As an instructor, I get asked a lot about how I exercise when I'm not teaching classes. My schedule right now actually requires me to break a sweat and do the work 3 days a week. When I'm up there on the bike, or in the hammock for Air Fit, or on the mat for pilates, I'm exercising right a long with you -- as opposed to when I teach a power yoga class, where I'm mostly walking around or just moving my arms (but also probably sweating, because I AM A SWEATY PERSON).
On the other 4 days a week, when I'm teaching yoga or have a day off, I like to mix in strength and cardio workouts to round out my fitness and keep it interesting. A cardio-addict in recovery, I'm actively trying to do more weight training throughout the week. It's so much easier for me to hop on the bike or go for a run, but building muscle helps us move functionally through the world, and here's a whole host of reasons why weight training is ridiculously good for you.
That said, I've started to work on making my cardio sessions more productive by introducing heart rate training, or HRT. I own a Peloton bike, so all of my winter cardio and about half during the summer is cycling. (If you're interested in my opinion on the bike, shoot me a message -- the short version is, I love it!) I have a Scosche Rhythm+ that wraps around my right wrist/forearm, which continuously monitors my heart rate and works far better, in my opinion, than any chest strap meter I've ever used.
There's a lot of science around heart rate training and how to find your own zones, which I'll quickly summarize:
- Zone 1: Easy, warm-up and cool-down zone. You can carry on a full conversation without struggling. 60-65% of max heart rate.
- Zone 2: Steady effort, endurance zone. You can speak one sentence at a time, but need to take breaks to breathe. Can maintain this for a long ride, 30+ minutes. 65-75% of max heart rate.
- Zone 3: Brisk effort, power zone. You can only get out a few words at a time. Can maintain for 10-20 minutes. 75-82% of max.
- Zone 4: Hard effort, threshold zone. You're getting out one word between breaths and can maintain this for 2-8 minutes. 82-89% of max.
- Zone 5: Very hard effort, race-pace zone. Talking is unavailable, and you can't hold this for more than 2 minutes at a time. 89%+ of max.
There are benefits to riding in different zones at different points in a ride, and especially in learning to pace yourself and gear up for a big race. I'm not a competitive cyclist, so I use this type of training just to increase my stamina and cardiovascular ability.
Peloton offers classes for specific HRT goals. My favorite type of ride, especially on days when my legs are tired from weights, is an "endurance ride" where I have to stay in zone 2 the entire time. It's harder than it sounds, especially when my ego starts to get in the way. The instructor will cue varying combinations of resistance (how heavy the pedaling feels, mimicking hills and flat roads) and cadence (how fast to pedal), and you have to keep yourself calm and collected throughout those changes. The benefit of staying in this zone is building endurance (duh), durability, and strength. I would try to summarize the nerdy science speak about what's actually going on in your body, but... just read this. (Specifically, scroll down to "The Many Benefits of Zone 2 Training.")
I like to know that my workouts are doing good for both my body on a cellular, scientific level and that they're also fueling my mind-body connection. To me, endurance rides feel like yoga on the bike. It's all about finding and maintaining my breathe to control my heart rate, dropping my attachment to whatever numbers I want to hit, and keeping myself in that steady effort without just backing off. Just like in a power class when you're holding chair, or boat, or really any pose at all and everything is starting to shake and your mind starts to just drift toward "OMG PLEASE MAKE THIS STOP," you just endure. You breathe. You wait. You control your response and stay. Endurance rides are a 30-60 minute push and pull between effort and ease. I learn so much about my exercising headspace when I'm forced to stay there -- my ego gets caught up in the numbers from the instructor, I have to detach from the energy of the music, shake off the boredom, and stay in my own lane.
I crave that big push and the sweet release, but this ride offers none of that. It introduces an endless flat road, and that's hard for me to sit with -- on the bike, and in life. Though I like stability, when I'm staring down a wide open expanse with nothing to shake it up, I get anxious. It's challenging for me not to feel stuck in those situations, the permanence of the "everlasting present" is overwhelming. These type of rides make me confront those feelings up close and personal, to come to terms with my discomfort and ride right along the edge.
Consequently, my yoga class on Tuesday dealt with this subject of permanence and enduring that wide open "who knows when this will end" space. I talked about my struggles with airplane anxiety -- it's never about dying in a plane crash, it's about not being able to get out of the goddamn plane and feeling like I'll be trapped in there forever. When the pilot says we're starting the descent, my heart rate increases, and my brain kicks into "OKAY WE ARE ABOUT TO LAND AND BE FREE!" But you know, that usually means there's 30-45 minutes left of being on the actual plane, and I never take that in to account. So my adrenaline rises and I have to just breathe, focus, and remind myself that it will be a little bit longer. In full disclosure, I don't simply practice "endurance ride" techniques and breathe through it: I take Ativan. But even the medication benefits from a meditation boost, and I do try to get into that headspace. And then we land, I get off the plane, and all is well.
Just like touching down on solid ground, there's something undeniably satisfying and empowering about being able to endure, to stay, to dull the noise during those Zone 2 rides. Next time you hop on a bike, a treadmill, or even hit the road for a walk -- try it. See what it takes just to be in that space, to find that ever-growing edge and not bust through it, but respect it. See what you learn.