Day 3 (or 48 days to go)

Today was a running day. Spousal Unit wanted to go to the gym, and I thought the treadmill might be a better challenge for a beginner. So I agreed.

Instead of the plan I posted yesterday, I decided to use an app dedicated to training couch to half marathon. It was a 45-minute training run – 3 minutes run, 2 minutes walk, with a 5-minute warm up and cool down.

I found a classic rock playlist that syncs with the app. Being a musician, one of the things that makes running difficult for me is the disconnect between the beat of the music and the cadence of my stride. The way this app is set up, the cadence varied between walking and running. I really appreciated it.

To be honest, I didn’t think I could do a 45-minute run. When I got to the gym, everything went wrong. My ear buds weren’t actually charged like I thought. So I walked around for about 10 minutes until I found Spousal Unit. Luckily I keep spares in the car at all times. Then when I went to fill my water bottle, I accidentally activated the hand sanitizer at the same time. So far, so good, right?

Once I got on the treadmill, though, the run was do-able. My heart rate didn’t get out of control. Neither did my breathing. The playlist was awesome and the experience was pleasant. Yay! Maybe I will enjoy running at some point?

After I finished, I stretched and foam rolled again. My calves are super tight so I have to keep working that. I also did a set of planks (front and side). Times planking were decent.

Tomorrow is a rest day, so you’ll probably hear from me on Monday. Hope you have a great weekend!

Day 2 of Training, Active Rest – In Theory

Day two of training is supposed to be a rest day. As we have discussed, I’m not good at resting – all or nothing for me. So, what should a rest day include?

This article from Runner’s World talks about why rest days are important. Over-training is one reason, but injury prevention is another. Shin splints and tendon injuries can be avoided by resting and not trying to do too much, too fast. They suggest cross-training on rest days if you aren’t a gold medal rester (hmm…that should be a thing).

I’m a huge Spin fan. I have been doing Spin since 2004. My family and I recently joined a new gym, and I thought a nice Spin class would be just the thing for my rest day.

But – somehow I walked into the Super Extra Intense Spin class. I looked around the room and it was clear no one was prepared for the level of Extra this class would be. Huffing and puffing, heart rate elevated, we were in a bit of shock when she suggested an easy increase in tension while increasing our pedal speed – about 10 times. Each one built upon the last.

Usually, I’d be right on board with this – suck it up, buttercup – but today I was thinking how this was going to affect my tomorrow. I foam rolled like my life depended on it, and I must say I am enjoying the endorphin kick. So maybe I’ll be ready for those three miles tomorrow after all!

This afternoon I’ll finish my work and prep for the weekend. Will check in soon!

What Exactly Was I Thinking, Again?

Well, since thoughts don’t necessarily cause behavior, I guess I could say I wasn’t thinking.

Right after a day and half of fatigue, I decided it would be a cool idea to invite students to join me at the Soldier Field 10-Miler. Yes. 10 miles. Me, of the I-Hate-Running crowd. I will not be the incredibly photogenic racing behaviorist.

Every year, the Association for Behavior Analysis International has its convention over Labor Day. I’ve only missed one in over 20 years. This year, the convention is in Chicago, so the Health, Sport and Fitness Special Interest Group puts together a few health-related activities. Doing the 10-miler is one of those activities.

You don’t have to run all of it; walking is fine as long as you get done in two hours. But even that is going to require training on my part. Well, I’ve paid for it, gone public, invited students to join me, there’s no going back now.

via me.me

So, anyway, some training is necessary. I don’t want to over-train, and I don’t want to under-train, either. So, I went to the American Council on Exercise website to see what they suggest.

Given that the closest standard time is a half-marathon, I figured that was the distance I should look to for training plans. It was slightly dated (2010), but I found this article. Through that search, I happened upon this training plan. I have 50 days to train, so the plan seemed do-able.

Unfortunately, I’ve already worked out on Day 1, so I’ll pick up on an active rest Activity for Day 2. Will post progress as I go along!

When to work (out) and when to rest

The question of working out versus resting up has always been a source of confusion for me. Should I stay home? Am I lazy? Am I overdoing it? So, I’ve checked some of the guidelines for fitness and present their suggestions here. But first, let’s talk about how being sick can affect your productivity.

Recently researchers have been warning us against the practice of “presenteeism” – coming to work even though you don’t feel well. In a Harvard Business Review article written by Hemp (2004), coming to work sick so you don’t fall behind can backfire on you. I was heartened to see that depression and migraines made the list of illness that people tend to power through instead of taking a break to heal.

The costs to productivity are high. People are, of course, less productive when they are sick. They might be more cranky and more difficult to get along with. Constant pain may be exacerbated by work requirements (e.g., carpal tunnel).

Those of us with chronic illness are most prone to presenteeism, and that makes perfect common sense. Not every supervisor is kind to those with chronic illness. It costs less to have someone come to work than stay home. If we stepped out of life every time we didn’t feel well, you wouldn’t see us.

So for most of us, knowing when to rest can be difficult. If the issue is depression or anxiety, then working out most definitely will make you feel better. But what if it is sore muscles, a cold or flu, etc…?

According to the Mayo Clinic, if you have just a headcold, go ahead and work out (but please wash your hands and wipe down the equipment). If your symptoms are “below the neck,” like coughing, joint aches, and fever, take a day off and let your body recover. Either way, take it easy. You aren’t going to make a personal record.

What about the soreness that comes from a new workout? That stuff hurts. How do I know if I’m just sore or if I injured myself? The distinction between soreness and injury can be a subtle one, especially for newer exercisers. The American Physical Therapy Association has a handy table in the article I’ve linked. To sum it up, Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS) is a normal reaction to exercise. Your muscles might be really sore for 24-72 hours after you worked out. If it’s just the muscles that hurt and stretching and movement help, then it’s probably DOMS. Keep moving at least a little bit. Anything else is probably an injury and best addressed by a physician.

So, anyway, there is no harm in taking a day off when you are sick or injured. Your body and your productivity will thank you.

Hydration!

This one hits close to home. I’ve been on the couch today with a mild headache (migraine) and just feeling generally like doing nothing.

About halfway through the day, I started to wonder how much of my malaise was due to dehydration. I’d only had one Spindrift and a cup of coffee. But how much is enough, what’s too much, and what is the best thing to drink?

Thomas, et al., (2008) defines dehydration as “the loss of water from the body…at a rate greater than it can be replaced.” Keeping the water balance in your body is a complex process. That is why older adults often suffer from dehydration – which in some cases, can be fatal. The authors suggest examining urine to determine hydration levels. The more concentrated and dark the urine, the more off-balance we are.

Let’s examine with the symptoms of dehydration. Remember, now, I’m not the kind of doctor that is an expert in this area, so make sure you are always checking with your doc if you don’t feel well.

Picture of the symptoms of dehydration
http://shine365.marshfieldclinic.org/wellness/stay-hydrated/

The interwebs are full of suggestions on how to keep hydrated, usually involving their product. Heck, the infographic above has all kinds of ideas for you. What do the doctors say?

The American Heart Association says that you should be aware of your hydration needs, and basically listen to your body. Certain medications as well as excessive sweating increase the amount of fluids you need. Changes in climate and elevation can also affect your need for water. Water, in most cases, is enough to hydrate your body.

The Cleveland Clinic advises against relying on caffeinated beverages and alcoholic drinks to meet your hydration needs (boo!). They also recommend limiting fruit juices and sugary drinks, as the carb/sodium ratio might upset your stomach. I notice that after drinking really sugary beverages, I’m slightly nauseated – especially on a hot day.

In my case, I have orthostatic hypotension (part of the cocktail that comes with my genetic issues – did someone say cocktail?) and have been advised to use an electrolyte supplement. When I’m really behind in the hydration game, the best thing for me is Gatorade. But on a regular basis, I’d rather not consume that many calories. Plus see the upset stomach suggestion above. There are some really good, low-calorie hydration tabs on the market that I use in those cases. But does the average Dr. Prof need it?

Strangely enough, a lit search on the topic turned up a lot of research in bulls and horses. Wonder why? But anyway, back to humans.

If you are prone to foot or calf cramps with sustained activity, then Jung, et al., (2005) suggests that electrolyte supplementation might be a good idea for you. They compared dehydrated participants to those who consumed electrolyte enhanced drinks, though – they did not include a water-only group. This, in my opinion, limits their conclusions. But it seems that if you are training in the heat, for long periods, or at a high intensity, an electrolyte drink might be for you.

Also remember that it is possible to drink TOO MUCH water. Too much water can throw off your electrolyte balance as well, and can possibly be fatal. It’s rare, but if you feel terrible even though you are drinking enough water, you might very well be overdoing it. Your urine should be light in color, but if you’re peeing what looks like water at a high rate, you might be overdoing it.

So if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to have a glass of water, or maybe a nice herbal tea….

Schedules of Reinforcement

Before I took a brief hiatus, we were talking about reinforcement and how to use it effectively. I mentioned that there is no such thing as intrinsic reinforcement. What could I possibly mean by that? Of course there are inside sources of pleasure and joy!

Yes, and I don’t deny that is true. But many of the things we think we do for altruistic reasons just ain’t altruistic at all. Why thanks, Dr. Buzzkill…. Sorry. The truth is most of the things that we do are either 1. Reinforced by something other than what we think it is; or 2. Reinforced so infrequently we don’t even realize it’s happening.

So far, we have talked about identifying your reinforcers, but as we said before, if it doesn’t increase responding, it ain’t a reinforcer. Sometimes, things happen like good feelings and that warm feeling in your stomach. Sometimes there is a skip in your step. They can reinforce your behavior, but reinforcement is more complicated.

Take, for example, me running. I hate it. No, really, I hate it. Yet I sign up for 5ks, get on the treadmill occasionally, etc… Am I just masochistic? Nope. A Cochrane Review on exercise and depression shows evidence for the mood lifting effects of exercise. The most frequently studied type of exercise? Running. Therefore, I get a good hit of neurotransmitters, and that seems to lift me out of my ruts. I run 5ks because I like being with others. Working out alone never lasts very long.

But back to schedules of reinforcement. Here’s the thing – behavior isn’t necessarily reinforced every time we do it. Most behavior is reinforced on some sort of schedule. Sometimes, two or more schedules might be in effect. This always boggles my intro to ABA students, so we might need more than one blog to talk about it.

Most long-term behavior is on some sort of intermittent schedule. Please forgive my lapse into Wikipedia here, but it is accurate information. Basically, with intermittent schedules, reinforcement comes after a certain number of responses, a certain passage of time, or in discreet bursts. The more regular the intermittent schedule is, the more we adjust our behavior to be around that specific time frame. This can explain why we tend to diet and exercise more closer to specific events, like competitions or high school reunions.

It also explains why even though we promise ourselves we won’t, we typically fall off the wagon right after these events. If reinforcers are predicable, we tend to pause for a little and wait until just before the next reinforcer is expected. So, cut weight for the match, fill back up for a while, cut weight for the match, etc…. you can see where this is going.

So, how do I make healthy living consistent? First of all, accept that you won’t be perfect. It is not achievable and don’t let anyone tell you it is. I guarantee if you talk to the most dedicated triathlete, they will tell you they have times where they sit on the couch and eat ice cream.

One of the best ways is to made reinforcement unpredictable. The more unpredictable and the more we have to do to get the reinforcer, the more persistent we become. Think of lottery tickets. What if I get the payoff this time? So we buy the tickets, and usually, nothing happens.

Which brings me to the second part of why the lottery is so brilliant. You might not win a million dollars (and if you do, adopt me), but you might get a dollar or two. Or if you are my nephew, $400 on a scratch-off. These little wins (reinforcers) keep you going in hopes of the bigger prize.

This is where the behavior analyst as coach has an opportunity to help. They can put together a plan that reinforces little things as well as keeps things unpredictable. I’m thinking of some little things can occur when I least expect:

  • Last week, I was able to lift a 45-lb bar over my head more than once without fear of it crashing on my head. Very little win, very big reinforcer.
  • My favorite Spin instructor plays cool, obscure music and has music trivia days. His favorite musician happens to be my cousin. I get to his class when I can, and I never know what will be on his playlist.
  • I have 10-15 minute stretches without back pain. They are rather random and I don’t know when they are going to happen, but when they do, they are awesome.

Your reinforcers will, of course, be different, but I challenge you to consider the little, less expected things that keep you going. How do they work in your life? Would love to hear your comments!


Fitness, Disclosure, and Disability

I’m going to deviate a little from the posts I usually write, and offer you something a bit more personal. I may or may not talk much about research, but wanted to get my experience out there in the hopes it might help others. There will be a family member or two who will think this blog is ill-advised, but so be it.

I went to spin class today, and left a little teary. For those who know me, I cry once a year. I guess today was the day.

What in the world would have triggered such a big reaction? Telling me to keep my cadence up. Someone walking up to me and calling out my cadence in front of the class.

Now before you say, “who does that?” know that this is not about vilifying any instructor and/or their methods. This particular instructor was concerned for my safety and didn’t want me to get hurt. Also, there were four of us in the class and this instructor corrected everyone. It’s not about that.

It’s about having to come clean about why my cadence wasn’t up to snuff. I just said “I have sciatica” and left it at that. Usually I say that, or I say I have hurt my neck. The truth is a bit more complicated.

I have a Chiari Malformation Type I, Hydrocephalus (not syphilis, which someone once thought I said), and a possible mild case of Ehlers-Danlos syndrome. Note that two of the three meet the NIH criterion for rare diseases. Basically, my brain is herniated into my spinal column, which builds up fluids. Some of that is related to my connective tissue being softer than most peoples’. So, the systems of my body hang out and don’t talk to each other well. My body is a painfully awkward high-school Homecoming dance.

The symptoms are subtle. I look nervous. I have no Achilles reflex in my left foot. I can’t drive stick. I don’t know my right from my left and have trouble with basic addition. I can be drifty sometimes. My brain hurts when the weather changes. I can’t do a full push-up, and my elbows fling out to the side when I punch. My startle reflex is comparable to someone with combat-related PTSD (I’m not kidding on that one).

I’ve had surgery to correct the hydro and that has eased up the Chiari. The EDS isn’t too bad – I just sprain and strain more easily than most. I also have a tremor. Having mild symptoms is a good thing, because I can do most of the things I want to do. Martial Arts, mud runs, spin class.

To be fair, there are also some advantages. Flexibility in my fingers allows me to learn instruments with ease. Most jobs requiring fine motor skills were not my forte. I had the opportunity to have cool jobs in a video store, pharmacy, and as a nursing home receptionist, all of which led me to where I am today. I don’t want this to be a pity party.

That said, when I need an accommodation or modification, my motives are often misunderstood. A lot of instructors say, “tell me if you need to modify.” But, that is a loaded question. You see, disclosing is a crapshoot. You’re super vulnerable. What reaction will you get? Best case scenario is that you get a trainer willing to work with you, who asks questions, and makes suggestions based on what you both understand. This is what happened today. But it doesn’t always go down that way, and that can make a person defensive. Some reactions I’ve had to disclosure are:

  • “If you can’t stand the heat, get the F**k out.” (from a coworker at another place and time)
  • “The more you talk about it, the worse it gets. Mind over matter.”
  • Eye rolls and the subtle feeling you’re holding everyone else back
  • “If you don’t do it this way, it’s improper positioning.” Thanks, Einstein.
  • “Just keep practicing and it’ll get better.” Sometimes that’s true, but I’m not going to fix the nerve damage that’s been there for 20 years.
  • “Stop being a wimp and catch the stupid ball.” This one was from grade school, when I had no depth perception and would have a startle response to any ball coming close. This is why I had suicidal ideations in the third grade.
  • “Have you tried (insert miracle cure here)?” I like kombucha as much as the next guy, but it isn’t going to change my genetics.
  • Disclosing makes you an “inspiration.” Really, if you knew me, you’d question that.

I just want to blow off some steam and get healthy – without having a headache, need for yet another MRI, or faceplanting in front a bunch of people. Most of the time, I don’t want to have to share my entire medical history just to get a good workout.

So how can trainers approach this delicate situation? Well, everyone is different and what I would like isn’t necessarily what others would appreciate. Personally, know that I respect your expertise. There might be times when I’m a slacker and need to be told so. You may have an idea I haven’t tried before. At the same time, please respect my knowledge about my strengths and limitations as well. I’m probably just as frustrated as you that I can’t do what everyone else can. I may have talked to a million experts before settling on this approach (either because of them or in spite of them). A subtle “hey, I noticed that you…” is always appreciated. Let’s work together to come up with the best solution.


Using Reinforcement

Now that we have talked about identifying reinforcers, how are they effectively used?

This is where things get tricky. You reward good behavior, right? Well, not exactly. There’s more to it.

The first thing that is very important is that reinforcement MUST be contingent upon responding. You gotta do the thing to get the thing. If you are going to get a pedi, latte, or glass of wine anyway, it doesn’t count (sorry!). When you use non-contingent reinforcement (NCR), you are essentially decreasing the worth of the reinforcer.
Here is a video that explains the process. Ignore the jargon like abolishing operation and motivating operation.

So basically, not only are you not going to increase your exercise, you’re probably going to bag it altogether. Make sure your reinforcer is contingent upon exercise.

The next issue is delay. The longer the time period between the behavior and the reinforcer, the less effective that reinforcer is. We’re more likely to go for the smaller reinforcer delivered sooner than the big one delivered later. This is why that donut today is way more appealing than the body changes we have to wait for. Boo biology. This is also why the “wait until your father gets home” strategy wasn’t nearly as effective as it seems. Here is our same friend explaining delay discounting:

So, reinforce when you do the thing. Reinforce as soon as you can. Smaller, sooner reinforcers lead to larger later payoffs. It makes way sounder behavioral sense to give yourself a gold star, a pat on the back, or a glass of wine after working out than it does to have some big thing you can only access once in a while. If you want to use a massage, for example, as a reinforcer for getting to the gym, make sure you also have smaller, backup reinforcers as well.

In the next blog, we’ll talk about schedules of reinforcement…or, why there is no such thing as intrinsic motivation. Have ideas on how you use reinforcement? Share them in the comments!

Reinforcement and the Athlete

I made another dangerous assumption – that my readers all know what reinforcement is and how it can be applied to the athlete.

According to Miriam Webster’s Dictionary, Reinforcement means the act of strengthening. Their take on “psychology” needs work (classical conditioning doesn’t involve reinforcement). The part about strengthening is actually closer to a behavior analytic definition. By presenting something (or taking away something aversive) you increase the probability of that response. You strengthen it.

Yeah, yeah, ok. So we have to reward ourselves. I’ll go get a pedicure.

Wait. Put the car keys down. That isn’t what I meant.

Anything, and I mean anything, can end up being a reinforcer. It doesn’t have to be happy or nice. It just needs to maintain our behaviors. Your behavior can be positively reinforced while you feel absolutely miserable. Remember how you felt when you downed that whole box of Oreos? Yet, if you do it again in just such a situation, that behavior was reinforced. Yelling at you to keep moving can be a positive reinforcer – remember when that was a fad? And it doesn’t have to be tangible, either. It could be as simple as breaking a sweat. Or meeting a bunch of nice people at the gym. Or getting back at an ex.

What are your reinforcers? Well, to be honest, I don’t know. Everyone is different, and what is one person’s reinforcer is another’s punisher. The best way to start to figure it out is through taking note of the things you choose to do repeatedly. Or, you might want to fill out a reinforcer inventory like the one here. This survey definitely needs some updates, but it’ll do for now. The things and activities you identify might be reinforcers, but the only way to know for sure is to try them out. If they maintain your behavior, you’re golden. If not, try again.

Want to make the workout itself reinforcing? Take the reinforcers with you. Pairing is where you – well – pair one situation or thing with an already reinforcing situation or thing. You might want to binge-watch your favorite show on Netflix while you work out. Or maybe you like podcasts. It doesn’t so much matter what it is as long as you do it repeatedly. Now, admittedly showing up with a huge tub of ice cream to eat on the treadmill might be frowned upon, so be sure your reinforcers are appropriate to the setting. After a while, the workout itself will be the motivating factor.

For my next blog, I’ll talk more about how to use reinforcement effectively.

Reinforce Appropriate Behavior or Punish Inappropriate Behavior?

Fun fact: did you know that the burpee was invented by – I can’t make this up – Royal H. Burpee?

Is it better to reinforce good exercise habits or to punish unhealthy ones?

Much of the research out there is cognitive or cognitive-behavioral. Frederick-Recascino and Shuster-Smith (2003) looked at motivations for exercise (using the intrinsic/extrinsic motivation framework, which as behavior analysts is a little dubious). They administered a battery of surveys to two groups – competitive cyclists and casual undergraduate exercisers who received credit for class for completing the survey. Predictably, the competitive exercisers did so more often and were more “sport competitive.” Those who were casual exercisers were a bit more competitive overall and more motivated by appearance. Ko (2010 – behind a paywall) determined that martial artists were most interested in self-development and actualization, but that actual motivators were pretty variable.

Obviously, reinforcers and punishers are unique to each individual’s learning and genetic history, but does that help Ms. Gym Owner who wants to increase business?

Kubanek, et al., (2015) talked about how reinforcer magnitude was associated with performance. The bigger the reinforcer, the better the performance. Punishers work differently. In their words, “the data suggest that rewards and penalties are fundamentally distinct factors in governing behavior.” Punishment had a more robust, immediate effect. This should come as no surprise, right? However, the popular press soon jumped to the conclusion that punishment is better than reinforcement. When I read the article, I saw something a little more nuanced. But that also should not be too surprising:

The science news cycle
http://phdcomics.com/comics/archive_print.php?comicid=1174

This article by Shape Magazine suggests an approach that is more compatible with what we know about reinforcement and punishment – yes, punishment works. Use a little, not a lot. But also make sure to reinforce appropriate behavior.

I was pleasantly surprised to find a book on Positive Behavior Support in physical fitness. I haven’t ordered it yet or read it, so I can’t say whether it will answer my question. There is a chapter on ethics that I’m looking forward to reading to see if it aligns with the Professional and Ethical Compliance Code for Behavior Analysts.

This also looks like a fertile area of research for behavior analysts. Looking forward to seeing more articles on motivating the average person to exercise!