I Submerged Myself Underwater with a Dumbbell and Learned to Breathe with XPT. P.S. I Can’t Swim.
CrossFit is all about preparing for the unknown and unknowable, with seemingly endless options across modal domains. Every day that we walk into the gym, we are met with physical and mental challenges that directly correlate to functions in life outside the gym. However, for the everyday athlete, there is a limit in some regards based on factors like space and equipment.
So what happens when you get outside of the gym, in an environment so far from your comfort zone that it might as well be a foreign country? You adapt.
This past weekend, the Morning Chalk Up team was offered a spot in an Extreme Performance Training (XPT) in Malibu, California. The training, or as its defined, “A performance lifestyle system focused on breath, movement, and recovery methods,” was developed by Big Wave Surfer Laird Hamilton and Professional Volleyball player Gabby Reece. The pair opened their home to select media, gym owners, Navy SEALs, Olympians, and multiple athletes across multiple disciplines to experience everything it had to offer.
As a team, we started the day off with breathwork, incorporating several different methods across a wide spectrum, drawing on influences from various teachers. By starting the day working on optimizing our breathing, we prepared our bodies for the challenges ahead, moving oxygen to all vital organs and tissues in our bodies. XPT Performance Breathing as a system is intentionally designed to produce one of the following results: to calm and focus the mind, improve C02 tolerance, or recover the body.
Four-time CrossFit Games athlete Bryce Smith of Invictus Fitness was part of the crew for the day.
“My biggest takeaway was using the breath to control the nervous system and state of mind,” Smith said. “Using the breath to stay calm while being exposed to various forms of stress and practicing clearing carbon dioxide really enabled me to challenge my perceived limitations.”
This especially came in handy as we moved through our day.
The mind is a powerful tool and something that can significantly dictate our performance as athletes (and humans!). As XPT Performance Director PJ Nestler stated so eloquently, “Your breath and your mind are either a weakness or a weapon.” The proof was evident.
Once completed with the breathwork portion of the day, we split into two groups: move or recover. I was placed in the move group which meant I got to tackle the pool training next. Let me preface this with a moderately embarrassing confession: swimming was never a skill that I learned. Luckily, I was put in the shallow end first, with coaches offering some swimming tips, but still pushed to complete the tasks at hand.
The breathwork directly correlated here, as we spent a lot of time under water. My nerves were on high alert, but I kept being reminded to come back to my breath. In the time I was in the shallow end, my swimming skills had improved massively, and to take it one step further, I even swam underwater while carrying a dumbbell. Something I didn’t think was even possible.
My time in the pool didn’t end there. The training wheels were coming off as we headed to the deep end. At this depth, the tasks were things like traveling to the bottom with a dumbbell in one hand, launching yourself from the bottom, surfacing just long enough to get a nice deep breath, to repeat the cycle for reps. Another task? Traversing the width of the bottom of the 13-foot end, holding dumbbells in a farmers carry.
I’ll be honest, I didn’t make it that far, but the controlled environment made it so much easier in terms of trusting the process. Every step of the way, Gabby was on the deck coaching me through it, reminding me that I was doing was new and progress is still progress. Like a lot of athletes, I am notoriously hard on myself and this part of the experience, while extremely physically and mentally challenging, was easily the most impactful.
After the pool training wrapped, we came back together, and sat down to connect during lunch. Everyone had an incredible story to tell and I felt honored to be in the presence of such a kind, dynamic squad. But the day wasn’t over.
Our group moved onto the recovery stage, involving a 200+ degree sauna and ice baths. I figured if I could make it through the pool training, I could make it through the hot and cold. I was partially correct in that evaluation. The sauna, though hotter than normal, was actually really rewarding because it was a captive environment calling for conversation. I learned a lot about recovery methods and was impressed by the immense knowledge Laird offered us while in the sauna with us.
The ice bath was a totally different story. I knew it was going to be challenging, but I didn’t anticipate it to be as challenging as it was. Once you get in, you have to submerge your entire body then settle in with (ideally) only your head and neck out of the water. Then, you just sit for 3-5 minutes. The breathwork we learned at the beginning of the day is extremely important here in order to sustain your time.
For me, I was almost in tears, having flashbacks to winters in Michigan when my hands and feet would just hurt when I was in the cold for extended periods of time. One by one, I dipped my extremities for as long as I could possibly bear. I lasted the entire three minutes the first round and came back for over four minutes in round two. Something I learned is that, in an ice bath, if you experience pain in your extremities, it’s a sign of poor circulation. That doesn’t mean you have to deal with the ailment forever — it just means you get to expose your extremities to the stressor in order to increase circulation.
Like CrossFit, there is a ton of science behind the development of this system, but the intention is that the trainings will always be fluid. The coaches, including Gabby and Laird themselves, are the guinea pigs for all of the exercises delivered in the trainings. As a whole, it was apparent that the XPT team have built a solid community within themselves that outwardly spreads to the participants.
In line with the community feel, Bryce added another big outcome for him: “The importance of play and focusing on having a good time while challenging traditional fitness norms. Connecting with so many like minded individuals and feeling their energy, passion, and gratitude for life really left me feeling invigorated and inspired. Thank you to XPT life, Laird Hamilton, Gabby Reece, Coach PJ, and everyone involved for allowing me to be a part of something so special.”
As CrossFitters and athletes, we should be putting ourselves in more situations like these in order to achieve a high-performance lifestyle. Now, they’re making it even easier to do with the XPT App, but if you’re feeling extra extreme, you could dive into your experience by registering for one of their fitness retreats.