The Compass is more powerful with the Map by its side: A road map to building a proper test matrix
By Cody Burkhart
When we last left our hero…
You were left wielding some variations of diaphragmatic breathing protocols to see what effects they had on you; open-ended, no real rules, and simple solutions. Let’s assume, for the sake of progression, you have been spending the last week developing the skill of breathing with the diaphragm and are noticing some differences (not described as positive or negative – simply deltas from your baseline) in your training session via their application. You likely have this feeling inside of whether or not this skill set is improving the performance metric you are using to validate it against. A feeling in your gut.
The gut reaction: the kind of beautiful, sub-conscious calculations that your brain does every moment of its functioning life are the cornerstone of much research including work like Blink . But, what is that churning feeling deep in your center telling you about breathing? Can you trust it? Do you even know what kind of feeling you are looking for? Did other changes to your week, your day, or your mindset affect the outcome? Slippery slope. Slippery slope, indeed.
The best way to build confidence in your gut is to start infusing it with more data. Creating a proper framework for how to test, controlling that framework for repeatability and comparing your results to initial measurements are all part of the recipe to success in becoming your own experiment. My solution to this is simple, let’s build an experiment you can easily do yourself and identify the steps of the process along the way. You should leave with not only homework to start your first test, but clear guidelines to make more of them and break down any you may find in your exploration of the data mine that the world has to offer.
Science is not about being an expert of all knowledge as many people get suckered into believing. At the core of being a scientist, first, is being inquisitive. It’s all about questioning the world instead of simply accepting it as it stands. Empowerment v. Enablement. However, knowing where you stand in a self-discovery test, especially a test as open-ended as I left you in the last post on diaphragmatic breath practices, is not second nature… it’s a learned skill. Previously I asked:
“If I strengthen the contractile function of the diaphragm, do I become super human or should we just let sleeping babes lie?”
You may be asking yourself in retrospect, is “strength” the solution? Or are you simply kick-starting a more efficient activation of the innate response of the body to use the diaphragm as the primary air mover? This kind of cycle of questions can quickly become a spider web and is what gets most of us overwhelmed with science, let alone creating a genuine hypothesis and then testing on ourselves. That’s exactly what we don’t want. The ENTIRE point of this blog is to arm you with skills to test on yourself, not leave you frustrated and confused. That’s why you and I are going to build the first experiment together, lay it all out cleanly, get data together, and learn to apply that knowledge in an environment where we actually grasp the reason for our failures or successes.
Our first test is going to center around the Training Mask. That said, if you are not interested in picking one up just replace the Training Mask in this example with the Sandbag Breathing. As a refresher this is a simple supine breathing style focused on breathing with the belly as opposed to the rib cage. You might say “but the results with just breathing are going to be different than that of the training mask.” Are you so sure? How do you know what the response is going to be if you immediately close out all possibilities? This is the nature of the right question. It has to be broad enough to leave room for possibility, but precise enough that it can be tested. The point? Don’t get hooked on the exact tool used. Focus, instead, on the point of the tool, find a similar setup that aims to produce the same effect at the most simple form, and then be concerned with your own results and not the noise of anyone else around you.
Our question is based on using the diaphragm to breathe and whether or not actively applying that skill will cause improvements that might seem super human. I am electing to use a training mask to force breathing with the diaphragm because my own personal use of the TM has always forced me to engage my diaphragm out of more than just focused practice, but out of necessity. My question has helped me find a resource to use for a test, your resource can be different… it just has to always focus back on the question you are ultimately trying to answer.
So I have a “what”, but now I need a “how.” The hard part about “how” is that it’s extremely hard to define the results of my Darth Vader mask if I haven’t defined a starting point: my baseline. Without it, I will be stumbling in the dark with wherever I find myself in the end. Without an origin, I have no real concept of the delta or the change that I experienced in my performance. In proper use of a test, we aren’t training to train, we are training to evolve.
A baseline for this test, or any test, needs a set of initial conditions or data points. As in our example, I propose the use of total distance for a monostructural effort over an interval-based workout. I have chosen to record my max effort distance of rowing in meters for a specific number of rounds of my own comfortable interval length. My baseline, therefore, has a simple structure (complexity can be a killer), a rather precise metric for measuring my output, and leaves me lots of options for reusing it for other tests like comparing the use of sandbag breathing to that of the training mask that I will be using.
My workout looks like this:
1min max effort (meters) row
2min rest to recover
In simpler terms its:
SOME NUMBER OF ROUNDS:
(Some Time of Effort) performed at max effort (Recording Some Numerical Measurement) for a Monostructrural Activity
2:1 Rest/Work Ratio
The point of splitting it out like this is to get you to see how you can break apart any test you see out in the “big white cloud” of the internet and make it work for your constraints and your level. For instance, if a test says run five three-mile intervals and you can’t remember the last time you ran three miles in a straight stretch… an 800m or a mile will feel quite similar to your body. High practice breeds high skill… translated: work at your skill level and over time you can take on new explorations of your capabilities. This blog will never be about breaking yourself – rest assured I will engage you to push the limits but not by going ninety miles an hour into a concrete wall. This is about deeply sampling yourself and the world around you, so your baseline should be something you can repeat and feel comfortable in performing.
RE-TEST v. REAL TIME
Sometimes the baseline we establish is left untouched, pristine, and constant across a test plan. From here we can go off, immersed in our experiment, before returning to a re-test for an apples to apples. Another option, though, exists. I can choose to repeat the test through many sessions; tracking gradual progress and receiving more immediate feedback. Everyone has their preference and sometimes the nature of our test will direct us to a best option. Often we will even combine the two variations; that is exactly what I want to do for this test. I want to use a re-test to track my total change across the testing timeline, but also perform real time data collection by imbedding my protocol into the exact structure of my baseline test.
My example of generating immediate feedback for this particular test will be taking the first 30 seconds of my recovery period, of each interval, and breathe with the training mask on during this time. I will follow this immediately by breathing without the mask on for the remaining 1:30 of my rest. While this is not a strong dose, I provide you with a fair warning: those first 30 seconds with a mask on are going to make you want to break away from the protocol with haste. I challenge you not to; the dosing is often the magic in the sauce.
My real-time variation for testing the effects of the training mask overlaid on my baseline looks like this:
1min max effort (meters) row
:30 recovery breathing with training mask (set @ 6k feet)
1:30 rest to recover
Right here I have the foundation for a good experiment. I can perform my baseline and then perform the training mask workout 2 or 3 times a week for a couple weeks and have a nice chunk of data that will show the progression and effects of the training mask on performance and recovery. And, as I mentioned, I will even go further by adding a re-test of the baseline. This way I can really explore how much affect my dose of the training mask is having on my individual homeostasis (that innate kick-start we pondered about).
I have an issue, though, and maybe many of you do as well: I like to over-achieve. My brain wants to ask more questions when I’m done than when I started. One way to really open up this channel of thinking, and springboard myself to further testing protocols, is by adding more methods for collecting other unique forms of data. It like the Boy Scout motto: “Be prepared.”
Coming prepared to gather more data than the minimum needed to answer our question is not at all required, but it can give us new insight into the actual effects of what it is our body is doing. There isn’t a perfect set of data you can gather every time in this uncertain world. To get the right idea you need to look at the experiment and identify what knowledge you already have on the subject. In the case of our diaphragm test we know we are deep into the world of breathing. Breathing means bringing in O2 in and pushing CO2 out and, to do this, the heart is going to be in charge of moving the blood around to make the gas exchange at the lungs occur. So I would be logical in finding ways to measure some of these facts.
That said, I am going to enhance my data set by recording my oxygen saturation rate (SAO2) and resting heart rate (RHR) using a digital pulse oximeter. These measures will be added at the beginning and end of the total session, as well as a minute into my two-minute recovery period after the max effort. I’m not interested in bogging down the plan or muddying the water, so let’s look at how this changes our workout structure:
1min max effort (meters) row
:30 recovery breathing with training mask (set @ 6k feet)
[@ 1min post effort, Measure/Record SAO2, RHR]
1:30 rest to recover
[Measure/Record SAO2, RHR 5min after the end of the session]
Add in the re-test of the baseline after multiple uses of my training mask protocol and I am left with a sizeable chunk of information that I can sift through when the dust has settled.
THE FIVE DEGREES OF SEPARATION
Now, if you stumbled onto the conversation here, you might be like: “What in Dante’s First Ring of Hell is going on here?” Instead, we have gone step by step to get to the “Promised Land.” This process is opening up opportunity for us to reverse engineer any test.
Much like the fanciful game to idolize Kevin Bacon, I have proposed five tiers to any experiment that you need to look for to apply your own variation. The hope is that you can take a mind-numbing test protocol and simplify it with these tools in hand. Each of these were just covered, but let’s go back and boost long-term memory retention:
- The Question
What is the test trying to answer? There is always a hypothesis at some level.
- The Baseline
Set a start point. Deltas define results.
- Re-test v. Real Time
Sometimes it’s one, sometimes it’s the other, sometimes it’s a mix-and-match. This important step helps you understand the premise of the data collected and how you might read the results or restructure future testing.
- Supplementary Data
When diving into any rabbit hole, grabbing extra data can help find correlations; unforeseen outcomes become regular occurrences when you have more accessible information.
- The Analysis
The math stuff, the “how did it feel” stuff, the biochemical stuff. The stuff that starts to help generate understanding.
Your brain may currently be calling to attention that we only talked about the first four layers. Rest assured, this is intentional. My goal is to give you concrete examples using our first test on how each of the sections works. So, before we can talk results, you and I have some data to collect and some n=1 testing to perform. For this reason, I will cover the analysis in the next post.
For now, I would love for you to participate along with me and openly share your results with the community. To entice you, I’m even going to make an excel spreadsheet to attach to the next post that you can use to quickly analyze your data. Nothing flashy, just something to help you sort through your data in the same way I will be sorting through mine: a practical application of the knowledge. If you roughly follow my protocol, I promise it will be easy to input your data.
Once we have the data, we can start to, not only, talk about the biological agents at play, but also identify connections to other topics that share common traits. This is when things will get really fun, when we get to chase performance like a cheetah to its prey. If we are successful in setting up our test matrix, you will be strapped up and ready for combat. Reader beware: there is no enablement here… the training wheels are going to be ripped off soon.
Now it’s time for you to go get busy on your homework and start making yourself your own metric for comparison, your own data set. From there we can start to tune your confidence in that gut feeling we introduced this post with by reinforcing it with physical results. As the Seuss says:
“You’re off to Great Places! Today is your Day! Your mountain is waiting, so… get on your way!” — Dr. Seuss