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Category: Recovery Articles

6 Research-Backed Benefits to Sauna Post Workout

While many of us instinctively gravitate to the sauna post workout as a way to relax, recover from hard work (physical and/or mental), or otherwise indulge ourselves in something that simply feels good, it turns out that it makes complete sense for both our bodies and our minds to crave a bit of sauna time.

Here are six ways spending time in the sauna post workout is a good thing for us—and the science to back up each of these sauna benefits.

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1. Sauna Time Can Improve Our Longevity

Research published in 2015 in JAMA Internal Medicine tracked 2,315 Finnish men, their heart health, and their sauna habits over twenty years. The group of men with the lowest mortality rate were those who got time in the sauna four to seven times per week. The men who frequented the sauna more often saw a reduced risk of sudden cardiac death, fatal coronary heart disease, fatal cardiovascular disease, and all-cause mortality. Researchers believe this heart-protecting benefits comes from the increased heart rate we experience while the sauna, which correlates to performing low- to moderate-intensity exercise.

2. Sauna Can Improve Our Endurance and Aerobic Capacity

There are two ways in which the sauna can help us when it comes to our endurance training. First, a 2007 study done on male distance runners showed that regular sauna bathing increased time to exhaustion by 32%, and that plasma and red blood cell volumes increased. So, basically, sauna can help us perform better by increasing our blood volume.

Additionally, it is believed that spending time in the sauna can help us improve our tolerance to heat. This means we’ll be better able to handle the natural increase in body temperature that comes with prolonged physical efforts and exposure to heat while competing or performing.

3. Sauna Can Stimulate Our Muscle Growth

Heat therapy or “hyperthermia” has been shown to increase the production of “heat shock proteins.” Heat shock proteins repair damaged proteins in our bodies. They also protect us against oxidative damage. The same study also showed an improvement in muscle growth. So, essentially, this sort of therapy can help reduce muscle breakdown and increase muscle building.

On top of that, a 1988 study showed an increase in growth hormone after exposure to the sauna and a 2007 study showed exposure to heat can increase insulin sensitivity and therefore help you build and maintain lean body mass and regulate sugar.

4. Sauna Can Be Good for Our Brain, Too

Spending time in the sauna causes our body to release more norepinephrine. Proper norepinephrine levels are believed to help protect us from everything from Alzheimer’s to migraines.

Alongside, norepinephrine our level of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (also known as BDNF) also increases with both exercise and heat exposure. This is important as BDNF has been shown in research to be associated with the birth of new neurons and an increase in cognitive function.

5. Sauna Can Cleanse Our Skin

It’s important for our skin to be healthy not just for aesthetic reasons, but because it protects us from the environment and microbes, and also helps regulate our body temperature. Getting in a good sauna allows your skin to clean itself and remove dead skin cells. Not only will your skin “breathe” better and protect you better, but it will look better, too.

P.S. On a related note, the heat of a sauna can trigger our sebaceous glands, which are located on our scalp. The sebaceous glands release compounds that make our hair appear shiny and healthy.

6. Sauna Post Workout Can Boost Our Immune System

A 2013 study published in the Journal of Human Kinetics examined the impact of traditional Finnish sauna bathing on the immune system. Research subjects included nine trained runners and nine non-athletes. After just one sessions of fifteen minutes in the sauna, subjects showed increased white blood cells. And, interestingly, the athletes showed more improvement to their white blood cell count than the non-athletes.

The Conclusion on Sauna Post Workout

Whether you have access to a traditional (or “Finnish”) sauna or a modern infrared sauna, you can experience all these benefits and more. It’s certainly worth a try—and given the near guarantee that the sauna will relieve stress, you’ll feel better in some way, no matter what! And there may also be social benefits to sauna bathing if you are spending that time with others.

If you’re new to the sauna, just take it slowly. Don’t amp up the heat too high or too quickly, stand up slowly when your time is up, and stay hydrated. If you have a history of health or heart troubles, check in with your doctor first before prescribing yourself time in the sauna

How to Ease Yourself Into Cold Therapy with Cold Showers

Experimenting with ice baths can be time consuming and messy. If you’re not sure about the benefits of cold therapy, but want to give it a try—or are just nervous to have your first step be immersing yourself in ice—then cold showers are a great way to ease yourself in.

It’s Time to Quit Giving Cold Therapy the Cold Shoulder

While you may have read about the benefits of ice baths and cold immersion, you may not yet have tried cold therapy for yourself. This could be because the idea of filling your tub with ice and then cleaning it up afterwards seems overwhelming. Or it may be that the act of getting into a tub of ice and water feels overwhelming in and of itself. Or you may just live in a small space and not have a bathtub or the space for a dedicated tub for ice baths.

There are a number of reasons you may not have tried cold therapy, though you may be intrigued with it and even have knowledge of some of its benefits—and that’s where cold showers come into play.

Cold showers offer a simple and (relatively) shock-free way to experiment with the benefits of cold therapy. We’ll talk about how to take a cold shower “the right way” in a moment, but first, let’s recap the benefits of cold therapy in case there are any of the research-backed aspects of this amazing and health-promoting habit you haven’t heard about.

The Health and Performance Benefits of Cold Showers

Cryotherapy can refer to “technology” ranging from whole-body, high-tech chambers to an ice pack. This practice—sometimes also called cold therapy, cold water immersion, or simply ice baths—utilizes cold temperatures to treat, heal, and optimize the human body. It is an ancient technique and one that you realize is common to many northern cultures when you think of ritual activities like polar plunges and winter swimming.

While cryotherapy chambers are a decidedly modern take on cold therapy, the practice itself is ancient and it certainly doesn’t need to be complicated. I grew up in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan where every Finnish family had a sauna, and we learned the art of sprinting from the hot sauna to the cold lake and jumping in at an early age. While we had no idea “why” we were doing this as children, modern science has revealed much about the basis for this time-honored practice.

Cold therapy has been shown to:

How to Take a Cold Shower

So, are you ready to take the plunge?

Well, that’s the whole point of this article, right? You don’t have to jump into an iced-over lake or a tub full of freezing water. All you have to do is step into your shower.

Jumping right into a stream of cold shower water can be hard. Even though it might sound cruel, an easier tactic is to take your regular hot shower and then hang out for a few extra minutes at the endbut turn off the hot water.

It’s going to feel shocking at first, and may even make you gaspbut that’s okay. That change in your breath and your heart rate jumping is a literal wake-up call. That’s your cold shower jumpstarting your system—physically and mentally.

Start small and have your first few cold showers last just thirty to sixty seconds (trust me, it will feel plenty long at first). Then, work your way up to two to three minutes of cold. Once you think you’ve got the hang of it, you might even skip the “warm” part of the shower.

True Story: I had a friend who dared himself to take nothing but cold showers for thirty days. He held himself to that personal challenge and it hardened him both physically and mentally.

You Don’t Have to Be a Hero to Take Cold Showers

Even real-life heroine Katharine Hepburn (who took cold showers well into her eighties) and fictional hero James Bond both believed in the powers of cold therapy. But improving your health, performance, and mood through the practice of cold showers doesn’t have to look like a polar jump event—it can be as simple as turning your faucet knob.

How to Set Up an After Workout Ice Bath at Home

A big part of our after workout recovery here at XPT surrounds the manipulation of ice and heat. There are so many reasons to incorporate ice and heat recovery therapy into your regular fitness or sports regimen.  Cycling between high heat and the cold produces many full body benefits, from preventing injury and avoiding sore muscles by reducing inflammation, to improving circulation, boosting human growth hormones and your overall immune system.

There are many ways to achieve this experience on your own; saunas and ice baths, pools and jacuzzis or steam-rooms are good places to start, but what if you don’t have any of these facilities at home or at your gym?  While heat can be managed in the shower, complete submersion into ice often creates a challenge.  Gabby Reece suggests one alternative, which is relatively inexpensively and can be done at home.

Ice Bath After Workout

1.  GET A TUB
Rubbermaid Stock Tank:  Available at your local hardware store or online; we recommend the Rubbermaid 100 or 150 gallon stock tanks, depending on the size of the person who are using them.  Designed for providing water for livestock, these tubs come with a side drain which makes for easy cleaning when you’re done.
Ice Pod: ColdTub sells single units perfect for home or gyms. Just add ice and water.
3B Scientific: This 3B Scientific ice tub is a high end tub similar to what Laird and gabby have at their home.

2.  PURCHASE ICE
If you don’t have access to a commercial ice machine (and most of us don’t), then we recommend about 200 pounds of ice for round 1 and an additional 100 pounds of ice for round 2 if split into groups, which should provide you with enough ice to last for two and a half hours. *Sound expensive? Then invite some friends once a week and have an ‘ice party’. Everyone can chip in!
Commercial Ice Machine: If you do want to invest in an ice machine the Hoshizaki is a great one.

3. XPT ICE-HEAT METHOD
Start with 10-15:00 of heat (sauna, steam or jacuzzi) followed by 2-3:00 cold (ice) up to your neck and repeat two more times!
We believe you should not end on heat.  The preferred system is Hot-Cold, Hot-Cold, Hot-Cold. Once you’ve finished your cycle and before you get ready to come out, submerge yourself all the way under the ice water.

*When ready to come out of the ice tub, please remember to get out slowly and hold on to the sides. If you have a friend with you have them hold your arm just in case you need support.
*Always consult with your Doctor before submerging in ice.
*If you are taking any type of medication you must check first with your Doctor for clearance.

 

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Lastly, we love photos. If you, your friends or your gym gets an ice bath and has an ice party, please send your pictures to info@xptlife.com so that we can post on our social pages!

Enjoy, feel good and optimize your health.

~Gabby

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For more information on the benefits of ice and heat therapy and how to go about it click here.

 

5 Benefits of Yoga

BODY | MIND | SPIRIT

Yoga is a practice of the body, mind and spirit. Whether you do it once a day or once a week, yoga can bring a sense of calm and well being into your life. These are just a few things that yoga can do for your physical and mental state.

1. Breathing / Stress

– Yoga focuses your attention on your breathing and poses. Your cares of the day will melt away if you fully concentrate and allow yourself to inhale and exhale deeply into your stretches and poses.

2. Meditation

– Yoga can be used as a spiritual practice and a way to develop a deeper connection to one’s self and nature. It can give people a sense of inner peace and a way to calm the body and mind together.

3. Muscle Endurance

– During yoga you typically hold poses for periods of time and repeat each pose, or variations of each pose, several times during the workout. So just like any other exercise regimen it’s the repetitive motion that increases muscular endurance -in this case the exercise regimen just so happens to be yoga.

4. Strength

– Most yoga poses require that you use your own body weight. Many of the poses require you to lift one hand and one leg at the same time and there are even more difficult poses that require balance while supporting your body weight. No matter what you are at in your yoga practice you are gaining strength because it calls for you to use all the strength you can muster up to hold your poses as best you can.

5. Flexibility

– Yoga can lengthen the muscles, tendons and ligaments in the body. Yoga increases flexibility and helps with range of motion.

XPT’s Top 5 BENEFITS OF HEAT

One of the basic foundations of XPT is recovery

Some physiological adaptations that occur subsequent to acclimation to heat include:

*Improved cardiovascular mechanisms and lower heart rate.
*Lower core body temperature during workload (surprise!)
*Higher sweat rate and sweat sensitivity as a function of increased thermoregulatory control.
*Increased blood flow to skeletal muscle (known as muscle perfusion) and other tissues.
*Reduced rate of glycogen depletion due to improved muscle perfusion.
*Increased red blood cell count (likely via erythropoietin).
*Increased efficiency of oxygen transport to muscles.

There are a few ways of heating up, and we love the sauna. The ability to sweat well is part of the acclimatization to heat and the sauna exposes this very well in an environment that is easy to get comfortable in. The heat can be set fairly high in a non-infrared sauna which allows for quicker response time, where with infrared saunas the heat is a lot lower but you can spend more time in them.

A hot shower can help with heat as well, but it doesn’t work as well as a Jacuzzi or sauna in that running water (although can work real well for the cold) needs to be pretty warm for it to be effective enough for heat acclimation. If you choose the hot shower make sure to integrate with cold as well, and even with sauna or Jacuzzi work as ending on a hot session leaves the body very tired and we’ve seen recovery affected the next day by only using heat. We have a saying here, and it’s “never end on hot”.

By Team XPT

 

Chilling out: The Top 8 Health Benefits of Cold Recovery

By Brian Mackenzie

The cold presents a very unique opportunity with our sympathetic nervous system (fight, flight, freeze). Physiology is incredible, and an analogy that I heard a while ago pretty much sums up how we teach cold training. When we watch animals like a Lion hunting an antelope, we really have no way to see any differences physiologically with what's happening to either animal. Even though one is the hunter and one is being hunted. The difference between the lion and the antelope is that the lion wants to be there, the antelope does not. 

The cold will always be cold, it is your choice if you want to experience what it has to offer or not. Be the lion.

BENEFITS

1. Boost’s your Human Growth Hormone
2. Boost’s your Immune system up to 300%
3. Increases testosterone in men up to 490%
4. Increases sperm count
5. Increase’s circulation
6. Reduces swelling in joints
7. Burns brown fat in body, takes a lot of energy to warm your body back up to normal temp.
8. Norepinephrine increases 200-300%. A hormone and neurotransmitter that has incredible effects on metabolism, pain and inflammation.

The cold presents a unique opportunity in that it is not very pleasant very quickly, but feels so incredible when we get done. Why is that? Well turns out there are real mechanisms to cold adaptation those of the nervous system, cardiovascular, endocrine, and muscular systems. The body’s approach is a trifecta in that we need to:

1. Increase metabolic rate to keep the core warm (protect what is important), and turn up the furnace internally with the release of FFA’s (free form fatty acids) and glucose.
2. Leave what is no longer important – it’s temporary, but the restriction of blood vessels and capillaries in the extremities and even the body teaches elasticity beyond just expanding in heat.
Then 3. Which leads back to 1, when we increase metabolic rate we are also asking areas of the body to vasodilate when we turn up the furnace inside. This allows all the processes of the systems above to work incredibly well.

That said, it is not a one-stop shop. It requires time and patience. Nobody can just sit in cold water without some form of acclimation to it, so start small, maybe :30 – 1:00 for a couple of rounds with warm water or heat (sauna) between.

 

Laird’s Holistic Workout & Nutrition Guide for Men

Being healthy is no easy formula, but you can make it so it’s not unattainable. We do know by research and facts that exercising versus not exercising is better for your body. It’s what our bodies were designed to do. We also know that the food we consume has an effect on our bodies function, performance, and appearance. Most importantly exercising and eating right makes us feel good, great in fact. So why do we make it so hard to choose to exercise and eat right?

Temptation, Peer Pressure, False Information, Access, Affordability

We can come up with all the excuses we want to deter us from exercising and eating healthy. But why do you want to? I choose to set those excuses aside and just exercise and eat right every day. I do it for myself, and for my family.

Here’s My Holistic Workout & Nutrition Guide for Men

Morning Ritual ~ Coffee, Smoothie & Workout
I highly recommend starting everyday with a workout and good nutrients. Because I workout my consumption of calories is on the high side. Calories are a blessing to me; they give me energy and fuel me. I make sure my calories come from clean food sources.

SMOOTHIE RECIPE INGREDIENTS
Whey Protein plus coconut milk, bananas, greens, omegas, flaxseed, and ice.

PURPOSE
Everyone needs omegas for healthy heart and …
Everyone needs greens for antioxidants, and minerals
Men especially need flaxseed for their prostate
Even though the greens contains enough fruits and vegetables I like the consistency bananas provide, it tends to thicken the smoothie.

HOLISTIC WORKOUT + FUEL

My workouts usually run for 2-3 hours. They consist of strength training and cardio vascular training like the ones posted on xptlife.com. I do gym workouts (weights, body exercises) pool workouts, and cycle on the road and mountain.
Because my smoothie has a lot of calories I make it through these workouts with plenty of energy.

I realize most people don’t have the luxury of training this long and a 45-60 minute workout is ideal.
The more ingredients you add to your smoothie the more calories, and the more servings etc. Find out what proportions work for you, your goals.
If you want to gain muscle, add an additional scoop of protein
If you want to slim down, cut down on the fruit and use water instead of coconut milk.

MID DAY RITUAL

I always eat a large lunch that has a protein and heavy vegetables.
Examples of my meals are;
Eggs, Black Beans, Onions,Peppers
Rotisserie Chicken, Squash, Spinach
Sashimi (various kinds), Salad
Steak, broccoli, squash

EVENING RITUAL

I have the good fortune of having a wife that is an amazing cook. She is definitely more traditional when it comes to meals and we eat 6 out of 7 dinners at home. We both like eating at home for these reasons:
-We control the ingredients, and portion size
-It costs less than dining out
-It provides a family environment so we can talk and engage with each other and our children.

Our meals usually consist of:
Barbequing chicken, pork, or steak along with fresh corn and other grilling veggies.
Gabby always makes a huge salad loading with so many unique toppings we never get board of her salads. We eat a lot of chili’s made with beans, vegetables, etc. Baked chicken with yams and squash is always an easy go to for her.
Before we go to bed usually around 9:00 which allows our bodies 7+ hours to sleep, we both take a recovery formula.

Not too complicated right? I try to stick with as close to natural ingredients as I can. Here’s to our health.

Brian Mackenzie on the Doc and Jock Podcast

Episode 61 is another doozie. Running guru, strength & conditioning coach and just general badass Brian MacKenzie joins the conversation with Doc Danny Matta and Coach Joe Szymanek. Brian fills the fellas in on what started him into the strength and conditioning world and what eventually led him to starting CrossFit Endurance. The dialogue morphs from there into a bigger conversation about CrossFit, and if it’s healthy and furthermore if spending your whole life in a gym is healthy. Which brings us to a rundown on Brian’s latest life work with Laird Hamilton, Wim Hof and Gabby Reece called XPT Life. If you are an athlete (and you all are because you all have a body) then this is a must listen. It will challenge what you think about, what you believe and what the hell your purpose is in a totally awesome and exciting way.

Click Here for details on full Episode 61

Cryotherapy For Recovery & Cold-water Immersion Podcast

Dr. Rhonda Patrick, one of XPT’s team members’,  holds a podcast about how cryotherapy affects the brain, the immune system, metabolism, and athletic performance.
Heat-Ice/Cold is one of XPT’s foundation principles for cryotherapy recovery.
Listen as she discusses deep biochemical topics derived from her report.

Podcast is available through her website, itunes or mp3.
WEBSITE PODCAST
ITUNES PODCAST
MP3 PODCAST

INTERESTED IN THE REPORT?
In this over 20-page report, I dive pretty deep into some important effects that cold exposure from both whole body cryotherapy and cold water immersion have on the body and brain including:

  • How cold exposure increases norepinephrine  up to 5-fold in the brain and the temperature and duration needed to do this.
  • How norepinephrine has an effect on mood, increases vigilance, focus, and attention (especially over a prolonged period).
  • Cold exposure increases cold shock proteins including one in the brain that repairs damaged synapses and in muscle prevents atrophy.
  • How cold-induced norepinephrine lowers inflammation and pain by decreasing the levels of 3 inflammatory mediators.
  • How chronic cold shock may increase immune cell numbers and particularly a type of immune cell that kills cancer cells.

Read more  – VIEW REPORT

Laird, Brian, and Gabby on the Tim Ferris Podcast

Listen to the Tim Ferriss PodCast on iTunes

“There are no new ideas, just new applications of old ideas.” – Laird Hamilton

Laird Hamilton is widely considered the greatest big wave surfer of all-time. He is credited with the creation of tow-in surfing, as well as the rebirth of stand-up paddle boarding. To get amped for my below interview with him, check out a few minutes of this insanity:
Hamilton has starred in multiple surfing films and was the centerpiece of Riding Giants, a documentary about big wave surfing. Laird was also Tim’s teacher in the surfing episode of The Tim Ferriss Experiment, which took place in Hawaii. Laird is known for using his sports fame to raise money for charities including Race Across America, Pipeline for a Cure for Cystic Fibrosis, and Rain Catcher, among others.

Gabrielle Reece has been named one of the “20 Most Influential Women In Sports” and is best known for her success in volleyball. Reece led the Women’s Beach Volleyball League in kills for four consecutive seasons. Elle magazine once called Reece “one of the five most beautiful women in the world,” and Rolling Stone placed her on their “Wonder Women” list. She parlayed that into a successful modeling career and then starred as a trainer on The Biggest Loser. Her crossover success led to her becoming the first female athlete to ever design a shoe for Nike.

Brian MacKenzie is the founder of CrossFit Endurance and the author of the New York Times best-selling book Unbreakable Runner. MacKenzie has created controversy by suggesting a counter-intuitively minimalist approach to distance running. He challenges not only high-mileage runs, but also high-carb diets, and he incorporates intense strength training to conquer everything from 5K runs to ultra-marathons. He was also prominently featured in The 4-Hour Body, where he revealed how to prepare for a marathon in record time. MacKenzie has been featured in Runner’s World, Men’s Journal, ESPN, Outside, and The Economist.

Listen to the PodCast on iTunes.

Laird Hamilton’s Extreme Active Recovery Therapy

Submerged, Sweltering, and Sub-Zero

 
 
XPT RECOVERY– Extreme Thermal Cycling Session with Laird and Gabby after an Extreme Pool Training Workout

I recently had the chance to briefly suspend my responsibilities as a San Francisco based research scientist, and fly down to Malibu for a few days of workouts with the G&L team, including a Saturday pool training workout at the Hamilton’s with Laird, Gabby, and several others of their  “Malibu Mob” (including nutritionist Darin Olien, actor John McGinley, environmentalist Kelly Meyer, celebrity trainer Adam Friedman and many others). The experience was so out the norm that I thought I’d share some of what I learned and experienced.  After all, when you’ve been convinced to submerge yourself in sub-zero water, you feel like sharing your war story.

The energy at the Hamilton’s was spectacular, the athleticism impressive, the underwater training intense, and the atmosphere contagious and motivating. With both Gabby and Laird watching my every move, it was a bit like training with a drill sergeant, absolutely no lazy sets allowed!  However, I have to admit from time to time I went for the lighter weights when they were preoccupied supervising someone else. Laird and Gabby have spent years fine-tuning this very unique workout, and it represents one of the most innovative and comprehensive workouts I’ve ever done. After reading about Gabby and Laird’s underwater training program XPT, I started incorporating pool training in my program. For about 8 months now, I have been experimenting with various explosive underwater movements in my pool, and can now say I am totally addicted. You can challenge yourself underwater in ways that are simply impossible to replicate on land and the sensation is totally remarkable.  Laird, Gabby and the crew perform these underwater workouts, which also include circuits of extreme thermal cycling between a 200F sauna and -30F circulating ice-bath up to 3 times a week to recover from their intense functional training, biking and surfing activities.

Intense Pool Workouts:  Explosive Movements with No Impact
Essentially, pool training centers around two themes: high intensity explosive underwater movements, alternating with lower intensity exercises which are longer duration in order to develop increased lung capacity and improved breath control.  While grabbing heavy weights and jumping in the deep end of a pool may seem counter-intuitive at first, many of the movements are very similar to explosive land-based training— such as dumbbell jump squats, dumbbell presses to fly and one legged dumbbell squats. After 8 to 10 sets of squat jumps with 30 and 40 lb dumbbells in each hand, Adam Friedman inspired me to advance to one legged jump squats, which requires greater balance and coordination.  The added challenge made me feel a bit like an astronaut in training, in that astronauts train in huge neutral buoyancy swimming pools to simulate space walks on earth (http://youtu.be/HZ4sf-fq7NU).  With Gabby and Laird’s intense pool training program, the emphasis is on explosive high-intensity movements performed to failure with brief periods of rest in-between. This explosive training approach has numerous benefits, including most importantly, increased natural growth hormone stimulation (a key to staying young; in that growth hormone production typically begins to decline after age 30), as well as greatly enhanced metabolic activity throughout the day (far greater than the post workout metabolic effect of endurance training). 

This type of high intensity pool training that Gabby and Laird advocate puts your body in a constructive building phase, as opposed to a catabolic state (which tears down muscle). In order to visualize this concept, all you have to do is compare images of an Olympic sprinter to an Olympic marathon runner, and you get the idea. Another series of exercises we performed (ammo box carry) involved porting weights around underwater from one side of the pool to the other (at a depth of up to 14ft).  There was quite a lot of traffic this busy Saturday, so we had to be careful not to walk under all the people training overhead. The Hamilton’s pool has an underwater staircase in the center, so it’s sort of like doing laps on bleachers, walking up and down with heavy weights while holding your breath.   While that sounds a bit unusual, it’s actually inspired by Island cultures which have traditionally done exercises to enhance their lung capacity, endurance and awareness of breath needed before entering the ocean.  Ancient Islanders would pick up heavy rocks underwater and walk around for long distances holding them to their chest.  This exercise required real meditative focus to allow me to work to my maximum breath control capabilities.  Needless to say, if you try out pool-training always make sure to have a partner with you.

The Remarkable Benefits of Training Underwater
One thing I really enjoyed about this pool training experience was that even though we were all doing high intensity explosive movements with heavy weights, I felt rejuvenated and free of typical post workout aches and pains afterward.  There was no impact and stress on my joints and connective tissue due to the buoyancy and support of water.  The slow decent after each explosive movement minimizes the impact on landing.  If you think about it, doing jump squats with 30 or 40lb. dumbbells in each hand on land could ravage your knees and joints over time, so any positive training benefits would eventually be offset by the increased soreness and potential trauma and injury. Another unique element of this training is simply that you are supported by the surrounding water, which is 800 times denser than air, so there is both resistance and support throughout the full range of motion of every movement you make.  Moreover, the underwater resistance (drag) of an exercise increases as the speed (velocity) of the movement increases.  This is completely the opposite of land-based training—whether you lift a 20 lb. dumbbell faster or slower in a gym, it doesn’t change the resistance (always 20 lbs.).  Additionally, the added pressure of being 8 to 14 feet underwater creates compressive force on your body’s vascular and circulatory systems (as scuba divers know).  After 90 minutes or so your body feels absolutely terrific.

Circulatory Benefits of Temperature Extremes: from the Sauna to the Ice Bath Ice Bath

As I mentioned above, another fascinating aspect of Gabby and Laird’s pool workouts is that it also incorporates circuits of extreme thermal cycling between a 200 F sauna and -30 F circulating ice-bath.  And while I have been previously to Finnish spas and Russian banyas, which promote these thermal contrasts (hot saunas and cold plunges) for their therapeutic benefits, my day with the Hamilton’s was something otherworldly.  Their -30 F circulating ice-bath was beyond anything I had ever experienced, most cold plunges I’ve done are around 38 to 50 F, but submerging myself in circulating water that was -30 F is an adventure I’ll never forget. Laird refers to his ultra-cold ice-bath as “truth serum”, in that after a minute or so most people would divulge any of their most personal secrets. First cooking ourselves in a poolside sauna in preparation for the cold plunge, we did a few cycles from super-hot to ultra-cold.  But while Laird could sit in his ice-bath for minutes and have a conversation, I don’t think I even lasted more than 20 or 30 seconds. Indeed, Laird had a 3 minute conversation with me, then remarked that it was time for him to get out when, “his eyeballs started shaking”.  You might have read stories about Laird pushing himself to the extreme, but you don’t really know what that means until you see it up close in person.

So, why do Laird and Gabby incorporate this hot / cold routine into their training sessions?  Thermal contrast bath therapy (i.e. exposing your body to both extremely hot and cold temperatures in one session) has been shown in a variety of studies1 to aid recovery and mitigate inflammation.  While the exact molecular-level mechanisms are not yet fully known, it can be thought of as a vascular and lymphatic “massage”.  When your body is exposed to the extreme heat of a sauna, blood circulation increases and blood rushes to the surface of your body and your blood vessels and capillaries expand in an attempt to cool off.  When you immediately follow this up with exposure to the extreme cold of a circulating ice bath, your blood vessels constrict and the blood rushes away from your skin back to your internal organs.  This process of circulating between extremely hot and cold temperatures supercharges your circulation which can help accelerate recovery by moving the metabolic byproducts of cellular breakdown (due to intense training) out of your muscles and into your body’s lymph system for recovery.

Functional Strength Training to the Extreme
Every element of the Gabby and Laird training method is functional strength training to the extreme, and when you’re done every aspect of your mind and body has been challenged and utilized.  It is a full-body workout inside and out—between intense pool workout training and contrasting temperature cycles your muscles, cardiovascular systems, proprioceptors (muscle sensory receptors) and circulatory systems have all been fully engaged.  It was an amazing, complete workout and I felt completely invigorated afterwards.  How many times do you complete almost two hours of a vigorous workout and finish with more energy than you began?  I’m already looking forward to my next chance to return to Malibu for another amazing training session with the Hamilton’s and the rest of their “Malibu Mob”. But next time maybe I’ll be lucky and Laird’s ice machine will be broken.

Written by Jeff Urban, PhD Emeryville, CA urban@post.harvard.edu
References Contrast therapy – a systematic review. Hing WA, White SG, Bouaaphone A, Lee P. Physical Therapy in Sport (2008);9(3):148-161.  doi: 10.1016/j.ptsp.2008.06.001

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