*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.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

A cycling video that made me think? No way.

I could make plenty of excuses for going 6 weeks sans blog post. Battling H1N1, medical school, studying for my medical license Boards, new boyfriend, contributing to ICI/Pro. But instead, I'll just admit that I'm human.

Sure, it's swell that I can be a medical student and do all this extra "stuff" (coaching, training, sleeping, writing...) -- but what it also means is that I don't have a margin for flexibility. Now that I've thrown all this new "stuff" into the mix, I'm forced to reckon with my sub-superhuman status. Something has to give.

The trouble is that the coaching part of my life is undeniably affected by my new life demands. My Spinning classes are mediocre (though nobody would call me on it, or perhaps even notice...). I'm not making time for my own solo training (i.e., source of ALL coaching creativity). I'm still contributing to society. But it doesn't feel good. I feel guilty.

Guilt is a powerful mover. For all my talk of pursuing things that inspire me and detaching from things that drain me, I am a creature of obligation. When I make promises, both to myself and others, I guilt myself into upholding them by whatever means necessary. So when I break promises (i.e., not blogging about all the things I've been wanting to blog about -- neat class ideas, etc.), I feel quite distressed. I feel distressed because I should be able to make time for everything.

When Gene Nacey of Global Ride asked me to review his recent on-location cycling video, Speed & Power in Italy, I should TOTALLY have declined. I didn't have time, didn't have interest, didn't have ANY baseline quality that one would want in a reviewer. I hate cycling videos. I can appreciate their utility and appeal to many people -- but they just don't 'do it' for me.

But since another one of my rate-limiting character flaws is that when people I deeply admire attempt to include me in projects of great import to them, I get so excited that I forget to keep track of the life activities that I can’t stand (i.e., sitting on my Spinner with a laptop blocking my cyclometer’s report of everything I care about, looking and listening to stuff about which I could not care less). When I’m training indoors, I don’t try to pretend that I’m outdoors – I want to close my eyes, inhabit deafening, life-consuming rhythms, and forget that there even is an “outdoors.” I’ve ridden multiple Centuries outdoors – yet when I go to the end of bringing in outdoor footage to my indoor universe, I am insanely bored within literally 35 seconds. No wonder I’ve declined every review request I’ve received to date.

So when I came down with H1N1 after letting Speed & Power in Italy collect dust on my kitchen table for two weeks, I was relieved for a legitimate justification for further procrastination. Medical school? Insufficient. 104 fevers and breathing difficulties? Sweet.

I share this because I want to capture just how pessimistic and hostile a reviewer with whom you’re dealing. This way, you believe me when I describe how good this video is.

As it turns out: this video emphasized so many core priorities of my "agenda" as a coach, that it legitimately prompted me to spend time reconnecting with those priorities. It prompted me to evaluate whether or not, despite the challenges of time and energy resources, I was effectively conveying to my classes what I want to be conveying.

So I'm going to tell you about this video -- yes, because I promised; but also, because I think it might be helpful to many of you looking to be prompted for self-evaluation (i.e., probably why you read my blog) or even to pick up new ideas for cueing language on form and intensity.

Speed & Power in Italy is a 60 minute training session comprised of four shorter segments, each building in intensity towards a powerful finish. I could describe the masterful footage (this is the most realistic filming I’ve ever seen --capturing subtle changes in terrain, alignment for drafting the rider ahead, and aspects of the scenery that felt “real” enough to trigger appreciative memories of personal outdoor adventures). I could describe the effectiveness of the structured, graphical time-counters to mark one’s progress and pace one’s self. I could even describe my fascination with the narrating coach’s breathing patterns that are secretly audible through one audio track (if listening with headphones; unnoticeable if listening through speakers – as a coach, I would love if my riders could actually hear and learn from the specific way I breathe during various efforts. Too bad that’s creepy. Here, it’s creepy, too – if one can get over the “creepy” and attempt to learn from it, one will surely get a lot out of it. If not, just listen through regular speakers.)

But I have far more important things I’d like to describe. Things that distinguish this video as an outstanding resource for athletes and coaches alike.


During the warm-up, there were a few mentions of training at “60% of your max.” I groaned – grunted, actually. Once I stopped being overly dramatic, I was treated to an excellent discussion of the uselessness of age-based maximum heart rate formulas and the introduction of a 1-10 Rate of Perceived Exertion Scale. There was a brief mention of “threshold” (lactate threshold) as being the useful anchor for training parameters. From there on out, there were no more “x% of your max” references, at least – and the RPE scale was consistently applied throughout the training session. I was impressed by the specific attention that was paid to intensity. We are reminded to “stay true to (our) numbers,” and continuously self-monitor. Bravo! Indoor cycling instructors can learn a lot from the language our narrating coach uses to explain perceived exertion and why it matters.


This program went out of its way to cue excellent riding form – upper body carriage, pedal stroke, hip alignment, diaphragmatic breathing. After a particular cue was communicated, the specific film footage would shift perspectives (from first-person view to actually looking at a rider) to be able to best demonstrate the form issue in question. Frontal, side, and rear views contributed a great deal of value-added to the effective descriptors.


While intensity parameters were suggested, there were frequent reminders to adjust one’s intensity to wherever one needed to train. I rode the entire training session at 65% of lactate threshold, for example; that’s what I needed. Consistent reminders to incorporate monitoring of intensity and cadence served to motivate and re-focus.

The options for coaching on/off (with additional options to choose from American, Australian, and German coaches, to boot!) and music on/off are ideal for accommodating individual preferences. If you’re a music snob like me (with a complete inability to self-motivate whilst being forced to endure displeasing tunes), the “no music” option will afford you the opportunity to play your own music while taking advantage of the features that are more meaningful to you. (For the record: the first track of the final segment, “Rockin’ to Rocca,” is incredible. Those three minutes weren’t just tolerable to this Cycling Video Non-Believer; they were genuinely AWESOME.)

In conclusion, Speed & Power in Italy is scientifically sound, technically excellent coaching captured in the context of exceptional cinematic talent. Whether you seek a resource to guide and complement your training, or whether you’re looking for an arsenal of ways to communicate training principles to your clients, Speed & Power will surely get you there.


Want more cueing ideas? I promise I'm going to write up two cool ride profiles this weekend, including my new 2-hour Endurance ride called "Own Your Awesome." Now that I've said the "p" word, that means that I actually have to do it.

In the meantime, check out ICI/Pro -- a fantastic resource for training/coaching tips geared to instructors and enthusiasts alike.


MorroBayChuck said...

Great review Melissa. I also reviewed this video and was very impressed. The only thing I am not sure of is why you don't like % of max. I know that threshold is now the way to go, but I have field tested my max so I know it is accurate and have been using % of max. Isn't that ok until I can get a full-on metabolic testing to know my threshold?

Melissa Marotta said...

Thanks for writing, Chuck!
Here's a fantastic journal article about the inadequacy of the % MHR formula: http://faculty.css.edu/tboone2/asep/Robergs2.pdf

Here's what I would do: I would equate your findings for what you experience as lactate threshold (8/10 on the 0-10 RPE scale; compare to my reference chart here: http://spintastic.blogspot.com/2008/07/analogue-between-rate-of-perceived.html ), and set that number = 85% MHR. Then you can reverse-calculate a "fake" MHR from which to take the rest of your percentages. This way, you're still anchoring your training parameters to LT.
Hope that helps!