It's not that I was "too busy" to write for the past seven months. It's that I had nothing to say. For all my talk of cycling/indoor cycling as a transformational process to build generalizable skills to conquer all of life's challenges, my present life (2 months from the end of my penultimate year of medical school) is now such that cycling is no longer enhancing my life to the extent that it once did. I rode outside 4x this year total, and rarely ride a Spinner except for when I'm teaching. When I watch people die, or have people tell me they want to die, or watch people go home from the hospital thinking they're "all better" when, really, they're just going to die, how much control I had over my heart rate during my last training session doesn't even occur to me - let alone be meaningful. When I've slept 13 hours a week, or spent 16 hours a day standing in an operating room, or realize that I spend most of a given day counting down the hours til it's over, riding a bike is nothing more than riding a bike - and I simply don't want to. Nor have I been in any way motivated to write about it, despite how much I've appreciated so many people's email/Facebook encouragements to do so.
I've ridden hundreds of miles just to prove various thing to myself over time. I've crafted hundreds of IDC training sessions for my classes themed on creating such opportunities for other people. Hundreds of people have told me that they "get" it - and in those moments, the return on investment is huge. But lately, I throw my profiles/music (essentially, an assortment of the same 25 songs in different orders/combinations x 4 months) together an hour before class, spend five minutes thinking about my theme/purpose/introductory lines, and entirely wing the rest of my cues. I never repeat an old ride because it takes me longer to recall what I initially intended with an old profile than it does to just make a new one. The profiles are deliberately simply structured such that a) people perceive that it passes quickly, since they have fewer "different things" that happen, and b) the medical student in me is pretty good at retaining [anything] for an hour, such that I don't have to bother writing out my profiles. I scribble stuff during the creation process, and then I throw it out. Yes, it helps to have years' worth of stock "things I say" that I can get away with this. And I mean a lot of different "things I say." Experience is kind-of like cheating. This is not a practice I recommend, as even if people somehow tap into strokes of inspiration from my stale cues, I certainly don't inspire myself (which makes it really hard to self-motivate to even show up to teach). My cues have been very technical lately +/- stock "greatest hits" cues that I could spit out in my sleep (and probably do, for all I know - my fiance is a heavy sleeper... yes, by the way, since going AWOL from the blogosphere, I've gotten engaged!). Point is, very rarely have I talked about riding a bike as being anything more than riding a bike lately. I just don't have it in me.
And you know what? nobody seemed to notice the difference. Was it because they already had the legitimately well-developed self-talk cues I'd taught them for years? Or was it really that they didn't care either?
Last night was to be my last class of the semester (I teach at a university, which structures its group fitness schedule around the undergraduate academic calendar despite 50% of my riders being graduate students or faculty). After 12 hours at the hospital, I came home 30 minutes before I'd have to leave to teach. I conceived of a profile on my 5 min commute home (a loop ride of long climb/6x accelerations x 2), and threw together selections of the aforementioned 25 songs + a few random additions. When I was done, I wasn't proud of it. It was boring, and I didn't even want to ride it myself.
But then I had an epiphany. What's, like, the most important technical skill I teach people? What's the foundation of pretty much all of my training profiles, including this boring 2-climb loop? What is the single-most important drill that improves my clients' fitness, and generalizes to the rest of life (even if I'm too burnt out to think to remind people of such)? Progessive loading, obviously. "Increase, and breathe." That is, loading resistance so gradually that one's body has time to adapt and accomodate the challenge. Building up a hill so subtly that one might still be at 80% LT at the top. Accepting and committing to a challenge in such a way that it can be sustained, indefinitely. Mastering the way one's body responds to challenge through breath modulation. Really, the only reason I'm able to pull off halfway decent rides despite no longer investing hours of preparation, is that this drill is so damned good.
So what would be the most meaningful contribution I could possibly make to whoever showed up for this class, on a Friday night in the middle of a snowstorm? If I could REALLY, truly make them "get" it.
I took my loops and broke them down. Each loop was ~ 18 minutes each. What if instead of guiding the class through random increments of "subtle adjustment," I gave them more structure? What if I gave them a starting point and an end point, and challenged them to create everything in between - thereby forcing them to internalize what it truly means to "load gradually." To pace themselves.
So, I did.
I explained the purpose of mastering the skill of progressive loading, and told them the mechanism by which we would attempt to do so. We would have two hills, where the steepness of each would be built up so gradually that they would be able to sustain their efforts without letting their heart rates get out of control/needing to take a break. Every minute for 18 minutes, they would load resistance. What that means is that it is up to them to decide how much they load (i.e., to define what "add a little bit of resistance" means to them). If they loaded a full turn or even a half-turn of the resistance knob, depending on the maintenance status of their bikes, that might be too much to count as "gradual," which is why I never coach resistance loading like that (and absolutely HATE when I hear other instructors coaching as such). In any event, their challenge was to load resistance so subtly that by the 18th increase, they'd be able to conquer two sets of 3x 30 second accelerations at the same level of resistance.
Intro Speech (one day, I'll write about how this is truly the most important part of a ride):
Cues: See above
Fade to Grey - Winman
Cues: Find your breath, in through the nose, out through the mouth. Try to make the breath on the way in slightly longer on the way out. When you inhale, HR increases slightly; when you exhale, HR decreases. So if the exhalation is longer than the inhalation, the net effect is that your HR comes down. This is a skill you'll use later. Intensity should feel like the work is beginning but you can literally sustain this forever - not just all day, but forever. Shoulders rolled back and down, loose, elbows point down towards the floor. Knees come up to the center of the chest. Especially if your hips are tight, your knees want to flare out to the side - make every effort to bring them into the midline.
Higher Love - Safri Duo
In My Head - Jason Derulo
Pump It - Black Eyed Peas
Womanizer (Remix) - Britney Spears
Left Outside Alone (Remix) - Anastacia
I really, truly didn't talk much - and I think it made for a better ride.
Every minute x 18 minutes, load "a little bit more resistance."
Remember to pace yourself.
(Assorted reminders of breath, upper body form, lower body form, pedal stroke, etc.)
If your mind starts wandering, close your eyes.
If your legs are feeling heavy, slide your weight to back of the seat on the widest part of the seat, takes the pressure off the back and off the knees.
The more resistance you load, the looser your upper body needs to get. Give the momentum, the energy you create, somewhere to go... besides your joints.
After every 6th loading, I cued them that they were 1/3 and 2/3 of the way there. At the 17th increase, I reminded them that they had 2 sets of 3x 30 second accelerations coming after their 18th adjustment.
At the base of the hill, I told them that they should feel like they could carry on a perfectly normal conversation, like a light jog, "something they could sustain all day but not forever." For those with HRMs, 30 beats below LT.
1/3 of the way there, I told them that they should feel like they could carry on a conversation but that they would really need to pay attention to their breathing. Something they could hold most of the day, for several hours, but not all day. 20 beats below LT. "If you're past that, back off your resistance slightly, and find your breath again - in through the nose, out through the mouth."
2/3 of the way there, intensity should feel like you wouldn't want to have a conversation. You could get several words out, but you'd be distracted by how much attention you'd have to pay to your breathing. There should be no burning in the legs or tightness in the chest. 10 beats below LT. Breathing is still rhythmic. If you're past this, back off your resistance.
At the 17th loading, I remind them that even at the 18th adjustment, you're right below the point at which burning in your legs begins. Still no tightness in the chest, not gasping for hair. Still completely in control of that breathing rhythm. "In.... and out..." Breathing gets more purposeful, more deliberate. Forceful, long breath on the exhale, make room for a deeper breath on the next breath.
2 sets of 3x accelerations - 30 seconds each:
Place in Your Heart - Journey
Jukebox Hero - Foreigner
Recovery (4-5 mins):
All Eyes on Me - Goo Goo Dolls
Sunglasses at night (Remix)
Since You've Been Gone - Remix - Kelly Clarkson
Club Can't Handle Me - Flo Rida (yeah, I play dance-rap now in my classes; it's ridiculously not me, yet I can't get enough)
In the Ayer - Remix - Flo Rida
Don't Stop Believin' (Remix)
2 sets of 3x accelerations:
We Weren't Born to Follow - Bon Jovi
Chasing Cars (Remix) - Tiesto
Hold on Loosely - .38 Special
This Kind of Love - Sister Hazel (this is what will play when my wedding party walks down the aisle, as a point of useless trivia)
The Climb - Miley Cyrus
Afterword: This was, by far, one of the most rewarding classes I've EVER taught (including comparisons to my crazy, surreal days of NYC when people used to rave of their various Spinning-induced epic life changes - the kind of moments that almost made me want to withdraw my med school applications back in the day, because coaching IDC was rewarding enough!). Since I mostly shut up and let people rock out/groove to the steady beats and mark their steady mini-goals, I could look around the room and watch people totally "in their zone." All this time, I thought I wasn't connecting because I wasn't saying anything epic.
But, really, all I ever had to do was shut up and teach people a concrete skill. It didn't need to mean anything more than what it was at its most basic level. It was enough.
*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.