Friday, June 20, 2014

Death to the Heart Rate Chart

    It happened again! My sister-in-law's husband, a farmer and rancher in Tennessee was having heart problems. Not new to this 74 year old. He could feel the racing heart. Not new at all, so he toughed it out for most of the day. He did his chores and looked over his cattle and land. Then he drove himself to the hospital. His blood pressure was high, but his heart rate was about 200 beats a minute. He talked and joked with the staff, despite feeling "funny." They stabilized him. After a few hours he went home again.

    Now if you are trained by certain sources in the police and fire world years ago, you were taught that he would surely have peed and defecated in his pants, been totally disoriented and be unable to do any of his chores, least of all drive to the hospital, at about 175 beats a minute.

     Thank goodness in the 2000, some fitness experts into the the police world and began to better define heart rates and performance, knocking down these heart rate rules, and putting an end to the misnomers.

     But No! Yes, it has happened again. And in 2014! A firefighter training organization has resurrected the old Bruce Siddle, P.P.C.T., Heart Rate and Performance Chart as if it was a new, magic discovery or recognized worldwide as a Nobel Prize winning commandment and industry standard. You've all seen the 20-plus-year-old chart by now?

CONDITION BLACK (heart rate above 175) 
     Irrational fight or flee
     Submissive behavior 
     Voiding of bladder and bowels 
     Gross motor skills (running, charging, etc., 
          at highest performance level) 

CONDITION GRAY (heart rate 145 - 175) 
     Cognitive processing deteriorates 
     Vasoconstriction (=reduced bleeding from 
     Loss of peripheral vision (tunnel vision) 
     Loss of depth perception 
     Loss of near vision 
     Auditory exclusion 
     Complex motor skills deteriorate

CONDITION RED - "THE ZONE" (heart rate between 115 and 145) 
     Optimal survival and combat performance level for: 
          Complex motor skills 
          Visual reaction time 
          Cognitive reaction time

CONDITIONAL YELLOW (heart rate 115) 
     Fine motor skills deteriorate

     The professional look of the chart and its matter-of-fact presentation suggests some very serious study work has been done? But by whom? The actual source is somewhat elusive these days. The source is usually just regurgitated in police circles as “Bruce Siddle's work on” or the “work of Bruce Siddle” over and over again, as though Siddle himself was a renown heart surgeon or maybe a Distinguished Fellow, doctor at Houston's Debakey Heart Center. Nobel winner? Does anyone ask just who this Siddle fellow really is? 

     Actually, Bruce Siddle has not graduated a college and has no psychology or medical degree or experience. He is essentially a self-proclaimed martial arts grandmaster of his own style, the "Fist of Dharma" system from a small Illinois town. He had an idea at a very ripe time decades ago to teach very nonviolent police courses, starting first with friends at a local police academy. Many police administrations eventually loved the programs because of the citizen-pleasing, "pressure-point approach." Many, many officers, including myself, did not like the program. Not at all. But back then Siddle seems to have won a "police training lottery" as virtually a lone business without competition, despite all his shortcomings.It was perfect timing.

     Thanks to the ripeness of his unusual and perfect timing, Siddle's name is now entrenched in some quarters of the police training world. Inside this world, and also in the so-called, “reality-based, self-defense” training world, there are these - you might call them - “usual suspects,” for lack of a better term. The usual suspects being those known police trainers who are name-dropped by others to sound ever-so-educated and informed. These are the names of people and their courses that are constantly regurgitated in a spinning tornado of speeches, books, and videos. But few know that with new research and discoveries, many of their ideas have lost their spin and have ground down to a small, smelly breeze. And so, too, goes the Siddle Heart Rate Performance Chart, and here's why.

     Generalities. We all know a general bit about the human heart. It beats. It does a lot of blood and oxygen work. It's amazing. We need it. We all know that if the human heart beats at a super rapid pace, surely we will pass out and die. And we all know that if the heart beats at a super low pace, surely we will pass out and die. It, therefore, becomes intuitive for us to understand that there must be a continuum of sorts, a progression within those two points? It just makes sense. Fast rate or slow rates, if you are near death, you are not feeling well or performing well.

     Then you are shown the above Siddle Heart Chart. You look it over. Okay, given your general, intuitive grasp of the human heart, this must make some kind of sense. And in a time a few decades ago when research and skeptics, debates, and counter ideas weren't sweeping across the internet, this chart swept quietly across enforcement training courses in manuals and seminars. The "low-information student" nodded in agreement. Then martial artists trying to be all mod, technical, informed, and "insider-ish” began touting the chart in martial arts training. So the "low-information martial artist" nodded in agreement. Even parts of the military nodded, too, even though plenty of independent thinkers and experts had immediate doubts and questions. I certainly did.

     Here I will remind everyone that I have taken PPCT courses many years ago. With the chart's inception, there has never been an official explanation or obvious attachment between the heart rates shown and perhaps some other elements in the equation, like fear or stress or conditioning. This lack of research caused a ton of misleading information and misunderstanding. Based on the simple chart of numbers, many were lead to believe that a track runner would poop in his pants when reaching 175 beats a minute? And don't think for a moment this concept wasn't discussed a lot among the troops. Sports performance aside, people who do a variety of fine motor tasks under great pressure, like snipers or jet pilots or the tons of people that perform under stress, simply had to be classified as freaks or super-special athletes, else this precious “work of Siddle” just couldn't fit in with reality.

     In the late 1990s and early to mid-2000s, independent thinkers began really challenging the chart as the internet grew. The challenges spread and gained momentum. There were numerous testimonies about people doing refined tasks with increased heart rates in combat, as well as other unusual circumstances. Even a friend of mine, an accountant, was running on a treadmill once back then and using the small buttons on his Blackberry. He noticed his heart rate was very high and thought to himself, “I shouldn't be able to do this, should I?” thinking that according to the chart, he should have lost control of his bowels at that point. Actually, at one point he stopped running, straddling the moving ramp to find that any trouble typing he'd had came from the physical bouncing on the ramp while running. His heart rate was still very high while straddling the ramp, and he could pound the numbers with some ease when standing still.

     “Your heart can easily beat 300 times a minute if your brain tells it to do so, but you will hopefully never see this out on a run or bike session. When we talk about maximum heart rate (MHR), we always mean activity specific. You may find out your MHR for running is 190 bpm, but on the bike it may be only 175. Your Maximum Heart Rate is different for every activity you perform. In addition, it's also difficult to predict a number within each sport with formulas such as the popular MHR = 220 - age or the newer MHR = 205 - 1/2 age. The fact is that even if the formulas would be based on a single activity, there are wide genetic differences between individuals that make these formulas too vague to be predictably useful,” says Dr. Scott, MD.

     In 2004, Simunitions pioneer Kenneth Murray published his popular Training at the Speed of Life book. And, yes, still inside the book are all the usual suspects and the same tornado of the same old ideas spinning about. They are all co-endorsing, co-forwarding, and co-quoting each other in the usual, round-robin of incestuous back-slapping. And, yes, Kenneth covers the old “must-mention” list, and the Siddle Heart Rate and Performance Chart comes up in the book. BUT....

     BUT this time, enter Kathleen Vonk! Officer, athlete, certified physical performance trainer in numerous programs, BS in Exercise Physiology, etc., Vonk has done years of performance studies. She dismisses the Siddle heart chart because of the simple fact that everyone performs differently at different rates and levels. She also says in the book and in numerous follow-up interviews that many other factors interfere with performance. You just cannot tag a heart rate number with a specific event, physical performance, or lack thereof. (Some interfering factors are hydration, altitude, fear, heat, cool, last meal, genetics, well … too many and too obvious to list right here.)

     Ken Murray, a gentleman, a scholar, and a better man than I am as you'll soon see, very diplomatically uses the phrase building on Siddle's work on heart rate” in his book when revealing Vonk's hands-on, experienced, qualified results. “Building?” Is building the best word, Ken? No diplomacy here from me - rather modern research tears down and eliminates it. This was not news in many sports performance circles even by 2004. Quite a number of experts already agreed with Vonk. But it was newsy to the police training tornado. Not newsy enough though to crash and burn the chart completely as it should have. It seemed to take Dr. Bill Lewinski and his Force Science college wing to make a decent dent in the legend of the Heart Chart.

     Fear. Dr. Bill Lewinski, Ph.D., executive director and multi-decade psychologist specializing in body reaction and violence of Minnesota State University, Mankato. He says “the idea that a high heart rate (alone) causes a loss of fine motor skills is a myth. The culprit is fear or anger, not heart rate.” In 1997, Killogy's popular Dave Grossman virtually teamed up with Siddle and co-opted the Siddle Heart Rate Chart. You will still find late 1990s charts here and there with the "Siddle-Grossman" name and copyright in the bottom corner. But then in 2004 came a popular, public disclaimer from Grossman that the fear factor was also important in all this and that actual heart rate numbers "may vary." The numbers may vary? Sounds like the end of the Siddle Heart Chart to me.

     History has rewritten itself in an effort to justify still using the chart. Yet, even with this looser number rewrite, veteran EMT David Collins reports, "I saw Grossmen in early 2013. He give his usual lecture & I enjoyed most of it, except the heart rate info because it was wrong. The bio-chemicals that flood the body & brain are what causes us to shut down, stop thinking, & panic. Yes, there is some kind of heart rate increase, but it is not about the heart rate. This does not prove cause & effect." 2013! Colonel Dave? Let the chart go.

     Does this mean we need a new heart chart? A fear chart, too? What level of fear mixes with what level of heart rate, to create what level of response? Fear is different for people. I personally have felt more fear batting in the ninth inning of our softball team playoff games than I did when searching a room for an armed felon. How can one quantify this dichotomy?
     And one other point that confuses this research, I might add - the sudden heart spike. People experience this spike frequently. Do spikes count? Or must one maintain a high rate? If so? For how long for it to count in research? Do I empty my bladder when a sudden spike reaches 175 beats per minute? Or will I lose my stool only with a sustained 175 bpm for ten seconds? How long is sustained? We all know the answers to these questions. It depends on the person and the situation.

"Does this mean we need a new chart? A fear chart, too?

     What level of fear mixes with what level of heart rate to create what

level of response? Fear is different for people."

     Workable solutions? If your heart beats way too much, you die. If your heart beats way too little, you die. There is indeed a performance progression inside these deaths. The progression is based on an individual's genetics, conditioning, outside environments and the task at hand. I have already perused for you a large number of very complicated, technical, new and not-so-new studies that involve heart rate and performance. In all of them, being in shape produced the best results. Off the chart if you will. The real solutions are also intuitive. Stay in shape, eat right, breathe right (yes, that age-old tactical breathing), and exercise. Scenario training - simulate the combat stress you'll experience through repetition training. I add here, use my “who, what, where, when, how, and why ” list to best prepare for the simulations.

     Despite all this research and common sense, the Siddle Heart Performance Rate Chart and other ignorant manifestations of it still get rotation within the police and fire tornado, quoted, and presented in books, lectures, and films as biblical truth, just as with the firefighter training program I heard of just the other day and in the Grossman lectures.

     So if you are about to write the next “pioneer,” reality-based fight book and insist on quoting all the usual suspects? Why not stop for a moment, meditate on violence, and ask a few questions first about all of them. Be the skeptic.

     Few seem to know that Bruce Siddle no longer officially owns PPCT and hasn't for years. Siddle has also lost millions in a lawsuit involving many things, PPCT being one. Many police agencies, even PPCT instructors themselves, are ignorant of this fact as PPCT seems to partially operate in some sort of Twilight-Zone flux without a proper, defined, hydra head. A bank actually owns PPCT and could care less about it. So, it somehow "operates."

     As the Siddle Heart Performance Chart is "history-rewritten," its only modern rescue is a vague excuse - "Well ... ahhh ... it teaches people that white, gray, black, etc., conditions ... ahh ... exist." Okay, but I think there are about twelve better ways to briefly explain that existence than list a thermometer of precise responses with precise heart rate numbers. Drop all the disagreement and confusion and drop the chart. After all, the old Col. Jeff Cooper Color Code is used by survivalists and shooters alike, and it didn't need accompanying heart rates with it. We all fully accept, approve, and understand that instantly.

     The Siddle Chart should never have been made. And you can't make a fear/heart/performance chart either.You just can't assign the acts of mandatory defecation, tunnel vision, loss of fine motor skills, etc., to one heart rate number for all of humanity, or even a general one. I understand that not even Siddle uses the Siddle Heart Chart anymore! So what do you say we all quit passing this deceased heart chart around and around?

     Let it rest in peace. No need to resuscitate.

     For more details and references, read these articles and studies. Also look at the very latest sports studies.

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