In September 2016 I had the opportunity to spend 3 days attending the XPT Experience in Malibu California. You can read the background on the experience here: http://www.xptlife.com/product-category/experiences/ It was a truly amazing 3 days. Below are my impressions.
To anyone who has ever trained regularly, whether 2 – 3 workouts a week to avert the affects of food, booze, and couch time; or 2-a-days, 6 days a week in pursuit of a new personal best, you know how hard it is to stick with it. Here’s what dawned on me at XPT. Laird Hamilton is training for THE monster wave 365 days a year. You can’t control when nature presents perfect circumstances, so when it’s go time it’s go time. In other words, Laird trains so he’s in shape on any given day for a “high consequence moment.”
What Laird has perfected along with Gabby and Brian is a lifestyle that is sustainable, trains you for high performance, and is FUN! Notice “lifestyle”, not training program. You can certainly find a ton of good workout programs, but to actually find one that provides the opportunity to train for high performance and mix in the fun you need to sustain it is a rare find indeed. Yes, XPT incorporates a number of training elements, and they’re rigorous and effective – I’ll describe those below. You can dial each of them up individually as much as your training goals warrant. But to me the real magic is weaving the individual training elements into a lifestyle that is healthy and sustainable.
The XPT experience immerses you in 3 days of living like Gabby and Laird. Along the way you’ll learn through instruction, coaching, immersion, and peer support what has worked for them (as well as a lengthy and impressive roster of professional athletes and celebrities to boot.) Yes, it’s a real deal. At the Malibu experience, you’re training at their house (“Please wipe your feet before you walk inside to use the bathroom”), taking a lunch break at their friend’s Malibu house (the view is pretty darn incredible), eating at their favorite restaurants (try the specialty espresso drink), Laird’s got an extra spot for you in his truck if the bus is a bit too crammed, and his dog Kawa might jump on your SUP board as you’re paddling out if you’re not watching closely.
Here’s what you’ll learn at XPT:
Breath work may be the single easiest and biggest take away from XPT. Brian Mackenzie leads the breath workouts. They can be as short as a few minutes of self-measured inhale, hold, and exhale breathing in a repeated manner. They can be as long as a half hour, wherein the timing is progressively pushed (at your own pace) to get your body into a hyper state of awareness and readiness. Everyone describes a feeling of relaxation. Some describe tingling and a state of hyper awareness.
For me, the biggest benefit has been focus and relaxation during my workouts (and even when I’m not working out.) I used it the very next day after XPT ended and I went surfing. I found it made the time being under the water (read – dumped by a wave to the bottom of the ocean) feel more relaxed and as if it went by faster. I used it at yoga since returning to Houston, and found I can get into poses more deeply. I use it during CrossFit / HIIT style workouts to pace myself and to gauge the workouts impact on my cardiovascular “tank” so to speak.
A second big component is the hot and cold training. You alternate time between a sub 40-degree ice bath and a 220 degree plus sauna. Apparently there a number of positive effects on the body through exposure to rapid temperature changes, the science of which is in the process of being understood. This article is a good starting point if you want to start investigating that a bit: https://www.foundmyfitness.com/reports/cold-stress.pdf
My experience with the ice bath is that the absolutely worst part of it is the 10 minutes or so BEFORE hand. Anticipation is a killer, and wrapped up in that is a broader life lesson as well. The second worst part is the first 15 seconds. So when Laird tells you you’re going to shoot for 3 – 5 minutes in the ice bath, what you really need to think about is getting through the first 15 seconds and then you’re golden.
My own experience is the following:
The breath work ends up combining nicely with the ice bath work. Breath work helps you get through the ice bath – in a way, the ice bath is a vehicle to test your mastery of the breath work, and so sharpens that sword at the same time. In turn, better control over your breath lets you spend more time exposed to the cold (Wim Hof is the master of this: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wim_Hof .)
The pool work training is a fantastic training method. Try this: Go to your local pool and repeat the following 5 or 10 times: Swim the length of the pool and back, jump out and do 10 burpees as fast as you can. What you will most likely find regardless of your normal training regimen is that you are quite winded. If you really push yourself, I bet you have to stop for a minute and catch your breath in the middle of the workout. The pool work XPT teaches you is essentially a much more sophisticated (and powerful) version of the above, where in you are using weights and the weight work is actually done in the water. Water is a truthful judge of your cardiovascular endurance, pace, and ability to regulate your breath. Do a bad job breathing and you find yourself needing to abort the workout to get to the surface.
I found the workouts challenging and enjoyable. I feel comfortable in water and I wanted to push myself. My workout partner certainly did that to me (he was a regular @ Laird and Gabby’s workouts.) That said, there were others in the experience who felt very uncomfortable in water, so Gabby helped them scale the workouts back and did all their workouts in the shallow end ( < 4 ft deep.)
No matter who you are and how much experience you have in the water, there is a level you can push yourself to where you feel some measure of discomfort. I think the beauty of these workouts is gaining comfort in the water while working out. Much like the new weightlifter makes the fastest gains while the experienced weightlifter kills himself to sweat out a few percentage points improvement, I think the pool workouts are likely even more impactful for those with minimal water experience and/or discomfort in the water. For me, as someone in the middle of the two extremes, I got a great workout and increased my comfort level in the water to boot.
If there’s an area I wish we would have spent more time on in XPT, its locomotion and mobility. I believe this area of fitness will prove to be one of the biggest fitness elements you hear emphasized over the next few years. Stretching and flexibility has always been talked about as an important element of a workout program. I think it’s the flossing of the workout world. You know you’re supposed to do it, you know it feels good, you know it has benefit. Somehow, it just falls to the bottom of the heap.
We had several hours of locomotion and mobility work over the course of XPT (I said I wanted more of it, not that we didn’t spend any time on it!) and two things that come across are the importance of the exercises and also how you can make it fun. Kelly Starrett spent 1 hour working through various mobility exercises with us. If you’ve never heard of him, check out Supple Leopard – https://www.amazon.com/Becoming-Supple-Leopard-2nd-Performance/dp/1628600837/ The hour he spent working through mobility exercises with us was entertaining and enlightening.
Adam von Rothfelder spent another hour with us working through various stretching and locomotion work. In essence, getting a workout while having fun moving around.
We did a couple of CrossFit / HIIT style workouts. Gabby led one, Brian and his team the other. A few interesting take aways from these experiences:
The last element of the XPT experience I’ll comment on is the experts. There are a number of friends of the program that are credentialed academics studying fitness, nutrition, and wellness. In the downtime between workouts, you have the option to listen to them speak and they can go as deep as you want. Every XPT participant took advantage of this. Most of the experts stay for most or all of the experience and join in the meals and down time activities. One of my favorite parts of my experience was a cool down hike in the mountains of Malibu. I spent the entire time talking with Dr. Andy Galpin and we had a fairly intense and deep conversation on the molecular biology behind various diets and their usage for various training regimens. If the thought of a talk like that is exciting to you, there’s plenty of opportunity for it. And if it bores you, by all means avoid it and just enjoy the beauty of nature or talking with your new XPT friends as you walk and stretch your legs.
Perhaps the simplest commentary I can offer is this. I’ve already cleared my calendar to attend the next XPT experience in Kauai. Here’s hoping we meet there.