In late December 2016, Scott and I were sitting on our sofa one evening discussing where we wanted to take a trip together in 2017, but not a typical vacation. We wanted to be challenged. We wanted it to revolve around fitness. We wanted to be intentional about how we spent our time together. We wanted something really different.
I had heard XPT mentioned in a podcast a few days earlier, and after researching it online and seeing what all was involved, we knew it was the right atmosphere, the right place, the right activity for us. Not to mention, it is led by big wave surf legend Laird Hamilton, his former professional beach volleyball player, first Nike female spokesperson and gorgeous wife, Gabby Reece, and world-renowned strength and conditioning expert, Brian Mackenzie.
Um. Yes please.
Fast forward to mid-July of 2017, Scott and I boarded a flight to LAX and headed to Malibu to experience three days of highly intensive, highly intentional fitness. This was a vacation like no other. It was truly...an experience.
This was one of the most transformational things I've ever done. (I would say we, but I can only speak for myself. Although I know Scott feels the same way.) Honestly, the best way to explain what happened, is to see it. I'll give notes along the way.
DAY ONE: early morning at the Malibu home of Laird and Gabby. A fantastic group of 23 people and staff get ready to embark on a journey of a lifetime. I was really nervous and really excited. I think it's safe to say we all felt that way. We knew what we would be doing, but the actual performance of it was the big question. What the hell would this be like? And will I be able to do it?
The thing that stood out for me here was how warm, inviting, encouraging and downright real Laird and Gabby were. No pretense. No hoopla. Before this shot, as we walked into the yard, they took each one of us by the hand, looked us in the eye with a brief pause, and welcomed us to their home. They were truly connecting. They created each one of us, in that moment, as moving through the process with success and support. (Lesson 1: we are always creating.)
We started with breathing. Laird taught the procedure and methodology of the specific performance breathing techniques we used throughout the week. Oxygenating the body is one of the most important things we can do for our physical health. And we do it through breathing. Breath is life.
Yes, those are weights and we are working out in the pool. Swimming with weights. Underwater squat jumps with weights and other exercises that pushed me in incredible ways. I knew the pool would be a challenge for me, and I was right. Even so, it was really fun and gave me a new appreciation of water workouts. And the stuff the super-ripped guys were doing in the deep end of the pool was mind-blowing. (Lesson 2: being uncomfortable won't drown me.)
Annnnnnnnd, this was the sauna/ice bath rotation, or recovery therapy. The ice was one of the aspects that terrified me the most, and ended up being one of my favorite segments. First, you go into a 212-220 degree sauna for about 12 minutes. Then, rinse off in cold water. After taking 3 deep breaths and bracing for ice hell, you step into the tub, dunk every part of the body underneath the ice water (face, head, everything) come back up and sit in the tub for 3 MINUTES. We did this for 3 rounds.
It was invigorating and exhilarating and completely awesome. Every cell of my body was tingling after coming out of the ice. Literally, I felt every cell. Also, before you come out of the ice, you dunk BACK under the water and stay there for 2 seconds before slowly coming out of the tub. It's intense and really wonderful. (Lesson 3: When I am focused, I can accomplish anything.)
Why do this thermal contrast therapy? There are many claimed benefits, which you can read more about here, but the basic premise is to aid in overall recovery, to mitigate inflammation and boost circulation. I felt all of those things and then some. I assumed I would have painfully sore muscles all week, and while they were tight at times, it was completely manageable. I'm convinced it was the ice bath lowering inflammation.
At one point I remember thinking, I'm really f*cking cold, but I'm in a tub, in Malibu, at Laird Hamilton's house, looking at beautiful scenery and people, and Laird Hamilton is talking and laughing with me. Ehhh, not so bad. I think I can make it. (*Hey, that one picture, I'm laughing not crying...)
One more thing, they have a commercial grade ice machine outside. They live what they teach.
DAY ONE part 2 (yes, still day one...) we went to a serious - serious - gym called Proactive Sports Performance where top pro athletes go to train in the off-season. This was only a small shot of the gym and some warm-up exercises. Even the pre-workout stretching was thorough and completely effective. The workout itself was a supremely developed circuit of functional training and weights. Super intense, quickly paced exercises that were challenging to the mind and body. Just awesome.
After a post-workout recovery smoothie, we went back to Calamigos Ranch for a nutrition talk by Gabby and then on to the Malibu Cafe for a wonderful and nutritious dinner. During the meal, a few of us were talking about how just after one day, we felt as if we had known each other for a year. When you sweat, are scared, freeze, melt and sweat some more with people, it forms an unbreakable bond. I really love these people.
Day one complete.
(Lesson 4: I can do waaaaaayyyyyy more in one day than I think I can.)
DAY 2: Started with a 90-minute hike in Malibu. This was a great workout all by itself. The environment was absolutely stunning. I think all days should start this way. But the very best part, was the conversation with my new friend Ann as we walked down the mountain. We talked about our lives, our families, our children. This is my favorite part about these types of adventures. The people who put there lives on hold and are willing to push themselves and share themselves with complete strangers. Ann was a warrior on this trip and she is a warrior in her life. It is an honor to know her.
The morning hike was followed by a delicious lunch at the home of one of Laird and Gabby's close friends. The home was STUNNING on the beach in Malibu. Before we ate, we sat in the grass on blankets in the warm sun as the marine layer melted away and listened to a talk by Dr. Justin Mager. He spoke about his path to medicine, his thoughts on general health and how he applies "systems biology" to working with his patients. He also supported Tim Ferriss in the use of biomarkers in The Four-Hour Body. Dr. Mager was absolutely delightful to speak with and was a wealth of stories and information. Having conversations with him was one the highlights of the trip.
After lunch we took a short walk down the beach to another friend's home. From there we went paddle boarding. It proved to be quite the challenge for those of us novice boarders, as the waves were larger than usual that day. And it's the Pacific... Much different from my quiet, warm South Carolina coast! The surf instructors helping us get out were funny and extremely experienced at their craft. They took immaculate care of those of us that needed a bit more help ;) Just another chance to stretch ourselves beyond what is comfortable and prove how strong our minds and bodies can be when put to work.
Since we hadn't done enough that day, it was on to a complete sand workout! Functional training and conditioning in deep, hot sand. After a hike. After lunch. After SUP. No breaks here. We came to work, and that's what we did.
Post sand workout, we had a gorgeous performance breathing session under the shade of the tents, with the breeze blowing off the ocean. It was truly special.
Then another nutritious, delicious meal on the beach and some beach games and conversation. Day 2 was a wrap.
DAY 3! We started at Malibu Cliffs Park with Gabby's High X workout which was ridiculously fun and very challenging. She stood in the center of a circle, and had a number of different circuits/exercises fanned out in sections. Each section was a set of 2 different exercises for a total of 3 minutes, then we rotated immediately to the next section, for a total of around 45 minutes. We then went straight into another breathing session led by Laird. It's hard to express how incredible it feels to push a hard workout, then fully oxygenate the body afterwards. Amazing.
Then back to the house for another pool workout and sauna/ice bath rotation. We completed the experience with lunch and conversation at their home, then we all moved on with our lives.
There is so much more I could say about this trip. It was one of the most fun, impactful experiences in my life. Testing, stretching, challenging, moving every part of my mind, body and spirit. That's the beautiful thing about putting yourself in a completely unfamiliar, untested environment. The brain fires in new ways, creating new possibilities for your life you didn't know existed.
But perhaps the best part of XPT, was the people. Getting to be with those particular people, at that particular place, at that particular time was a real gift. All the tiny decisions that had to be made by each person there, including Laird and Gabby, to bring us together to create our XPT experience, is humbling. It inspires an overwhelming sense of gratitude for each of them as the miracle they are, how they showed up and who they are being in the world.
And I have to say something specific about Laird, Gabby and their staff. They created themselves as family to us. I've never been involved in any event like this that felt so open and intimate. They authentically and appropriately shared themselves, and their lives, with us for 3 days. Each person on the staff was a superstar and left me feeling truly loved and supported. They really have something special here.
As scared as I was at times, as hard as it was at times, as much as my mind was resisting at times, I did it. Every bit of it. Not in record time or record weight or record anything. But the experience is recorded in my body and my heart.
Which is what really matters.
I would absolutely do it all again. And most likely will.
Now, I'm off to buy a tub and some ice.
Love and gratitude,