity. Still sub-LT, still using mostly fat for fuel (though likely not as high a % of fat)-- just able to get even MORE done, and still be comfortable. 89% LT is my new target "comfort zone" -- something that feels easy and refreshing.

Today's 60 minute training on the Arc trainer was pretty neat.
10 minute warmup at 80% LT.
Load to 89% LT and sustain for 50 minutes.
Along the way, I threw in:
2 surges (60 seconds) to that "magic" 10 beats below LT (my prescribed "race pace" for Sat)
1 surge (60 seconds) to 5 beats below LT (something I could hold longer if I had to)
1 surge (60 seconds) to LT

Wow, I did NOT intend to write this much. So much for that whole "responsible medical student" thing.

Allow me to conclude by introducing you to a phenomenal resource that explains, with far greater precision and far greater detail the background knowledge behind the concepts I touched upon here. Spinning MI Jennifer Sage launched an E-book last year called "Keep It Real," a 177-page bible that details close to EVERYTHING an indoor cycling instructor OR enthusiast could ever want to know (or know how to explain to others) about how to optimize indoor cycling training to accomplish indoor and outdoor training goals. You might know the basics of the relationship between road cycling and indoor cycling, and you might indeed know even the most advanced, subtle points covered. But what I find particularly striking is the language Jennifer uses, masterfully speaking to both sophisticated trainers and lay recreational "exercisers" alike.
She gracefully articulates concepts that I've struggled for years finding the right ways to describe -- particularly as it relates to the science of lactate threshold, VO2 max, why they matter, and how to train to impact both.

Moreover, "Keep It Real" features an entire section about intensity training -- how to measure, how to structure training sessions to accomplish x training goals, and then an addendum of various training profiles (to use for your classes, or yourselves). It's fantastic. I cannot recommend this book more highly.

On the continuum of improvement, both as a coach and as an athlete, this book most certainly contributed to mine.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

My 1st Century: Check.

Last weekend, I made a cameo in Burlington (I haven't been home for more than 12 hours in two months!). Upon cleaning off my ridiculously frightening desk, I found the scrap of paper that I'd scribbled my Summer 2009 Master Goals List months and months ago as a medical school procrastination tactic, after which I promptly stuffed the paper in my desk. Turns out, there were five things I was "supposed" to do. I actually did two of them so far. Neat. One of them, I think I could pull off if I extend my deadline a little bit (it's a creative way of framing a leg press goal). The other two? Not so much.

"#4) Wrap up data collection for your Psychological Effects of Heart Rate Monitor Use study
#5) Work up to riding 75 miles outdoors."

Uh-oh. Summer 2009 ends for me this weekend (I resume school on Monday). Better get crackin'.

So today, I did both of those things (PS. if you still want to take the survey, go 'head: I'm not looking at data til tomorrow night...). And then some.

Yours truly, the woman who couldn't touch her bike without crying at the start of summer, rode 107 miles.

It was an accident, really. I was ticked off at myself for not remembering this goal when I rode a 70 miler two weeks ago -- I'd felt fine, I could have kept going. But I didn't. So it doesn't count. I'd said 75, and it made sense that I'd have said 75 -- with 6 weeks til my September 26 Century, having knocked off 75 miles would provide infinitely different psychological fuel than 70 would. (I've written a bunch of blog posts about my deliberate, obsessive and insanely purposeful outdoor/indoor training this summer - micromanaging various physical and psychological weaknesses over time. These mind games are key; those 5 miles totally mattered).

But who the hell has time for a 75 mile ride? Wait, you do. You're on vacation, idiot - you just forget, and work 14 hours a day. So I took the day off from the clinic. I was open about it, too. I told my preceptor that I had to work on my HRM study and ride 75 miles on a bike. He finds my ridiculum endearing, I think.

Great. But where to ride? My "rule" post-accident is that I only take on routes I've seen before. It's a long-term solution but it works for now. I figured I'd do a modified version of the 70 mile route I did two weeks ago. I packed accordingly. As I started to ride, I was antsy. I started calculating a bunch of different mileage combinations of different sub-routes I'd been on since I moved to Central VT for the summer -- trying to figure out alternative routes that could add up to a 75 or 80 mile loop. I kept changing my mind about where I wanted to go -- how hard I wanted to work, how scenic I wanted to view, how far I knew things were. I may have mentioned my junky cyclocomputer before: the cadence clip works fine; the mileage gauge keeps shifting and shorting out (so I never know how fast I'm going, how far I've traveled, ANYTHING like that...). So it was important to me to make SURE I was getting my full 75 in; else, I'd be disappointed in not accomplishing my goal.

Then I saw a sign at what I surmised to be the 12-15ish mile mark: Newport 35 miles. My mission was clear. Forget the loop; I'd make this an out-and-back. 35 miles to Newport (plus the 15 I'd already done), and back. A Century. Today would be my day. How sweet would THAT be?
What a great story it would make. What a great capstone to the best summer of my life. How could I NOT do it? How could I come so close, and not do it?

So I did it. And, upon coming home and mapping it out, turns out I MORE than did it. And I'm not going to lie: I feel on top of the friggin' world.

As always when I do something I wasn't supposed to be able to do, I want to share what I learned:

1) A specific plan with a specific route and specific markers along the way is key.
ALL of my training sessions have these. ALL of the Spinning classes I coach have these. This ride did NOT have this. I didn't REALLY know how far anything really was. My cyclocomputer didn't work, so the vague town mileage signs weren't always accurate. In my mind, there was actually a huge possibility that I wasn't clearing 100 miles. I rehearsed how to cope with that disappointment. I rehearsed being proud of myself for a 90 mile ride; I even rehearsed what I'd tell myself if I found out to have done 98 or 99 miles. The point is: If I knew, definitively, that I was 100% on track to accomplish x goal, I could have used that goal as fuel. I didn't dare. Note to self: I need to bring my cyclocomputer in to get fixed, yet again.

2) Giving myself permission to do anti-cyclist things has contributed to my self-concept as a cyclist.
I stopped clipping in after I hit my head on concrete. Can't wrap my brain around it; just can't do it. I tried. I should try again - but I haven't. I've been riding with my cycling shoes with the cleats screwed off - just to look and feel like a cyclist, even though it's incredibly uncomfortable and contributes NOTHING to the efficiency of my pedal stroke. I have super-tiny pedal surfaces (it's just the SPD clip), so the rigidity of the sole does NOTHING for power -- or "hot feet," for that matter. So today I wore sneakers. Yes, 107 miles in friggin' sneakers. And my feet felt fantastic for the first time all summer. (This weekend, I'm going back to clipless and that's final.)

I've also taken up riding with a larger Camelback, to pack enough food to eat every hour. The light one I've been using for more than a year doesn't hold enough for these distances I've been riding as of late. So I have this pseudo-bulky, pseudo-heavy (when the water pouch is full) thing on my back, kind-of compressing my anterior triangle of my neck (where the roots of the brachial plexus, the nerve network for the arm, neck, and back). But I LOVE this damned bag. I've had to learn to carry my shoulder differently -- contracting the rhomboid (imagine doing a press to the mid-chest) and posterior deltoid, to make sure that I'm not compressing my nerve. It's FINE. I look absurd but I feel fantastic to have everything I need with me at all times.

I also took three separate dosings of 800 mg of ibuprofen, every 3.75 hours. I never do that. I hate taking anti-inflammatories for muscular soreness because they interfere with muscular strength-building (in order to grow muscle, you need to overload it enough to cause a micro-tear and inflammation in the muscle fiber; then, that tear is repaired over the next 24 hours). If you block the tear/inflammation part, the repair never takes place. But today I didn't want to deal with a heat headache or any twinges in my gracilis tendon (which has been inflammed since my post-70 mile hike two weeks ago). So I didn't deal with them.

Perhaps the most anti-cyclist thing that I've taken up doing is BLOCKING wind and slowing down on crazy downhills. Downhill makes me anxious. So I've taken up sitting upright and gently coasting down as slow as I can. See #5, as a consequence. But at least I don't have panic attacks. For now, this will do. I eased up on the brakes FAR more today than any other ride post-accident -- I felt confident, knowing how good I was at slowing down during the 70 miler (previously, I've freaked out when I've felt like I couldn't sufficiently slow down to meet my comfort level). So, a work in progress.

3) I'll say it again: FUEL FUEL FUEL.
I spent time last week with a competitive cyclist who decided it was a good idea to consume only his BMR's worth of calories while he trained, in efforts to lose weight. As a doctor in training, let alone a cycling coach, I simply could not stand back and let this continue. I staged an intervention and tried my darnedest to educate him to the fact that a) BMR fuels a sedentary person's sleep; an athlete burns more calories than BMR by opening his eyes in bed; b) BMR slows down in caloric deprivation due to thyroid compensation (which is why restrictive diets don't work); c) whatever BMR formula he was using was probably wrong, and didn't take into account his lean muscle mass; d) Ready-access glycogen (replenished by eating every hour during training) is permissive for fat-burning; if your glycogen dips past a certain point, your muscles CANNOT use fat for fuel regardless of heart rate. Cortisol will break down muscle for raw protein material for the liver to convert to sugar. I repeat: If you do not regularly replenish your sugar during long endurance training, your body will break down muscle and you will not burn fat.

I used to have a life policy of eating every hour. During my 70 miler and today, I extended that to every 90 minutes, for convenience of stopping. Bad. What that meant was that I was eating too much at breaks (I like to keep my breaks < 2 minutes, which makes it NOT practical and NOT comfortable to eat a whole sandwich at once then get back on the bike), because I was hungry for it. It is better to eat BEFORE you get hungry, and to drink BEFORE you get thirsty. I will do this differently in September.

I also set out today with just plain water in my Camelback (which I NEVER do if I plan to train for more than 3 hours). I started to notice how salty my sweat was - saltier than usual. I was 'wasting salt' because my electrolytes were thrown off. When I stopped at the general store, I poured a whole bottle of Vitamin Water and another bottle of regular water into my pouch. Life-altering. My sweat composition changed within the hour - it was pretty amazing. The kidney's cool like that.

4) The way I talk to myself while I'm riding is BEYOND important.
I'm not going to lie: I could have done a MUCH better job of monitoring my self-dialogue today. Every "F*&$" and "This is never going to end!" and "This f&*%ing sucks!" was ABSOLUTELY not helpful. The last 20 miles were nearly unbearable, thanks to stuff like this. Again, see Lesson #1. I would have been far more positive had I been able to remind myself what I was doing, and why it was important. I didn't actually know that I was DOING anything huge, enough to coach myself through it. All I knew was that I was tired, sore, hot, and frustrated. But you better believe that "Hey, you rode 107 miles. X is nothing!" is going to aaaaaaaaaaaaaaabsolutely me my new favorite self-coaching technique.

5) I'm pretty set on the concept that what I did today was awesome. But I'm already dead-set on what I need to get more awesome at.
Speed. I train to keep my heart rate down despite challenge -- I've gotten so good at slogging along at super-low HRs at 64-74 rpm. So that's the rhythm towards which I gravitate, and I've forgotten how to power it home. I was at 70% MHR (which, for me, is 80% LT) for most of the ride, even when I was really pushing. I didn't even come CLOSE to LT at any point today, even on some pretty ridiculous hills. I find my comfort zone (80% LT, where I spend the majority of my time during any activity) and pleasantly exist there. I sat in that saddle for 8 hours at 15 minutes today. I CANNOT do that, ever again. Yes, I took a ton of breaks. Yes, I physically went into stores to buy stuff. Yes, I may or may not have stopped for an icecream cone at the 85 mile mark (I was SO discouraged around mile 80 -- this was the deal I made with myself to NOT stop and call someone to come retrieve me and Triumph prematurely). But that's a damned long time. I'm going to start training for this on a Spinner, first. I've got 6 weeks to make this happen.

And in the meantime:
"#4) Ride 75 miles" -- check. Been there, done that. Blew it out of the water.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

I need 16 more responses for my Psychological Effects of HR Training Study

I try to discipline myself to never post anything anywhere unless it's specifically and deliberately contributing to other people's worlds. But I'd be kicking myself if I didn't take this opportunity.

As many of you know, I am conducting a worldwide study of the psychological effects of Heart Rate Monitor use - sampling the perspectives of recreational and competitive athletes and non-athletes who use HRMs during exercise. This study will identify not only practical applications of HRMs beyond convention but help us, as athletes and coaches like, appreciate effective ways of communicating HR training science (based on what people are anonymously reporting that they perceive).

I am 16 responses shy of my target sample size. Can you help? If you or anyone you know (your students, friends, ANYONE in your life) who has ever exercised with a Heart Rate Monitor, I would be most grateful if you could participate in this 5-minute anonymous survey.

I aim to close down data collection TOMORROW so that I can do data analysis (by hand!!) before I resume my second year of medical school, so that this project doesn't sit on a shelf for months. I know that many of you are eager for results -- nobody is more eager than me!

Spinning MI Jennifer Sage did a far better job of explaining my effort than I am, actually:
Read her post here.

Many thanks in advance for your help!