By Team ICG® Master Trainer Jim Karanas

This protocol, developed by Team ICG®, outlines a “first HRM experience” to help the student connect HR with perceived exertion. The last post covered the warm-up and Level 1. From here, the progression builds to greater levels of effort.

Level 2

This is where the student”™s sensitivity will grow the most. A novice is least able to feel the subtle changes that occur at this level. Level 2 is the point at which a training effect, i.e., improved functioning of the cardiovascular system after recovery, begins to take place. Level 1 is not intense enough to produce such a fitness effect.

Still maintaining 90 rpm, have the students raise the resistance slightly. At some point, the low muscle load will lead to a combination of rhythmic breathing and light sweating. The sensation of a training effect is quite noticeable to the experienced exerciser. There”™s a feeling that continued training at Level 2 would make you stronger. Over time, the practical consequence of the training effect is a reduction in force necessary to apply power, and you can feel this begin to happen at level 2.

This sensation is hard to pin down for beginners. They may notice an amplification of their senses, a tingling throughout their body, or emotions. They may feel more relaxed and peaceful, even though their HR has gone up. They may smile.

In order to improve, musicians practice scales. There”™s awareness that practicing scales will make them better musicians, so they don”™t mind doing it. That”™s the training effect. Level 2 feels like the beginning of practice that you know will bring improvement.

As an instructor, you must spend time at this intensity to recognize and appreciate the sensations fully so that you can accurately describe them to your students. Then relate them to HR. Maintain for 4 minutes.

Level 3

Continuing at 90 rpm, add resistance to raise HR again. There should be an immediate shift in the students”™ feeling of effort. It now takes work to maintain 90 rpm. There may be an immediate sensation of difficulty, e.g., burning in the legs and/or breathlessness. This should last no more than one minute, although Level 3 continues past that.

Some students will start to breathe rhythmically and exhale forcibly to mitigate the difficulty. This natural mechanism dispels carbon dioxide and stabilizes blood pH. Demonstrate rhythmic breathing with forceful exhalations and explain that it will alleviate the feeling of difficulty, so they”™ll feel better. Have them notice, or even induce, synchronization between their breathing and their cadence.

Have them settle into a new, higher target HR. This HR needs to be at a level that they could hold for about an hour, but with difficulty. “There are a lot of HRs you could hold for an hour, but we”™re looking for the highest one you think you could maintain for that length of time.”

This level of effort feels like working out. It”™s sustainable for an hour or so and isn”™t painful, yet requires rhythmic breathing and focus to maintain comfortably. Maintain it for 4 minutes.

This is a good time to discuss what aerobic really means and how the increased workload has increased the demand for oxygen.

Before this segment is over, let them know what”™s going to happen next: you”™re going to raise their level of effort to threshold. (You may want to modify some students”™ training, depending on fitness.) Threshold, in this case, is the level of effort at which the body”™s ability to transport oxygen to the working muscles becomes compromised, resulting in an increase in anaerobic metabolism and a state of continuous discomfort.

My post “Why Do I Have to Hurt?” mentions that we”™re not neurologically wired to accept pain willingly. Unless we”™re completely conscious of what we”™re doing, we”™ll unconsciously find some way to offset the work and mitigate the pain. (Reducing cadence is the most typical example.) Let them know that they”™re about to go into hurt, and that it”™s part of training. If they”™re not up for it, have them stay at their present HR.

Level 4

While maintaining the same resistance, have them increase their cadence to 100 rpm. You must use Beatmatch; otherwise, they won”™t pedal hard enough. “This time, you”™re at a level that you could hold — with difficulty — for about 30, maybe 40, minutes.”

Point out that this should change a number of things in the body: certainly breathing (they may find it difficult to get enough air), body temperature (pouring sweat), even thinking (conflict and doubt). An internal monologue may begin.

Encourage them to maintain focus. There are various names for this level of effort — anaerobic threshold, lactate threshold, ventilatory threshold — and each of them means something slightly different physiologically. For now, we”™ll just call it threshold. It is not an exact number and refers to the heart rate below which you can keep exercising for a sustained time (with effort), and above which you tire very quickly. Thirty minutes seems like an eternity.

Have them pick their target HR and maintain it for 4 minutes. It”™s easy to recognize this level of effort in a student. No one should seem distracted. Also, a look of true anxiety is difficult to fake.

It needs to hurt right away. The hurt is manageable, but they”™re never comfortable. If you were to approach the student and ask how he/she is feeling, the reply would be, “Please get away from me.” (Perception of this level may vary with fitness.)

If they”™re doing it right, it”™s not a good time to discuss or teach anything. Remind them to stay at their target HR, maintain the increased pedaling speed, and breathe out forcibly in a rhythm. If they can”™t maintain 100 rpm, have them adjust their resistance slightly but maintain their target HR.

Level 5

Tell them that it”™s now time to peak their HR, to take it as high as they can that day. They need to go above threshold. Add resistance and maintain 100 rpm to raise HR for the final stage. Alternate a 30-second standing jog at ~90 rpm with 30 seconds seated at 100 rpm — but at full effort. The actual standing cadence is less important than the effort, but it must raise their HR. Many students, however, will drop their cadence because they”™ve stopped caring about what they”™re doing. It hurts too much. So the best cue is to make them jog as fast as they can. The effort is barely manageable and not sustainable for more than a few minutes.

Do this for only 3 minutes. Every time they stand and jog, they attempt to raise the HR higher. Since they”™re holding this for 3 minutes, it will be uncomfortable and pretty much about survival. Cadence will keep slipping. They”™ll experience failure. Keep them checking their HRMs so they remember their peak HR. Play razor-sharp, acerbic music with a rhythm to which they can Beatmatch when standing. Tell them to stay tough and not give up until you cue it, even if they hit failure.


Have them regain composure quickly. After they”™ve rolled for a few seconds, have them take off all resistance and bring the spin up to 100 rpm. It should feel easy.

Your students now have a numerical representation to match a perceived awareness of their exercise HR range. They”™re likely to have come close to max HR, which can be used to help determine zones, depending on your method.

Training zones can now be related to a perception of effort. This will eliminate ambiguity when it comes to determining the correct level of effort for a designed training.

Have them ride with good form for 10 minutes as they spin their legs. If they start to get cold, have them add a little resistance. Review the various levels of effort (including resting and warm-up) and have them recall both the perception and the approximate HR for each feeling.

Originally posted 2012-10-01 07:56:16.

Jim Karanas
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