I have a personal training client, Alex, who recently purchased a Spinner® bike for home. I also ride outside with her in the summer, coaching her on technique. She has a bicycle tour planned to Europe this summer, so I will be working with her on increasing her endurance and hill climbing ability. Her challenge is higher cadences, and outside her preferred cadence on the flats is mid 70's rpm. I know she will have less muscular fatigue if she could raise her preferred cadence by 5-10rpm, so this is what I've been working on with her indoors. You should know that Alex is 72 years young and is very active.
Just recently I have been having her focus on pedal stroke technique drills as well as cadence drills from 70 to 90rpm. This post is not about those drills or their effectiveness - although I can write another post about that because I have been successful at raising both her and her husband's comfort level with higher cadences by teaching them to pedal more effectively. Rather, I want to tell you about her experience this past week with her heart rate response to exercise.
I had planned to take her through the cadence drills. After she warmed up, I noticed she seemed to be working very hard and was breathing very heavy. Her cadence was about 70rpm. I looked at her monitor expecting it to be pushing 140 judging by her breathing (Alex's threshold is 142). But her heart rate was only 113!
I asked her what her perceived exertion was. She said 6 (just below "hard"). Hmmmm, that's up there. So I suggested she try a lower resistance and higher cadence. There was no change in her perceived exertion, breathing rate or her heart rate. Nothing she did raised her heart rate (even standing up, which normally spikes it) or lowered her perceived exertion relative to that HR of 113. She was flat out tired.
After only ten minutes I said "Stop! This is not the day for you to ride!" She had been cross-country skiing several days in a row, plus pilates twice a week, plus traveling the week before with not one day of rest. (That is kind of a typical week for her, often with a snowshoe thrown in). Also, she hadn't been sleeping well and felt a deep fatigue even going up stairs. This was a Tuesday and she had a cross-country ski lesson on Thursday that she was looking forward to.
So I put the nix on the cycling and told her to completely take Wednesday off - NO EXERCISE! And if she still was that fatigued I suggested she pass on the skiing on Thursday as well. (Knowing her, she wouldn't do that - she's pretty committed to her skiing and to constantly moving).
This can happen to anyone who is very active. The heart rate response to doing too much physical exercise or to excessive stress without sufficient recovery can be either a suppressed heart rate (as in Alex's case) or one that is much higher than it usually is for a given perceived exertion. Everyone needs rest and recovery. If you balance hard days with easy days you are much more likely to avoid a response like Alex's.
But I want to make another point here about age. After age 40, the human body simply cannot do what it used to do. It's a slow steady decline. I don't mean that in any kind of pessimistic attitude like "it's all downhill after 40"! But most people do not want to admit that they can't do what they did before. Heck, I like to pretend I'm still in my 30's! ;-) But I noticed a tremendous difference as I moved into and through my 40's in my ability to put in multiple days of exercise. This need for rest and recovery is even more pronounced every decade.
It's just reality, and we can't ignore it!
Chances are, you have a few people in your classes that are over 40, right? Over 50? How about into the 60's and 70's? Make sure to stress the importance of recovery to them even more than your younger population. You don't have to directly address them (unless you feel very comfortable with them); as you are well aware, some people are quite sensitive to the fact that they are aging. Alex can get very depressed when she focuses on her inability to do as much as she used to do. That's when I try to focus her on the fact that she is so much more fit and able than 99% of the population her age. When she is rested, she realizes she is able to enjoy her cycling and skiing and snowshoeing and golfing much more than when she is not rested.
I know my situation is unique with Alex, being able to train her one on one in cycling and Spinning and being able to see her HR response and to ask her immediate questions about what she's been doing. Of course, this is unlikely in a class situation, especially if it is a large class. But some of the things I learn from working with Alex and her husband Bob (who is 79 going on 25) have been instrumental in helping me coaching at one club where the age range is 50's to almost 80. After this happened with Alex, I gave a lecture to that class on the increased need for recovery for older populations. They too are more fit than the average person their age, but many are also exercise-aholics. After I explained it to them, one woman in class announced out loud, "So THAT'S why I'm always so tired!" She also thanked me after class for the information.
So, the key points here:
- Pay close attention to your heart rate response to exercise
- Remind your students that everyone needs recovery
- Balance hard days with easy days
- Recognize the increased need for rest and recovery after age 40, and especially 50 and above
Do any of you work with older populations?