As a professional athlete with a fever for numbers, Bryan Diaz, always finds the balance. Learn what makes him tick and what brought him here as he sits down to answer our questions…
XPT: Tell us about your background.
Bryan Diaz: I am a Texas native. I’ve always been involved in sports, primarily football and running since I was little. Growing up in the Texas system, you tend to get really inundated with football. So I went through high school and college playing football for the University of Texas at San Antonio. I received my undergraduate at Trinity University in business administration with a concentration in finance and kinesiology.
XPT: Did you always know what you wanted to do?
BD: It all came together organically. I’ve always been a math guy. I’ve enjoyed logic, math, and problem solving since I was a kid. And I’ve always loved sports. So those two things really created the realm of my educational experience without me even knowing. Looking and reflecting back, the things that mattered the most and the things that I excelled at, I was suddenly capable of merging together not only with education but also in my work environment.
I was always intrigued with optimal performance, whether it was in the work setting or at the gym. After college, I went into banking for about 5 years, and at night I went back to school for my masters in business administration with a focus in finance. During that time, I also stayed relevant within the fitness scene, as that was a deeper passion of mine. There were companies with gym programs, such as Crossfit, that I eventually associated with while I was in banking, and it just kind of accelerated my passion and drive for working with individuals on a one-off basis. I was still kind of going on the realms of understanding optimal performance and really getting back into the actual movement, mechanics and lifestyle and wellness applications of optimization. I had a clearer path with banking in terms of optimal performance from a business perspective, so I kind of pushed the wellness and lifestyle perspective to the side for awhile. But then it started coming back and it was just a natural process where I was able to get myself in front of people that wanted lifestyle changes. They just wanted to feel stronger and empowered in their lives through movement, and that reinvigorated me. So I switched jobs moving from banking taking a role as in the finance department of a health care company that primarily focused on helping people rehabilitate from any form of straining condition back to wellness, and it really hit the value systems that I believe in.
All the while, I was still involved in the Crossfit scene, and still working on the performance side of my passion. And about that time my wife, then girlfriend, started chiropractic school, and that realm is what linked us together as we had very similar passions. So we decided to move out to Southern California to really get inside of the more smaller business entrepreneurial side, where I could truly sum up the whole process of my prior 10-11 years of my career. I had always desired to bring the two facets together, and what I really cared about was helping people from a physical standpoint. So being in small business, I jumped over and I helped operate a business that really functioned in that realm. I worked on content development, helping folks improve on their mechanics, as well as helping within the business infrastructure of the small, core business.
I’ve worked with people with sports goal programming, people wanting to run marathons and people wanting to get stronger, people having issues or conditions with lack of strength in certain areas, and just for overall general wellness, to get past rehabilitation and overcome recurring injuries or issues with people lacking strength they face on a day-to-day basis. I was able to do that while at the same time helping that same businesses develop and be safe-guarded on the finance and operational side.
Eventually that led me to working with XPT and understanding from a broader deeper mindset that people across all spans of life from professional athletes, to the highly performing professional, to the everyday mom and dad, are just seeking an overall lifestyle shift. And at XPT, there are these different paradigms that I’ve been able to explore from working in the water settings and understanding less work and other things that scaled beyond just moving like having a very holistic wellness approach and that kind of thing is really what I desired. So now I continue to move forward and to help kind of accelerate the values there.
XPT: What’s your favorite aspect of training XPT?
BD: There are a lot of different benefits and a lot of different experiences that each individual is going to partake in at an XPT Experience. Typically what happens, is there’s an overwhelming aspect to one or two of these newer styles of activity that folks aren’t privy to, which they may even find overwhelming. I like calling those “the extreme environments” that folks aren’t used to, such as the ice and heat therapy. One of the things I really appreciate about XPT is the way we interact with these folks. So as they maneuver through them, we get them to understand how and what they are about to experience, how they are supposed to feel, how this is all normal, and how we can drive into the aspects of wellness and the benefits of it all. Understanding the benefits is massive, and having the experience of going from physiology to mentality to even just combating stress, that’s what I really appreciate about XPT training. To interact with these folks on the ice-heat paradigm when they are extremely overwhelmed, they kind of use that experience no matter how they perceive their personalized performance. In the end, they look and feel more empowered, they have a different demeanor about themselves when leaving these Experiences, especially encountering those environmental extremes. And those extremes include working in water. If people aren’t accustomed to being in an oxygen-deprived state, whether it’s underneath water or handling ice and heat exposure, or even just getting into a gym setting or getting into a setting where people are too busy in life where they can’t take a step back and learn about their own bodies and their mechanics and that’s also empowering. Everything here revolves around the ability to empower your mindset and to understand that you have more not control per se, but you have more of an opportunity to improve your lifestyle and happiness through these varying activities. And they all work together. At XPT, I like that you can find ways that you can do activates that may be stressful or actually maybe even really fun but still promote the overall wellness and adaptation that you need from your own bodies perspective, all the while empowering your mindset. I appreciate that about the whole training protocol.
XPT: Let’s talk about that mental aspect a little bit, specifically pertaining to ice baths. You talk about letting go and getting into a meditative state particularly through the ice, tell us about the specifics of coaching someone new who is intimidated by the ice. What do you say to them?
BD: When I help lead somebody into the ice setting we talk about these experiences we try and get them to understand what is going to happen. At the XPT Experience, typically you’re going to go into tub a full of ice and water and your also going to go into a sauna that’s going to be a high temperature, so you’re really talking about two environmental extremes. People are typically more comfortable in saunas as they are used to sweating and being hot and typically everyone’s attention diverts directly to the cold element and there’s some anxiety surrounding that. This really goes back to that mentality aspect. There’s a fear-based mechanism that occurs when you get two environmental extremes. So my approach whenever we lead them into this experience its really to get them to understand what is going to happen and to talk through our intentions and our reactions first. Often there is going to be a fight or flight mechanism that occurs in everybody that is all natural, so telling them that it’s ok to feel the way our are feeling in that situation. Once they understand that and talk it through they gain the first mind set when they are about to go in knowing that it’s ok–I’m going to go in and I’m going to grit it out or I’m going to go in and I’m going to feel like I want to jump out. So those are two kind of fight or flight based responses that occur to people when they exposed to ice. But both are areas where you just stay in a stressed state. We try to empower folks to say let’s empower your actions beyond the fight or flight response. We let them know that that’s a natural occurrence to feel that way and that once you get in that it’s your decisions to not react so quickly and respond to those feelings. We encourage them to take a general scope of what’s occurring and to allow themselves to try and relax and shift from that stress state to more of a parasympathetic state to where they are going into a meditative process. They may focus on their breath or on closing their eyes and really not trying to study these temps. So we encourage people to empower themselves not to act upon those reactions and how they can make these decisions and to consciously take a step back. Your body is giving millions of signals occurring at one time including all this poetic extreme, so you allow your body and mind to process all of this.
There are the large or vast amounts of benefits that are occurring when you get into ice and heat from physiology stand point. There are hormone productions that can increase or that can normalize by being in extreme environments. These hormones that get produced inside of your body don’t serve just one purpose they serve a magnitude of purposes. Hormones created to help support those extreme elements when you’re in hot or cold elements also serve with other processes in your body, so by allowing your body to accelerate those hormones is going to create an overall better physical or physiological you.
Then we go beyond that from there, so after we go first the feeling your about to feel something and then we go to your actions and how you’ll feel you have to react and how that action is crucial and so you have to be in control of that. Then typically I try to get people who are new to the ice to say, “hey, once you get in if you want to jump out I want you to take five breaths before you get out and then at that point in time if you still feel the need to get out you can.”
There’s this thermogenic effect that happens when you allow your body to regulate itself. The human body is very resilient. If I’m in a very hot environment, what does it do, it starts sweating, our body’s natural state of cooling itself. We all know how we get acclimated to the thermogenic effect–our body starts working by cooling itself. But how often are we in an environment that we have to focus on heating ourselves? By the time you get from warm and you get to extremely cold, people typically just shiver. But there are other areas you can truly focus on that allow your body to heat itself. By getting into extremes you allow your body to learn it’s process on heating and cooling. So, we empower our reactions and upon reactions know about your body and know the benefits and it’s multi-faceted and then once you’re beyond all four of those things, your reaction the action to the reaction the physiological benefits that two primary ones. When you add those things into your tool kit then overall you’ve become more empowered not only from a psychological stand point but from your ability to handle stress, because to destress your environment is actually empowering you from not only that experience but from future experiences that are not relative to hot and cold. When you feel like your body is capable to mitigate stress in a better manner you learn how to take some breaths versus get tight and tense up. So in fighting this need to escape you learn to fight stress in other environments. Let’s say you’re going into a meeting that’s highly volatile – I really don’t want to be there. I want to get out a fast as possible. You’ve empowered yourself by using your breath, focusing and getting into that meditative state that you can utilize in all facets of life. By empowering people to stay in the moment and not be aggressive and/or tense in that moment they learn how to come down meditate or be relaxed. It definitely shifts an overall lifestyle that can be applied to all things stressful, and that really excites me about all of this. TO LEARN MORE ABOUT THE BENEFITS OF XPT ICE RECOVERY GO HERE
XPT: What does your personal training regimen look like?
BD: I have played sports my whole life, and my personal goals have always been sports driven in terms of what’s going to get me better on the field versus off the field. From a very young age all the way through from a my mid to late twenties I had about an 80/20 performance to lifestyle focus for my personal training for my individualized training. As I shifted into my thirties I still do compete but I’ve really transitioned that thought process into the first couple years it was a 50/50 split now between performance and lifestyle. I have a variety of experiences and tools in my bag that I know I can pull from on the performance spectrum but now primarily my focus with training revolves closer to like a 75/25 wellness or lifestyle to performance or sports-specific goals. That includes things like rest and recovery, really focuses on movement orientation and less of the extreme demands of training for sports, such as move as fast as possible, and move as heavy as possible. Sometimes the primary focus is on moving dynamically and moving fluidly. I definitely do have a lot of emphasis behind my recovery days, primarily two times a week if not three. Those days often involve a longer session of ice and heat. Then there may be a third or fourth day where I am only doing a heat recovery protocol that would revolve around being inside of a sauna or things of that nature. Then I train inside the gym about 4-5 times a week. I also have metrics of different breathing routines that I run every single day, whether that’s breathing a stress-free environment, breathing after training, breathing before I go into a work out. I also try to breathe before it’s time for bed. Performance breathing is a big focus and I have a variety of different ways that I focus there. GET FOCUSED. FUEL UP. CALM DOWN. CLICK HERE FOR XPT PERFORMANCE BREATHING ROUTINES & ARTICLES.
Then when it comes back to the actual training mechanisms those 4-5 days out of the week, there are still some routine areas that I’m focused on. Even after 20 years of squatting and some generalized strength exercises, I still feel like there are some mechanical advantages that I can improve on. And that’s what I truly love about training. It’s a life long journey to strive for perfection, knowing that you’re never going to get there. While certain aspects of training may feel like it’s redundant, it’s an opportunity to actually learn about your mechanics and movement orientation with given systematic exercises like a squat, for example. How do you do it on two legs? How do you look doing it on one leg? So going from bipedal to a singular, one-legged exercise to be able to assess what’s going on with your stability, for example. And we are incorporating that into our daily training with all the programs that will soon be available here at XPT. And that’s really what I do now with my own training.
Coming from a football background, I’m more explosive. I have those tools in my kit, so learning how to be more aerobic, learning how to just move for a longer period of time, learning how to feel stable, how to feel like my movement is being best optimized–those are really kind of the key areas that I try to focus on. These tools are relevant for all of us to use in everyday life. If I’m squatting down or I’m dead lifting that just means for the everyday person I need to learn to sit down on something and get up out of a seated position. Or if I need to learn how to pick things up such as my kids, grandkids, a heavy bag at the grocery store. These are all areas that really teach the true definition of what wellness and lifestyle should be about-strengthening and empowering and mindset and body. I also frequently do the XPT Pool Training exercises that Laird has constructed for XPT. Growing up in Texas, you’re not really privy to oceans or water that much, so swimming is not my strength traditionally, but that hasn’t deterred me from learning. I get into the pool just to get acclimated with those exercises and that’s been a good experience for me. It helps with recovery, it helps you learn to manage your breath cycle, and then it helps your body learn how to deal with oxygen and carbon dioxide. XPT Pool Training allows you to focus on strength development while giving your joints an opportunity to recover. When you’re in a water-based environment, there’s not much stress impacting the joints, yet you can still move in full range. The water allows a little more buoyancy, yet gravity is not impacting you as significantly in the water, so you don’t bear the load as much.
If we truly look at the construct of what the XPT Daily Training protocol is being inside of the gym, learning how to get stronger inside the gym, being outside in your true environment, being outdoors doing activities outside, learning how to do some things outdoors or indoors, getting comfortable in environmental extremes such as ice, heat and water and implementing the breath.
XPT: You’ve consistently performed well on the global stage for the CrossFit Games. Are you still competing there?
BD: I started with CrossFit in 2007, and I’ve always been competing. I’ve made it to the Regionals on several occasions, which is the last step before making it to the Finals. And in 2012, I made it to the Finals, where they invite about 45-50 people to compete in the official CrossFit Games.
I still compete in the CrossFit team-based competitions for fun, but it’s less of a focus for me now. I’ve been working on a team with my wife (Dr. Donna Diaz). Donna is a high-caliber athlete who played college softball as a pitcher and then went on to pitch professionally for the Chicago Bandits. She’s now a chiropractor. So we have a really fun co-ed CrossFit Team that we compete in together and that does still have me geared towards the performance training metrics. I’m 34 right now and a lot of my teammates are in their mid to late 20’s and I look at this as an opportunity to have fun and to mentor. Not unlike XPT, these competitions fall into the same realm in terms of the mindset-where everything can be achieved with appropriate mindset and being empowered to move well, to appreciate all facets of training, including rest and recovery, and to really enjoy life. And that’s really important. Because enjoyment is equally as important as the training and equally as important as the rest and recovery. At the end of the day, if you’re not enjoying something and you have this anxiety to just get through it, then you’re missing out. So whenever I’m competing now with my teammates, I really try to get them to see beyond the exercise, to see beyond the workouts and see beyond the competition. Then we kind of wrap all of this into one big experience and they all do ice and heat with me as often as they can. They are all athletes so they all have some experience with the ice. But it’s mostly, “Oh, hey, I’m going to dip my leg or the lower half of my body from my hips down into an ice bath.” But it was maybe 60-degree water and again, they were only in from the hips down. But they were game and they jumped into sub forty degree ice with me for a shorter stint of time, obviously, but in their experience they have to learn how to handle this style of stress.
And I do think it has helped improve their overall mindset on an individual basis. I love being able to share what I’ve learned, especially from meeting people on the XPT team like Laird and Gabby and PJ and just working with a variety of different great like-minded people. I’m able to pass along lots of that information that I’m experiencing to the folks in my community and my teammates. And that is really what keeps me going.
ABOUT BRYAN DIAZ
XPT’s Assistant Performance Director Bryan Diaz is an expert in human performance and in finance for businesses large and small. He grew up in San Antonio, Texas playing football and eventually was named an All Conference Safety on San Antonio’s Trinity University Football Team. As a professional coach and finance director for the last 15 years, Bryan has been balancing his two passions for business operations (primarily in the fitness and wellness space) and physical performance.
In 2007, he started his journey with CrossFit and is part owner of the CrossFit gym in San Antonio, where members have cheered him on as he represented them as a CrossFit athlete on the regional and national stage. Bryan has competed in CrossFit’s Team Events, competed in the highly competitive CrossFit South Central Regionals 5 times and won it in 2012. His win in 2012 earned him a ticket to the CrossFit Games, where he earned a reputation for explosive lifting and strong mental focus.
He has an MBA from the University of Texas in San Antonio in finance and enjoys spending time with his wife Dr. Donna Diaz and their two dogs.