fitness · motivation

“Just tell me what to do!”

Sometimes (actually most times) I am a big fan of doing what I want, not what I’m told to do. This extends to workouts, where I typically advocate choice, various degrees of challenge-options built in to the workout (like, if you want to challenge yourself, do this; if you want to take it easier, do this, etc.), and going at my own pace. Way back at the beginning of the blog I posted about doing less.

But other days I want to be told what to do and to feel as if I have to. That’s why I like coaches. This occurred to me during a workout with Alex last week (see Cate’s post about Alex), where they said we could do it or not do, depending how I felt. I actually didn’t feel like doing the thing they were telling us to do, but I also didn’t feel like being given the option of not doing it. That day, I was of the mind that if I didn’t want to do it I wouldn’t have signed up for the class.

As an advocate of doing less and setting the bar low that reaction of mine surprised me. But what it revealed to me is this: some days I want to push myself and without someone else calling the shots I would NOT push myself. I’m sure I’m not alone in this. Indeed, it’s probably one of the reasons many of us do classes or hire trainers or coaches—without them we would do less when we in fact want to do more. But we need that extra little push.

I’m not here advocating doing something we really don’t want to do. I’m saying that even the things we (or perhaps I should stick to “I”) do want to do in some sense can be tough to stick with in the moment when it feels hard. Writing is like this for me sometimes (though mostly I do not have a coach for that. But in the past I have worked one-on-one and in small groups with the amazing The Publication Coach, Daphne Gray-Grant). Working out can be like that too.

Undoubtedly it’s not news that we might sometimes need others to motivate us. This can be a coach, trainer or instructor. Or it can be friends or a group or what have you. Working out alone is sometimes great. I love my solo runs for example. But working out with others often for me leads to more effort. (And it’s always more fun.) And on the days where I go in wanting to put in that effort, I prefer not to be given the option of not doing it.

That’s not to say I want to be shamed into doing it (military style) or unreasonably pressured beyond my ability (like Cate described of a yoga class she attended recently where the instructor offered no variations). It’s only to say that sometimes I like having someone else telling me what to do even if it isn’t super fun. It feels good to meet the challenge.

Alex’s classes are great for that. And they motivate even though we are given lots of choices and reassured that we can even tap out if that’s what we need. They motivate because of their extremely high energy. It’s hard not to want to push a little harder when the instructor is super jazzed about what they’ve programmed that day.

Do you prefer to do what you want to do or to be told what to do or does it depend on the day?

aging · fitness · training

Sam’s max heart rate is slowing down but that’s okay, she isn’t

A beating cartoon heart

So I’m back training again. I’m riding and racing on Zwift. I’m working with a coach. Hi Chris! And that means I’m paying attention to data.

I’m also paying attention to some comparative data. Because I’ve been riding and using a Garmin and Strava for years, some things are interesting to track over time.

My ftp has gone up. (FTP stands for Functional Threshold Power and represents the highest wattage number you can expect to average over an hour.) All good. It’s fun. I like measuring and tracking progress.


Except what’s striking is that my maximum heart rate has gone down, like way down. A lot. Fifteen years ago when I used to race crits, do short distance duathlons and do flying laps at the velodrome, I had a max heart rate of 182.

Here’s younger Sam racing in a crit. Thanks Greg Long for the photo.

Now my max heart rate is 164 or so. I used to do time trials at 168. Now my time trial heart is more like 150. That’s the highest heart rate I can maintain for a good chunk of time without blowing up.

Remember the old formula? 220 minus your age? That’s pretty much right for me now. I suppose I shouldn’t care. My top speeds haven’t gone down and neither has my power output. But what’s it all about?

See Heart rate and age: “The relationship between the heart and exercise has been studied for more than six decades and the research is clear: Max heart rate—the highest heart rate you can safely hit during exercise—decreases with age regardless of lifestyle or level of fitness. Why the drop? The reasons aren’t completely known, but a 2013 University of Colorado Medical School study found that one reason could be slower electrical activity in the heart’s pacemaker cells. Basically, “your heart can’t beat as often,” says Roy Benson, running coach and co-author of Heart Rate Training.
However, a lower max heart rate may not necessarily affect your splits. “It’s not a foregone conclusion that a decrease in heart rate max means a decline in performance,” says Joe Friel, coach and author of Fast After 50 and The Triathlete’s Training Bible. “That’s a very common but unsupported view of athletes who are ill informed about the science behind heart rate. They assume a high heart rate means a high level of performance. Not true.”

I started to go down the rabbit hole of reading journal articles about why max heart rate declines. But really, do I need to know? I am still puzzled about why it doesn’t seem to matter as much as I thought it might.

I’ve written about heart rate training before.

See here:

Take it easy: Why train with a heart rate monitor, part 1

Go hard! : Why train with a heart rate monitor, part 2

Obviously, I need to open up my Garmin/Strava settings and put in some new numbers.

Do you track heart rate while exercising? Have you noticed it dropping with age?

Photo by Nick Hillier on Unsplash

I love having a cycling coach. Here’s why…


A friend recently commented that coaches are a great idea for people who actually listen and do as instructed. That’s me. Mostly. Usually.

The physio staff at the local sports medicine clinic I attend are always surprised. “You’re lots better. Did you actually do all the exercises?” “Yes.” “Wow. Almost no one does that.”

I am surprised that people pay for physio, get told what will help/make them better, and then don’t do it.

So I’m predisposed to like coaching. Other people have expertise that I don’t have. And yes, I could do my own research but I respect the experience that good coaches have as well. I’m also a fan of the accountability that comes with letting someone else have access to my Garmin files on a weekly basis.

This is my second year working with a cycling coach who writes up a monthly training plan for me taking into account where I am fitness wise, what races or events I have coming up, and (this one really matters for me) whether I’m traveling for work and away from my bike. Chris is a terrific coach but I also benefit from the community of women cyclists that have gathered around him. One of the many cool things about being a coach is that there’s someone who’s got a pretty good idea of what you can and can’t do. When Chris says I can do something, I believe him. That’s very nice.

It’s not cheap but I know lots of people who pay for pricey cycling stuff but not for coaching. I think that’s a false economy. I’ve written before about how not to get faster. And one way to avoid all the bad habits is to hire a coach and do what they say. Some people just opt for coaching through the spring and summer but I actually find the winter coaching more valuable. It keeps me on track and motivated at a time of year when enthusiasm for outdoor riding can be in short supply.

Read Bicycling Magazine’s article on why you might need a coach and how to choose one.

aging · body image · Guest Post · health · motivation · training

On Athletic Teachers: Finding Your Coach(es) (Guest Post)

Anyone who has played ball as a kid knows what it means that I spent my first few years of softball in right field and batting at the bottom of the order. (For non-ball players, it means that I couldn’t field or hit. I was the weakest link.)

Our catcher, Karen, was one of the best players on the team, my secret hero, and the daughter of our coach. With Karen’s mom’s very patient coaching, over the years I slowly improved my skills and my confidence. And, as one of the team’s only “southpaws,” I eventually moved to first base, where I got to be part of the in-field action (and even got to play directly with Karen).

When you’re a kid, coaches are easy to recognize. You can pretty much rely on anyone taller than you to tell you what to do without having to ask them. When you’re a kid, the problem isn’t finding a coach. Rather, the problem is deciding whose directions to follow when multiple “coaches” (read: parents) are shouting at you all at once from the sidelines.

As our beloved coach, Karen’s mom taught us not only the rules of ball but also how to be part of the team, so I felt included even when I was standing alone in right field, completely frightened and praying that that ball wouldn’t be hit out to me.

I don’t remember ever thanking Karen’s mom for coaching me as a kid, but I’ve only recently come to fully appreciate Karen’s mom. Why? Because adults don’t get coaches.

More precisely, adults have to actively seek out folks who are willing to share their knowledge, time, and attention. From afar, you can follow every step of your idolized professional athlete. You can pay for a personal trainer. You can sneak peeks at other gym-goers, or read the how-to posters on the wall. But, generally, as soon as you are as tall as everyone else, you have to find a coach, then as her to tell you what to do.

Not everyone might feel that they need a coach, but I certainly do. Just as when I was little, I still feel a certain need to have someone not only to explain the basics but also to help bolster my confidence. As an adult, my body isn’t as resilient or resistant to injury as it used to be. (And neither is my pride, so I don’t want to screw up.) As I explain in my previous guest post on Athletic Learning, when it comes to exercise my M.O. is to research the rules and learn the techniques, rather than rely solely on inherent athletic skill (of which I have little). And in order to learn, I need someone to teach.

My first ever Zumba exercise class was last week. As I strained to keep up with the fancy salsa-esque footwork, I asked my co-worker, who was next to me, when the class instructor would begin actually teaching us the moves. “Usually they only do the steps, and the class just tries to follow along,” she informed me.

Just follows along? But I had questions! (Like, where did the weird name “Zumba” come from? Where do the moves come from? And why do Zumba-ers wear those bizarre tutus?) I needed some Socratic Zumba for this activity to be enjoyable.

Without taller people around who will automatically tell me what’s going on, I’ve had to look to more unconventional coaches. Here are some that I’ve found:

Coach #1: Mel, my physiotherapist
– I don’t waste time chatting about my holidays or my newest hair colour with Mel. Instead, I pepper her with physical activity-related questions, trying to understand the mysteries of body mechanics, acupuncture, and glute-related pain. When I go to physio, I try to get more out of my visit than just stretching exercises and polite adult small talk.

Coaches #2: A bunch of 8 and 10 year old girls – The moms on my rec soccer team had the idea of bringing along their children (who are also awesome little soccer players) to our practice to help give us a lesson or two. Well, the girls LOVED coaching us adult soccer newbies. They broke us up into position-specific groups, ran drills, and even punished us with sprint lines when we failed to meet our objectives. In wonderful irony, everyone shorter was giving directions to everyone taller. Our practices alone have been more fun than any other athletic activity I’ve experienced in a long time.

Coach #3: This blog – When I feel there’s no one I can ask or I’m worried about looking silly, I do what millions of other people do: I go on the internet. This blog, in particular, is a valued “coach” for me in the way that it shapes my attitudes about athletics, body image, and health in positive and productive ways.
The best coaches don’t just explain the rules or show the steps. Instead, they strive to meet the player’s own unique goals and needs (whether they are physical, psychological, or both). The best coaches make fear and pain–and even failure–fun. And the best coaches improve not only your skill but also your attitudes towards your body and abilities.

So–maybe take a moment to think about who officially (or unofficially) coaches you, and thank them the next time you see them. As an adult (or at least a taller person), I find it humbling but also rewarding to reach out to all my unconventional “coaches,” who help me to enjoy athletic activities like a kid again.