Written by Christopher Kelly
Dec. 19, 2018
Clay: Hello and welcome to the Nourish Balance Thrive podcast. My name is Clay Higgins, and today I'm joined by PJ Nestler. PJ is a human performance specialist with over a decade of experience preparing top athletes in the NFL, NHL and MLB. He has also worked extensively with multiple, Brazilian jiu-jitsu world champions and top ten-ranked UFC fighters. He's the Director of Performance at XPT which, if you're not familiar with, I'll let him explain more in just a minute, and I believe he is currently working on perfecting his backflip. PJ, welcome to the show.
PJ: Thank you very much for having me.
Clay: Yeah, thanks a lot. So how's the backflip going?
PJ: It's going well. I actually was going to do one later today, trying to practice my landings a little bit more.
Clay: Yeah, that seems key.
Clay: I had the good fortune of meeting PJ last summer, 2017, when a friend of mine had invited me to an XPT experience in Southern California which this one was held at the home of Laird Hamilton and Gabby Reece, which I believe is where this all got started. I kind of had an idea what we were getting into but once we got into it, I realized I had no idea.
Quite literally the first day, we were in the deep end of the 13-foot pool and were given dumbbells and instructions for training for swimming across the pool with the weights, sinking to the deep end with the weights, walking across the bottom of the pool with the weights. From there I think I'll let you take it, PJ, and describe what we were actually doing and where that spawned from.
PJ: Yeah, actually the event you were at was my first real event with XPT. I wasn't officially a part of the company yet. I was still in the introductory phase. Basically, those experiences, we bring people through all of the primary elements of XPT, one of them being pool training which you were just discussing, which really originated with Laird just exploring ways that he can improve his breath hold time and his ability to relax underwater when he's getting held under 50-foot waves.
That evolved into this back pool in Malibu where him and a group of friends would get together and train and different people would bring in different ideas. They started bringing dumbbells in the pool and just evolved that whole system of training in the pool outside of just trying to improve breath hold capabilities. At our experiences, we really just expose people to a lot of the different elements of the pool training as well as the other elements of XPT, being breathe, move and recover.
Clay: Maybe you can explain what the pool training and the dumbbells are specifically. I can think of ammo boxes and whatever you call grabbing a dumbbell and sinking to the bottom and barely having enough to get up to the top again. Whatever that one is called, if you can explain those two, and what's going on.
PJ: Most of our pool training exercises are basically variations of swimming and jumping with weights, so we've created some unique swim strokes because obviously you can't use normal swim stroking when you're carrying dumbbells in different positions, so different ways to swim carrying weights like the ammo carry which was really, Laird invented, I don't know if it was with military guys, but basically with the concept of how someone in the military would have to swim across a river carrying these 25-pound or 30-pound boxes of ammo.
So you're holding a dumbbell with one arm and you're swimming with the other arm and with your legs. The goal of that is really just figuring out how to be efficient getting across the pool, making sure you stay afloat, so you don't just sink down to the bottom with the weight but you still don't burn out all your oxygen before you get there.
The other side of it is more the ballistic jumping exercises which we've got, obviously, a whole bunch of variations that we do in the shallow four-foot pool, in an eight-foot pool and then down deep in the 12-foot pool. The unique part about that is that it allows people to be explosive and to move through ranges of motion that they possibly couldn't move through on land. So for people who are recovering from injuries or if you have certain populations who can't get in those positions, it allows them to be explosive.
The really cool part, when you get in the deeper pool, is learning to stay relaxed and to coordinate the breath with the movement, learning to sync all these things together. There's a lot of body awareness and coordination that goes on with that, just learning how to relax, hold your breath, explosively exert force, breathe out, inhale when you get above the surface, relax again and go through this cycle. When you learn how to do that, you can do these things for 10, 20, 30, 50 reps at a time, but when you don't, people panic and freak out and lose it after two or three reps because they either give too much effort or they relax too much and they can't get enough effort to get to the surface. So it's a really unique combination of a lot of different factors.
Clay: Yeah, I think my first attempt of that put me in that second camp there of two or three times, and I just remember the instructions of relaxing and not forcing it. Especially like something that sounds as simple as walking across the bottom of the pool, most people try to hurry across the bottom of the pool. It is a very slow, deliberate movement and then it just flows from there. The part where you are coming up and just barely getting a sip of air and going back down, you definitely have to be super efficient with that.
PJ: Yeah, absolutely. Any of those ones that we're walking or crawling along the bottom of the pool, it's really all about relaxation. We always teach people, you could easily hold your breath -- most people can hold their breath for about a minute on land, and that's an average. Physiologically, you could hold your breath for a lot longer, but psychologically people start to panic and need to breathe air. You put people in the pool and they hold their breath for ten seconds. Part of that is either freaking out because they're underwater. The other part is usually they start to try to move too fast because they want to get to the other side, so they burn out all their fuel and they start to panic.
Those ones are all about just staying relaxed. It's a really cool mindful practice as well because the only thing you're focused on when you're at the bottom of a 12-foot pool and you're carrying 40-pound weights in each hand, is staying relaxed and getting to the other side. There's nothing else going on in your mind outside of whether or not you can get to the other side. When your mind starts to panic and go into the negative, focus on the negative, you don't make it. So you have to really practice staying positive and reinforcing yourself to get there.
Clay: Yeah, I remember when those two came together, it's pretty cool, you're relaxing and you're actually getting further than -- your brain is, when you're at the bottom of the pool, it's like we've got to get out of here. You're fighting that monkey as you're going across. I think one of the cool things, and it's where I want to spend the bulk of our time, was the first thing that we did was Laird walked us through some breathing exercises. Little did I know that that was the thread that would carry us through everything that we would do for the next two-and-a-half days, whether it was walking on the bottom of the pool or being in an ice bath or sauna and contrasting. Can you tell me a little bit about how you guys put that together or how you transitioned from what you were doing into putting that system together?
PJ: The breath practice that you guys went through, we usually call those our exploration breathing sessions, and the focus there is really just to take people on a journey through a variety of breathwork practices. In that 45-minute session that Laird took you guys through, you probably went through anywhere from 15 to 30 different types of breathing, whether that's different patterns like in the nose, out the mouth, in the mouth, out the mouth, whatever the case may be, or different tempos, slow inhale, short exhale, vice versa, different breath holds. There are so many ways you can combine those practices and each of them creates different physiological responses in the body. So the purpose of those sessions is really just to explore all these different practices and go through a variety of different protocols and expose people to all of these different methods.
When I got involved, my job is really to take that session and break every single one of those down into separate methods so that I could teach coaches and trainers how to utilize one of those methods and what physiological responses will happen or psychological responses and therefore, who is that good for, who is it not good for, when can we prescribe it, just like we do with exercise. If I bring you in and we do an hour of workout, the job of a coach or trainer is to know what every single exercise set, rep, intensity, how we sequence them together, to know what all of those things are for, what the purpose is, how to manipulate them to fit different populations, so same thing with the breath. That's really what my job was, was to break it all down and turn it into a curriculum so that we can have the why behind every single one of those components.
Clay: That's pretty powerful. Maybe, do you recall a time -- because I'm sure, working with your combat athletes and all the other athletes that you work with, but maybe especially the combat athletes, that breathing is key. Now it seems like so much attention has been brought to breathwork. It has gone out of the woo-woo, you only do it in your yoga or what have you, to performance breathing and, like you said, a specific type of breathwork for each thing. Was there a particular time when this came to the forefront? I don't know, walk me through your thought process on that and how you use that.
PJ: Sure. Things typically start -- breathing has been the talk in the performance industry for probably the past ten years but very small. It hasn't been this massive thing, but you've heard the people at the upper echelons talking about it, at least that it's important. Whether or not they fully understood it is probably mostly not, but it's talked about in the performance world, and that's usually where things go. They start off with the elite performers, whether that -- typically elite military and athletes because those are the people looking for those really, really marginal improvements and trying to find all the small esoteric things that can create marginal change.
As we start to realize how powerful these things can be, they trickle down into the rest of the fitness industry, and that's what we're seeing now with breathing. One of the big problems early on was the early adopters of breathing were the spiritual yogis, and that turned off the science-based performance people and there wasn't a lot of -- not that there isn't the research out there because the more I dig through it, the more I see -- I pull up studies that were done in 1991. I'm like, man, I didn't even become aware of this stuff being important until 2013, 2014. So it's not that all the science is so new, it's just that we weren't really looking for it because the people who were preaching breathing all the time were taking such a spiritual focus to it that I think it turned off a lot of performance people. Now we're seeing a lot of performance people actually finding implications for it.
I started doing breathwork with my fighters because I had a coach who started teaching me some things, and it was really just how to optimize breathing to enhance recovery during intervals. So I trained jiu-jitsu and MMA fighters. They work for really, really hard efforts for short periods of time and then they either have points of slower effort during the match or they have actual rounds where they break in between for a certain interval of time. My job is to allow them to operate at the highest possible potential and then recover during those short intervals so that they can operate again at the highest potential. So I started using breathing for that and then I started using it to down-regulate post-workout, to get into a recovery state, post-workout, and that was really all I did from a breathing standpoint for the first couple of years of doing it.
Then I started learning a little more about breathing and bracing, how important breathing is for creating proper abdominal pressure and bracing the pelvis and the spine during exercise to regulate movement. Then when I started getting involved with XPT, that's when I just took a deep dive down all the other information that's out there for breathing. Really the way we look at it is breathing influences every single system and cell in the body. I always talk about things like there's no middle ground. Every step you take, every breath you take, it's either taking one step towards optimizing your health, your performance, your longevity, your fitness, whatever your goals are, or it's going the opposite direction because there's no such thing as just normal, static, staying the same.
We breathe 20 - 40,000 times per day, so that's 20 - 40,000 steps towards optimization or towards dysfunction. You get to choose which route you're going to take but there is not in-between.
Clay: How much dysfunction do you see and how often are you having to correct that? I know you were talking about bracing. Is that breathing behind the shield? Is that, that same concept?
Clay: With people, maybe the dysfunction in the diaphragm, I don't know if I'm thinking about that correctly, but how do you go about correcting that?
PJ: From a dysfunction standpoint, we are massively dysfunctional as human beings. That's one of the most, in terms of breathing, one of the most common questions I get from performance coaches, is do you really have to teach people how to breathe? Don't we already know how to do this innately? The answer is, we do, when we're young and then we spend the rest of our lives sitting down at our desks, sitting in cars, sitting with bad postures, eating poor diets, experiencing traumas or stressors, emotional stress that creates dysfunctional patterns and not knowing how to deal with those things. All of this stress, maybe we had an injury at some point, from a sport or we broke a rib or we had some injury that changed my pattern and then we didn't go back and restore it the right way, so it creates dysfunction. Then we just build on that dysfunction over time.
So the more people I work with, the more I see that we all are -- to give you a further example, I went to a physical therapist yesterday to -- really, really high-level guy -- do some stuff for my neck. He did a full analysis, and he gave me things that I'm doing wrong from a breathing standpoint, very, very sharp analysis. This is pretty much all I do, is practice this stuff and teach this stuff so if I have dysfunctions then I would say all of the other people who aren't focused on it, probably have pretty severe dysfunctions. That doesn't mean it's a dysfunction that's going to ruin your life completely but it's just that choice is up to you. Are you looking to optimize everything and improve your overall quality of life and performance?
That's why I go to get these types of assessments because I'm looking for -- if I went there and he said, "Oh, you're all perfect," then that's a waste of my time and money. I'm hoping he finds things like that. From a dysfunction standpoint, one of the most common is just physical mechanics. People use the wrong muscles to do the work, they don't fill the lungs properly, they breathe into the wrong spaces, they use the wrong pattern, they mostly breathe through their mouth and then they breathe into their upper chest, and they don't use the diaphragm to pull the air into the lungs, so they don't use that oxygen efficiently that they're bringing in. It doesn't get used by the muscles and by the organs.
The diaphragm has a really important role for bracing the spine and creating, like you said, breathing behind the shields which is what we call inter-abdominal pressure. So, creating that shield, I also call it the can or the canister, you create this can which is 360 degrees of my muscles in the core that are stabilizing my spine and then we fill the rest of those spaces up with air to create full inter-abdominal pressure, which is what we need to be able to do to lift the maximum load, but we need to be able to create different ranges of that pressure, depending on what the activity is.
If I can create maximum amounts of inter-abdominal pressure, 360 degrees, to pick up my one RM deadlift, then hopefully I can scale that back and create the right amount of pressure that's needed for me to pick my leg up right now while sitting on a chair or do a plank or bend over and grab a box off the ground, whatever I need to do. That's the role of all these things together. They're so intertwined.
Many people don't really understand breathing that well so what happens is you go blow you back out because you bent over and picked something up. You go to a physical therapist, looks through their one tiny, little scope at it and they say that this is what your issue was, and they go spend the time rehabbing that. We don't look holistically at this especially because most people don't understand breathing and how it influences all these things and how, if you're trying to fix this stuff on the second and third layer, you're always going to have some sort of dysfunction if you haven't started with that first layer which typically is breathing.
Clay: Like you said, it's something we all do. We do it probably dysfunctionally. If you're holding your breath a lot of the time during the day and you're setting off the sympathetic nervous system versus the parasympathetic nervous system, the rest and relax, you're basically stressed all the time because you're breathing inefficiently just from that one simple thing.
PJ: Yeah, absolutely, yeah, and that's a massive thing where I see huge changes in people right away when they learn about breathing, even though I don't teach them anything besides give them something simple to focus on. I've had people who have severe anxiety who reach out to me about breathing, and I've given them one little tip thinking that maybe they'll start doing that and that will get them interested in learning more. They'll reach out to me a month later and say that just focusing on that thing has changed their life significantly because it has reduced their anxiety and their ability to control their emotional response. I'm like, that protocol isn't even actually designed to do that. It was just the fact that they were focusing on their breathing and slowing it down or go breathe in through the nose or all these little takeaway tips that we can implement that can really make big, big changes in people's lives.
It's really the low-hanging fruit because you don't have to -- like you said, you're doing it anyway so if you can fix the way that you breathe for the 20,000 times a day you do it, let's say you never do any focused breathing practice, you don't have to lay on your floor for an hour and do meditation and extreme breathing protocols to improve it, you're going to do it 20,000 times a day. So just, if you learn how to do it better, that's 20,000 steps in the right direction. Think about how much that's going to add up over the course of the next ten years.
Clay: Yeah, like you said, it's a great inflection point that changes someone's trajectory, and it's massive. I know when I was working on my own health, it all started with rolling out of bed and doing a bit of meditation. It was nothing more than ten minutes of working on breathing and mindfulness meditation, and that's huge. That was enough to help me set my day and give me a point to reflect on for the rest of the day because it's something you can always come back to.
Clay: I know there's a lot of different methods out there, Holotropic, Pranayama, and there's Wim Hof method, I've done some of that stuff. How do you approach the studying of it and where have you incorporated that?
PJ: Where I started was the physiology, what happens to the body during respiration, what are the goals of respiration, how are we designed to be inhaling and exhaling from a muscular standpoint or anatomical standpoint, what muscles and structures are designed to do the work, how are they changed throughout the course of that, what happens to the heart rate and the blood pressure and all those things during different types of breathing? That's where we start our whole course with because when you can understand that, then the next piece comes, to start to study all these methods.
What happens when you go reach out to a lot of these people who practice different breathing protocols, what you realize is a lot of people are really good at the how. They're not really good at the why. They'll give you their why and sometimes you'll correlate that why to, let's say, you get something from Buddhist monks they use for breathing. They probably have a rationale behind what they do, but they probably explain it from a spiritual dimension that is not really science-based. What you'll notice is some of the things they say, will it make sense to the correlation there because from a physiology standpoint, here's what's actually happening in the body, so that was what I did.
Then you can go and look at Holotropic breathing and Wim Hof breathing and Pranayama and Buteyko method and the hundreds of different breathing methods that are out there, and what you'll realize is some of these are actually almost the exact same thing, some of them are very different, but here's basically what's happening in the body when you use these different protocols and, therefore, I can use all that.
That's why the XPT breathing is so unique because it's not a singular method. It's not a here's what we do and here's how to do it. It's a here's what happens during respiration and why it's important and then here's what happens with all these other protocols that you've probably seen and, therefore, hopefully, all these XPT coaches that we certify then do exactly what I did.
They go out and they find different people, teaching breathing in different ways, and start taking that apart based on the principles that they now understand and then they can start to figure out how to apply those things and why, maybe you shouldn't be doing Holotropic breathing, maybe it's not the best one for you, but you could definitely do this one and this one. Whereas, maybe I could do Wim Hof method every single day and might be the best thing for me to do. That's really what our course is about. It's really, really about understanding the why.
I always say that methods are many, principles are few. My job is to teach these people the principles and then you can create your -- I've created 27 breathing methods since I've been with XPT, all based on these principles and just slightly changing different things to change the reactions in the body, as well as learned probably 50 others from yoga and all different kinds of influences.
Clay: How do you decide or at what point -- so, let's say, if it's during XPT or working with a particular athlete. Are you reading them to see what's best for them? Like you were just talking about, for yourself, you might feel it. I know with the Wim Hof you get to this certain point because you've held your breath for so long, there's a bit of hypoxia that is euphoric. For you, with all the different methods, how do you decide to apply that to a particular time, say, time in the ice bath or is it time with that particular person? What's the idea behind that?
PJ: You could do both. It really becomes -- again, I always liken it to exercise because that's what people understand. A really, really high-level coach has a massive toolbox, and they also understand, when you come in, okay, what are your goals? Why did you come see me in the first place? Okay, here's X, Y and Z. I've got those three goals. What's your time limit, what does your gym look like, what are your constraints, how much -- all that kind of stuff. We go through all those questions and I say, "Okay, well I've got about 10,000 tools in my toolbox. Let me cut it down to about 100 that fit really with you." Then the way I'm going to put those tools into this program is going to really depend on all these other variables.
That's what we do from a breathing standpoint. We have an assessment, multiple assessments. We can look at how you breathe, biomechanically. We can do some subjective measures of respiratory gases. We can ask questions. If you came to me and said, "I want to work on breathing," the first thing I'd say is, "Why?" I might find out, "Hey, I'm a firefighter, and I really don't need to optimize the way I use the oxygen in my tank so it lasts longer." Well, let's talk about that, and let's solve that problem. Or, "I fly a lot. I have anxiety when I fly. I start to hyperventilate. I need something to just calm me down from a psychological perspective." Okay, well I have breathing protocols we can use for that.
Now I've gotten rid of 20 of my tools, and I focus on five. Now let's find out which one really works with you and which one clicks well with your. Then we can use some situational -- like with an ice bath, there are certain types of breathing or protocols that are, generally speaking, are more parasympathetic, help people get into a relaxed state, have a few psychological anchors associated with them that help people keep their mind focused on the breath instead of letting it wander on how cold the ice bath is and how their feet feel like they're going to fall off and how they're scared because they're staring at them and they don't want to get out but they think they're going to die. We have protocols that we can put into that.
It doesn't mean there's ever one unique thing. There are certainly ways that we teach it that have been the most efficient, but there could be something that doesn't really make sense to that situation and you say, "I've been using this protocol every time in the ice bath and it really helps me." That's how the body works. The body is not a textbook, so we have some principles that can guide us but then it becomes trial and error. The more you work on it, instead of trying 30 tools, the more I have my five tools that I think will work for this situation.
Clay: Yeah, that's a lot of how we work with our clients at Nourish Balance Thrive is, let's try this for two to three weeks and see how this works, whether it be for sleep, diet, movement, all the main pillars, and then you do -- it's individual. What works for one person is not going to work for the other but as you begin to hone in on what works for that particular person -- obviously getting them to sleep is massive. This is random but, mouth-taping, what are your thoughts on mouth-taping? I know I've seen that. I've actually tried it. What are your thoughts on that in relation to bed and sleep?
PJ: I was going to show you my box of mouth strips that I have around here somewhere. I like it. I certainly believe in it. I think that it has been pretty well-documented that people who breathe through their mouth when they sleep, don't get into the deepest levels of sleep. Breathing through the mouth tends to keep us in a sympathetic state. If you stay in a sympathetic state, you're not going to get into your deepest, most restful, most restorative layers of sleep. Of course it's really hard for me to focus on breathing through my nose when I'm asleep, so one way to do that is to try the mouth-taping. We've used different types of tapes. There are different types of medical tapes you can get that are porous enough that you're not -- every time I talk about this, someone sends me a picture of them with duct tape on their face, or Scotch tape.
PJ: Certainly not the way to do it. There are different types of tapes you can use. The goal is just to be a gentle reminder to keep your lips shut. I have some strips that we use from a company called Somnifix that sent us a bunch of them. I really like them because they're really easy for people. It eliminates the challenge of having to go find a certain type of tape. You have the strip, you open it up. It's a little adhesive that fits right on your lips. It has got a little breathing channel through the middle of it so if you feel a little anxious, you can still purse your lips and breathe through it. It's not super strong so if you are somebody who has some maybe psychological triggers to open your mouth when you sleep, your lips will still open. It's not going to keep them clenched shut which means it's not the end-all solution for people.
It's something we could try, but it's -- usually if you come to me and say, "I snore really loud. I think I have sleep apnea. I have a really low CO2 tolerance score, and I mouth-breathe all day long," just taping your mouth is probably not going to be the answer. We probably need to fix a lot of those baseline things first, but it can certainly help us to not take one step forward and two steps back because you practice breathing the right way for an hour and then you go and sleep for eight hours and breathe wrong the whole time.
I really like it. I did it for two straight months, every day, and I didn't think I breathed through my mouth when I slept. Just like everything, until you have some awareness of what baseline feels like, you can't really assess it, so I started doing it for two months and now I'm so aware of it that when I travel, I notice that every time I travel, I wake up with dryness in my mouth the next morning. I usually feel fatigued, just the stress of the travel itself and sleeping at hotels. Luckily I figured that out because now all I do is travel. I don't use the strips when I'm home but when I travel, I always bring them with me. I'd usually use them in hotel rooms every time. It could be the air conditioner in the room. All these things can affect the way you breathe, so I use those to just help reinforce the fact that I'm breathing through my nose so I get my most restful sleep.
Clay: Yeah, I will have to try that because I tried it at home. I tried it for a week or ten days. I will say I did have more restful sleep which is a goal that -- when we're asking people how they sleep, it's, do you have trouble getting to sleep, staying asleep and then are you rested when you wake up? Those are the three big ones. There's nothing like today was one of those days. I woke up and I'm like, yeah, it's just going to be a great day, to have just a little bit of help. Obviously you're not going to mouth-tape forever but it is an interesting exercise and there's definitely something to it.
While we're on the subject, is there anything else, sleep-wise, that you, not necessarily take or whatever, but we talk a lot at Nourish Balance Thrive about sleep hygiene. I've always said a good night's sleep starts when you wake up. We get a lot of our clients to anchor their circadian rhythms with going outside, getting some first daylight hitting the back of your eyes. If you're in a place where you can touch the earth, walk around. That's why having a dog is one of the ultimate things. It gets you out of bed, it gets some sun in your eyes, it gets you moving, things like that. So, anything that you have that you could share with us?
PJ: Absolutely. I am a very big sleep person, so I get made fun of a lot for how much I prioritize my sleep, but my goal is to be as efficient as possible so I have a very similar practice in the morning. You can see behind me, I have a big sliding door in my room that gets sun in the morning, so first thing I do usually is go out, open that up and get out there, get a little bit of sunlight. I'm fortunate I live in Southern California so we get a good amount of that every day. Then I do some movement. I actually am now working with a coach doing some FRC mobility work, so I'll just do my --
Clay: What's FRC?
PJ: Stands for Functional Range Conditioning, really, really good mobility. We actually brought one of the instructors out to our Malibu Experience this year and took some people through a Kinstretch class which is one of their programs. They have a system, I guess you'd call it, called CARs, stands for Controlled Articular Rotations. The simplest way to think about it is basically taking each joint through its current optimal range of motion. You're supposed to basically do them every day, at least once a day, and the goal is maintaining what you've got. If you don't use it, you lose it. It's a great way to warm up in the morning to just get everything moving, get the blood flowing.
So, I'll wake up. It takes me about eight to ten minutes to go through it. Usually when I do my CARs, I've also started to signal -- I'll listen to something, like a podcast or a book so I know that every time I do -- because there's another thing I do which takes a lot longer which is a part of my FRC stuff. So every time I do that, I listen to a book so it starts to create that habit as well. That's what I do in the morning. Especially if I'm traveling, I'll try to get outside, do some movement, do something to set my circadian rhythm as best I can, but more for me is at nighttime. I really focused the past two, three years about optimizing my night practices for better sleep, and it has worked, exponentially paid off for me.
One of the things I do is, I don't really watch TV at all, but I'll stop any emails, I turn my phone on airplane mode usually around 9:30 to 10 pm. The goal is a little bit earlier, depending on when I get back, but it's usually around 9:30 I put my phone on airplane mode so I am not contacted about anything. I usually go to bed around 10:30 or 11, so it's usually an hour before bed, I put my phone on airplane mode. I keep my phone on my desk, so, airplane mode, plug it in, keep it on my desk across the room, so it's not next to my bed.
Usually my practice before I go to bed every night is I read, but I switched over -- that was another big change I made -- I switched over from reading, research and success books or self-help type stuff, to now I read novels before bed. It was tough for me because I used to be in the gym coaching for so many hours every day that the only opportunity I got to read was before bed. So I'd be reading science studies or sports performance stuff or business stuff. What I noticed is I try to go to sleep and my mind is just going crazy, tomorrow I've got to implement that in my business and I should do this with my athletes. Your mind just keeps going, so one of the big things I did was start reading novels.
Sometimes it doesn't optimize my sleep because I get caught up in the novel, and I start sleeping after a few hours. I end up reading for two-and-a-half hours when I only had a 45-minute window, but it definitely helps my mind shut off. So I do a couple of those things each night to just try to shut off any contact from outside world, work-related stuff, emails, screen time, shut all that stuff off at least an hour before bed and then I'll do something -- maybe I'll just do some stretching or something like that, or I'll usually read to just get my mind off of all that stuff I had for the day. Then I tape my mouth shut every once in a while. Or if I feel I'm still wound up, I'll do a little breathing protocol as well just to bring me back down to a calm, rested sleep.
Clay: Yeah, that's great. Are you a sleep mask wearer?
PJ: Only when I travel. If I'm on the plane, it's something I do but not -- it's pretty dark in my room. I've taken a lot of steps to sound-proof and darken my room out. I don't have blackout curtains. I spent a lot of money on my mattress, my bed. I actually bought the, what's that thing called, the ChiliPad?
Clay: Yeah, what do you think?
PJ: I can't give a good recommendation because I think mine was broken, so I actually sent it back. I hated it because I don't have air conditioning in my house. It's really hot for about a couple of weeks in the summer, so I bought it because I couldn't really sleep well when my house is super hot. Mine wouldn't get cool at first and then it would get really cool and I'd get in, it felt great, but it would heat back up within 30 minutes. I'd wake up in the middle of the night maybe back to room temperature.
I reached out to them and they said that I probably had a defective unit, but I didn't have a great experience going through the customer service process. By the time I sent it back, it had started to cool off here, and I said, "Just refund me my money, I don't really care about dealing with this anymore." But I've heard great things so I won't speak poorly of it because the reason I bought it is Laird and Gabby and everybody else at XPT loves it.
Clay: I've considered it because I live in Tennessee, so we have a good three or four months that are hot and humid and I hate cooling my entire house just so that I can sleep well. It's inefficient and my children complain because it's cold in the house and it's the middle of summer and we should be having the doors open and everything, and you just can't. it's just so muggy that you'll never get the house cooled down.
The one thing I wanted to talk about that you had lightly touched on was cold therapy. We did some of that and that has stuck with me. I actually was inspired to -- I have a small space in my attic that I built, it's like a five by eight, and put a sauna in there thinking I'd use it a few times a week, and I'm absolutely addicted to this thing. I wake up, I let the dogs out, I walk upstairs and I turn the sauna on and give it time to get nice and warm. Can you talk about maybe transitioning from the breathwork and how that helps with being in the cold tub and then the contrast work that you guys do there, mixing those together?
PJ: Sure. A big thing with the breathwork correlated to that stuff is really using the breath to control your emotional states, number one, and how you control your emotional state actually controls your physiological state, and the breath can certainly control your physiological state as well. They've shown that in research that you can certainly lower heart rate, blood pressure, decrease sympathetic activity just by certain breathing protocols. When you correlate that or when you put that together with focusing on the breath and using it to control the mind because the mind can really create physiological responses, so if we can pair those things together that's really where we use the breathing in the tub to keep us focused on things other than the stressor of the cold tub, to keep focused on lowering our heart rate and getting control of your respiration in general.
It's a great practice for people because there are many times where stress creates physiological responses like increasing my respiratory rate and increasing my heart rate and my blood pressure and all that stuff spikes up. If I don't control it, I will say, if you don't control your breathing, your breathing will control you. If you just sit here right now and you start increasing your respiratory rate, you'll have the same exact responses that would happen if some guy cut you off in traffic and then gave you the finger on the way. Your heart rate goes up, your blood pressure goes up, you start to perspire, all of those things will happen if you just sat here right now, breathing really hard.
Therefore, if we can create all those changes just with breathing then when we can reverse that and we can control that, the hope is that we put people in this extremely stressful situation which is the ice bath, but it's very low risk, we don't want to beat you up, we just put you in this thing that makes you feel the sensations of pain and fear and anxiety and then we give you the tools to mitigate that and then the hope is that, that will translate into other areas of your life when you do face other types of stress like that guy in traffic or whatever those regular stressors are that you face. That's really the big thing with the breathing.
On top of that, the physiological benefits of exposing yourself to extreme temperatures are pretty profound, from just a general health standpoint. There's new research coming out every day showing the potential for mitigating risks of chronic diseases specifically mostly with the heat, helping people to improve all kinds of functions who already have chronic disease like improving depression in cancer patients, improving heart function in people with cardiovascular disease and lowering blood glucose in people with diabetes, improving inflammation in people with rheumatic disease, there are just so many instances, improving pulmonary function in people with asthma or chronic bronchitis. There are just so many instances where we see this improve, people who already have these chronic diseases but also, we're seeing a lot of correlation with it and potentially mitigating the risk of ever having these issues. So that's one of the big things with that.
From a recovery standpoint, people always think -- they see ice baths and they think that that's what athletes do to recover because that's where most of the science was on it so that's really most of the application before. Now we keep seeing more and more. The simple way to think about it is when you expose your body to something that, at a high level, would be deadly, when you do it in the right dose, it can create positive benefits. It's a biological phenomenon called hormesis.
That's the thesis basically behind everything at XPT. It's apply this type of stress and then force the body to adapt. If you think about anything that we do, exercise is a perfect example for hormesis, the right amount of exercise creates massive physiological benefit. If you just did nothing but exercise nonstop for the next week, straight, you're going to die. Same thing if we put you in the ice bath, in the heat, if we had you hold your breath, if we had you do intermittent fasting and you don't eat for a certain period of time, all of those things will kill you if done for too long but in short duration and the right doses, can create a positive, beneficial effect.
Clay: Yeah, we talk a lot about the hormetic effects of even food and like we were talking about with sleep and everything. It is everything, and it's the dose is the poison, is that right?
Clay: What have we not covered? Is there anything in relation to -- maybe touch a bit about what you know as far as duration, temperatures, what are your thoughts on that?
PJ: That's the most challenging question because the real answer is we don't know. Anybody who tells you that they do, is full of crap. Because I've read as much research as I possibly can out there and every time you start to feel like you've got a good understanding of maybe a possible application, you read four studies that disprove that theory so then it becomes conflicting. So we don't know the minimum effective dose, we don't fully understand the mechanisms even that are being activated to create adaptation and therefore, we don't really understand the prescription for different people. If I gave a general recommendation, it's going to be wrong for nine people out of ten, but we still give that because you've got to have some for a starting point.
What we do is, the simple way to think about the duration and temperatures is, if your goal is to create adaptation, you have to create stress, so the more extreme the temperature, the shorter the duration. It's like thinking about volume versus intensity in the weight room. I have a super heavy load, I only need a few reps to stimulate adaptation, and I probably can't handle more than that because the loads are heavy. If I cut that load all the way down by 80%, do the same amount of reps, I'm not getting any adaptation from that. I have to do a lot more reps to equal it out, same thing goes with temperature and duration.
What we look at, most of the research on saunas to create positive benefit seems to be somewhere between 175 to 220 degrees Fahrenheit and most of the duration are somewhere between 15 to 30 minutes. The frequencies are about a minimum of twice a week up to five to seven times a week. Some of these are even done twice a day. Again, that's just what most of the studies have done, they found the positive benefit. That doesn't mean maybe they just haven't studied the other ones yet to know, so our recommendation for people is to expose themselves to heat stress probably a minimum of twice a week but keep in mind that exercise is also heat stress.
I had a jiu-jitsu athlete who reached out to me yesterday, and she loves ice and heat therapy, she also loves hot yoga, she also trains strength and conditioning, two or three days a week and trains jiu-jitsu, five days a week. Jiu-jitsu, you get really hot. You're in a warm room wrestling with people for two hours. So she asked me how often should she be using the sauna, and I said, "You should not. Unless you're using it because you get out, you feel better, short-term, get in there, feel relaxed, do a little meditation, get out, you do not need any additional heat stress on your body. You're already getting enough of that."
So it all depends on the, obviously, the other variables because exercise is certainly a form of heat stress. That's really what I recommend. Use it, if you trying to create adaptation, stay in just past the point of discomfort, whether that's ten minutes for you where you start to feel a little claustrophobic and uncomfortable or maybe it's 45 minutes, depending on your type of sauna. If you're in an infrared sauna, you could probably stay in there for 40 minutes before you're uncomfortable, whereas, in a 220-degree dry sauna, post-exercise, it might take you eight minutes until you feel like you're going to pass out. That's such a massive window that's why it really depends on so many variables.
We always say, there are two ways to use the sauna; one, as a recovery mechanism in which case, do not reach the point of discomfort. Stay in there, feel relaxed, feel warm, before you get to that point of it starts to get stressful, get out. As soon as it starts to get stressful, you're starting to get rid of the benefit of recovery and you're now creating stress. If you want to create stress and adaptation, stay in just past the point of discomfort and use it on, either at the end of a training session or on additional days that you're not training. That's a simple way for sauna. Again, that's such a loose prescription, but it's just really hard because as soon as I give an actual prescription, people reach out saying that, "Well, I heard you say this, and is that right for me?" I'm like, "That's not even close to right for you." So that's the easiest way to auto-regulate based on your sauna, your unique situation and all of that.
For ice bath, it's the same focus. It seems like the higher the temperature, the longer you have to stay in. The research that I've seen really is, a lot of it is done at 55 to 60 degrees Fahrenheit, and those are like 30 to 60 minutes. Whereas, many of them that are done for shorter duration are sub-40 degrees Fahrenheit. Our goal for that is, most people aren't going to sit in an ice bath for 30 minutes even if it's 55 degrees, so we try to go as cold as possible for a short duration. We shoot for about a three to five-minute exposure. All ice baths are usually sub-40 degrees, so somewhere between 32 to 36 degrees is usually the range that we go in. That's not usually the starting point for everybody. That's a little bit extreme.
My recommendation is if you've never done any cold exposure whatsoever, unless you come to one of our experiences and we can help guide you through it, it's probably not the best way to start a new habit of cold exposure by just jumping into your bathtub. We can't even fit as much ice as we put in your bathtub, but if you fill up a tub with 200 pounds of ice and try to jump in there and it's 32 degrees and you've never exposed yourself, you haven't taken a cool shower in the past 20 years, it's probably not the best starting point for you. It's like getting off the couch after not exercising for ten years and trying to run a marathon or something, competing in a CrossFit game. You're probably going to get hurt, so it's not the best place to start.
But that's what we shoot for. We go as cold as we can, about three to five minutes. We'll usually do at least two rounds of that. One of our targets is to get a total exposure time of over five minutes. We saw a few research studies that said that to get some of the recovery benefits, that seem to be the minimum window for effective dose, but those were higher temperatures.
Clay: Yeah, I've noticed that myself. When I first started, I had serious cold aversion. The hot-cold contrast in the shower alone, I was like, all right, a minute, and I just dreaded it. Now I bought a chest freezer too. I walk outside and I just -- some days you look at it and you're like, all right, here goes, but I think I've got enough muscle memory now. Now that it's getting cooler outside, I use my pool instead. So I've trained myself to walk downstairs, walk out the backdoor and just walk straight into the pool. I like it because then I can just hang out. The dogs are right there with me and everything.
There's one thing I was going to ask you about and maybe just to wrap it up, do you recommend the Assault Bike in the sauna? I know I've seen that picture before.
PJ: I will go on record to say I do not recommend the Assault Bike in the sauna.
Clay: All right, all right.
PJ: But Laird definitely likes it. They do it all the time. They've seen positive benefits to exercising in the sauna, specifically for people who are trying to acclimatize to a hotter environment, but Laird will look at somebody biking in 175-degree sauna to try get ready for an extreme bike race and then he'll take his Assault Bike in his 200-degree sauna and ride it in there because he likes to push the upper limits. I would say for most people, you're probably not creating that much of a massive physical benefit from that, but I also don't know. I'm just not going to recommend people push that extreme until we understand it better.
Clay: Right on. Well, PJ, could you tell us where to find you on social and everywhere else?
PJ: My social media stuff is all coachpjnestler. I'm on Instagram, I have a YouTube channel, I have a Facebook but I really just re-post stuff from Instagram to that, so it's mostly Instagram and YouTube. I also put a lot of stuff on XPT. Obviously that's my full-time gig. We're reviewing research studies and things on there all the time. Articles that I'm writing are put on xptlife.com, so we put a lot of really good content on our channels as well and xptlife.com website.
Clay: Awesome. I will make sure that all the excellent information you have given us today is in the show notes. We'll have links to everything and to your social stuff there. PJ, I really appreciate your time and thanks for being on with us.
PJ: I appreciate you having me. This is a blast.
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