Hard Training, Hydrotherapy, and Recovery
“What would George do?” Adventures in neuroplasticity
Empirical observations from the training trenches
If I go early in the morning, I have unlimited access to a near-empty commercial weight room, a deserted steam room, a sauna no one uses, and an underused, mostly ignored indoor pool for hydrotherapy. All this great stuff is located at a well-kept, clean, YMCA run by nice people less than 1/8th of a mile from my country home. Open from 6:30 onward, the key to having a deserted facility all to yourself was, is, and forever shall be, arrive when the facility opens. My YMCA costs one dollar a day, $30 a month.
I had recently made a commitment to neuroplasticity, this after watching a Seinfeld episode where George (Costanza) did The Opposite (episode title) of his first instinct, and overnight, through the miracle of neuroplasticity, he thrived every day in every way. I sought to emulate his example of applied neuroplasticity.
The Y does a (deservedly) terrific business in childcare – which is good because it certainly isn’t making bank on fitness. The facility has a large room with floor to ceiling glass walls that let in sunshine, quite lovely, and filled with selectorized gym equipment and cardio training machines. There is a second well-equipped room for free weights. During the week, from dawn till 9 am, both rooms are largely deserted.
Amongst the fifty or so devices in the exercise machine room, rarely are ten in use at any one time. I have never seen more than five people training at the same time in the free weight room. I have been a member for 20 years and periodically made use of the small, barely used, steam room and the nice, but smallish, sauna. My Y has a steam room that seats four – and I have never had more than one person in it with me. Ditto early morning sauna. If you show up in the 6 to 9 am time range, the indoor pool, six lanes wide, is unused, there is always a lane (or three) available, except Monday morning, when weekend quilt fills the pool’s six lanes.
In my pursuit of purposeful neuroplasticity, I vowed to do the opposite of what I had been doing in resistance training, cardiovascular training, and nutrition. Ergo, I began doing resistance training with resistance training machines, something I had studiously avoided in the past. I would run hard, sprint, run all out, twice weekly. I would do the cross country and steep billy goat trail runs on alternate days. I would partake in hydrotherapy (swim), the most radical of my neuro changes, given my lifelong fear and avoidance of water.
I obtained swim fins, ear plugs, swim goggles, and took the plunge. Literally. Now that I am several months into my newest approach, I have arrived at an interesting mix of intense physical exercise interspersed with hydrotherapy. Here my current training protocol…
- Warmup, Crosscore suspension trainer, then mild running, raise core muscle temp (15 minutes)
- 5 to 8 all-out sprints (15 minutes)
- Weight room: pick two push-pull exercises and super-set (15 minutes)
- Steam room (15 minutes)
- Pool (30 minutes)
- Sauna (20 minutes)
- Cold shower, dry off (10 minutes)
Total time: two hours (120 minutes)
Done, I drive home, drink a replenishment shake, and take a power nap. This completes the Growth Cycle: stress the muscle, feed the muscle, rest the muscle, grow (and strengthen) the muscle. This sequence has flexibility.
On days that I sprint (twice weekly) I will not weight train legs.
On the day(s) I do not run, I blast my legs. I use the Smith Machine to squat alone and safely. I will perform a leg tri-set: ass-on-heels Smith Machine squats done to positive failure followed immediately by a set of slow-motion leg curls followed immediately by a set of calf raises done on a preloaded leg press machine. Four leg tri-sets takes 15-minutes to complete, done once weekly, these 12-sets are the sum-total of my leg training for the entire week.
On a non-leg training day, I cross-country run for 40-minutes and twice weekly I start with an intense sprint session. I will run 5 to 8 all-out sprints, between 40 and 75 yards in length, reaching 100% of all-out capacity on each run. I run on soft wood chips, never on hard surfaces. It takes 15-minutes to run eight 50-yard sprints. After a three-minute trip to the Y, I will select a classical push-pull resistance pairing. By way of example, I might super-set (alternate) dumbbell bench presses with seated cable rows, four super-sets, over and done in 15-minutes.
My first hydrotherapy session occurs when I sit in the skin-blistering steam room after my run and my weight training session. I sit and boil until I cannot take it anymore, usually ten minutes. I take a cold shower and re-enter the steam room, now sitting on the lower level, lasting another five minutes. Now steamed and dramatically overheated, I slip my swim fins on and slip into the cool pool. The cold is heart-stopping and I start swimming (on my back) fast – the pool is cold as ice cubes to my lobster-skin. I shiver for a half a pool length until my exertions create enough propulsion to create sufficient body heat.
I propel myself using a variety of flushing strokes: on my back, left side, right side, arms only, legs only, underwater holding breath…during a 20-minute session I try differing swim strokes to create differing muscular and cardio effect.
I take the final ten minutes to turn the pool into a flotation tank. I lie on my back and become as relaxed as possible while I gently propel myself, barely moving my fins with no mental thoughts needed or sought. I contempt the sensation of the water, I fix my eyes on the beams in the ceiling. I attain complete relaxation and effortless concentration. Maintaining this relaxed state, I do “soft” laps, so deeply relaxed I almost fall asleep. I rouse myself, exist the pool and head into the deeply relaxing dry heat of the sauna.
The dry heat of the sauna feels wonderful after the cold walk from the pool to the sauna. Physically zapped, mentally zapped, yet alert. Mentally quiet, the sauna induces ever deeper levels of relaxation. I can last a full 20 minutes. I sit alone on a folded towel on the top-level bench. I place my straight spine against the hot boards. I let my lower belly relax. I take ten ‘breath of fire’ kundalini yoga breathes to commence my Zen session and open my diaphragmic breathing.
I place my hands in the ‘cosmic mudra’ and let my body and Mind ‘sink.’ My Mind, battered from the training, has attained an effortless quietude. I am drenched in my own sweat and I am drenched in a hormonal floodtide of endorphins, dopamine, serotonin, growth hormone, et. al…these feel-good chemicals flood my bloodstream as I sit erect maintaining an effortless focus, breathing low and full. I listen to the sound of the exhalation around my nostrils, trying to make that sound disappear as I sink deeper into this state of relaxed uber-alertness. The heat, my battered body, it all combines to make focused, thought-free meditation so much easier.
When I start to get sleepy, usually after 20 minutes or so, I take a cold shower, towel off and head home. Within five minutes I am in my kitchen mixing a raw milk protein shake with three scoops of Parrillo peach-flavor Hi-Protein powder. The raw milk and powder deliver 70-grams of protein and more beneficial micronutrients than you can shake a proverbial stick at. I take a power nap: I fall into a narcoleptic dreamless state, I am a bear hibernating. I feel myself grow as a sleep. I awake have a cup of coffee and start the second half of my day.
My soreness and recovery time from the resistance training and my soreness and recovery time from hard running has been (respectively) dramatically reduced and dramatically shortened. Somehow the combination of steam, dry heat, the cold water (plus the mild muscle flushing I do with my amateurish swimming) combine with the post-workout replenishment and the power nap to dramatically reduce muscle soreness and dramatically shorten recovery time.
From my first CrossCore warmup until my final cold shower, two hours have elapsed. I cover a lot of bases with this new hybrid approach: muscles are built and strengthened with the lifting; speed, conditioning, and endurance, improve with the running. The water therapies alleviate recovery and soreness. Neuroplasticity is addressed with my swimming and the overall oddness of this strange approach.
After a two-hour session, my Mind feels as if it had been driven through a carwash. My goal is to make haste slowly exploring this interesting comixing of water and hard training. It is quite exciting to train the body and modify the Mind simultaneously.
About the Author - Marty Gallagher
As an athlete Marty Gallagher is a national and world champion in Olympic lifting and powerlifting. He was a world champion team coach in 1991 and coached Black's Gym to five national team titles. He's also coached some of the strongest men on the planet including Kirk Karwoski when he completed his world record 1,003 lb. squat. Today he teaches the US Secret Service and Tier 1 Spec Ops on how to maximize their strength in minimal time. As a writer since 1978 he’s written for Powerlifting USA, Milo, Flex Magazine, Muscle & Fitness, Prime Fitness, Washington Post, Dragon Door and now IRON COMPANY. He’s also the author of multiple books including Purposeful Primitive, Strong Medicine, Ed Coan’s book “Coan, The Man, the Myth, the Method" and numerous others. Read the Marty Gallagher Biography for a more in depth look at his credentials as an athlete, coach and writer.