*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.


Charles said...

I wrote about this topic on my blog. I titled it "What You Train is What You Get' based on my experience on a fast paced ride in which I got dropped. Be careful M, you are going to turn into a machine on your bike if you're not careful :) BTW, as you know, a great way to improve your time is not stopping as often and for as long. Sounds like a no-brainer but Saturday, I did 64 miles without stopping and was able to accomplish my goal of sub 3 hours. The course was much a=harder than I thought but I fueled well before the ride then used power gels every 45 minutes with Heed from Hammer Nutrition to hydrate. I could have used one more bottle of water at the end but I survived. Congratulations on your progress as a "real cyclist" as you put it! Keep it up!

Lane said...

I have a hard time keeping it down...my heart rate that is.

sean said...

what happened to racing and training on emotion? bob kennedy, (previous american record holder for 5k until a few weeks ago) has gone on the record as saying he never used a heart rate monitor. and that the first 2 miles of a 5k he ran based on feel and the last mile he ran on emotion. his argument was that a race can't be won if you run to a pace or to a standard the whole way, nor can anyone run all 5k on emotion...you'd simply burn out. i suppose my question is, when do you incorporate emotion into your training or into your racing? while i think science is important and essential to success, emotion breaks barriers. whatever your goal for 100miles is, might it be an emotional goal, not a scientific one? how'd you do anyway?
by the way, i just moved to colombia to travel and train at altitude. any tips?