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Podcast #3 – Rewire in Action: Alpine Climb with Sun Sachs

On this episode, Sun Sachs talks through his recent experience of climbing Mount Rainier and how he used the Rewire system to prepare for his climb, to perform under challenging conditions and to recover. Lindsay Shaffer, Rewires Strategic Advisor, and Ed Gibbins discuss with Sun the mental and physical challenges that he faced and how he overcame them. We also analyse Sun’s data from during the climb to understand the effects from a cognitive, emotional and physical perspective.


Ed: Firstly Sun, can you tell us a bit about your climb?

Sun: Yeah, so a year ago, a buddy and I had booked this trip to climb Mount Rainier and we thought, of course, with COVID that it was going to be cancelled. So we were resigned to: ‘try again next year’! And then the mountain opened up a few weeks before to allow for permits to climb. So we decided to go for it! 

Travelling during COVID had its own risks and challenges. But we got there safely and then we prepared for our summit. To give a little bit of context for Mount Rainier. It’s an interesting mountain, it’s certainly not as dangerous as the big peaks around the world, but it is a nice beta for what you would experience on a climb like Everest. It does have about three to five deaths per year compared to Everest which might be around 5 or 7 and I’m bringing the fatality stats up for context because it sort of is a factor to a degree in what I experienced and we did face some challenges that sort of had us confront our fears due to the conditions that day. It has some great features: big crevasses, glaciers, and it has multiple altitude base camps that you stay at as you acclimatize. So it’s a true mountaineering expedition and challenge about 50% of the people that attempt to summit make it. So those are the statistics and background of the climb.

Lindsay: An adventure and challenge like Mount Rainier requires a lot of physical and mental preparation without COVID being a factor and without the uncertainty of knowing if it’s going to be cancelled or not. How did you manage that uncertainty mentally and still stay prepared?

Sun: The first thing is, I just tried to remain detached, in other words just allowing it to happen. You know, we’re either going to have the opportunity or not, but I tried not to get too fixated on it whether it would happen or not. And then secondly, I just continued to train my body. I focused a lot on Brain Endurance Training, on making sure I was aerobically fit, doing Mindset Recovery through our app multiple times per day, doing visualization. I was really just making sure that, if we did have the opportunity, I was totally ready. But at the same time not obsessing over ‘is this going to happen or not?’ Because just like any kind of fixation mentally that all that does is sap your energy and they detract from what you’re trying to do. So I just tried to stay neutral to the best of my ability. 

Ed: We’ve also tracked your data from the climb and analyzed it. So I want to take a look at some of the metrics. If we start with your muscle soreness, you’ve gone up overnight on your first night from 5 to 98. Can you tell us how that came about and the strain that this had on not only your body, but also your mind?

Sun: Yeah, the first day you hike up to the first base camp, which is 10,000 feet. It’s about a 6 ½ hour hike mostly through snow. I had what would be considered a lighter backpack, but the problem with it was that it didn’t fit me properly: it didn’t strap onto my waist like it should do to support the load, and then the shoulder straps didn’t actually touch my shoulders. So basically the entire 35lb was disproportionately putting pressure on all different parts of my back. So at first, I was just dealing with the discomfort but about halfway through it really started to have a negative impact. There was a lot of pain, and we were going at a pretty fast pace. I was in the front right behind the main guide and you know, I wasn’t going to have the opportunity to basically fix the pack. So I just had to find another way to address the challenges and one of the things that we have in our app is integrated mantras which help you practice using a positive mindset when you encounter challenges, they come up in the workouts during the hardest parts. So immediately a few of them came to mind: ‘Strong and focused’ and another was ‘Calm and Strong’ and I just kept repeating those over and over again and also allowed myself to be a bit detached from the pain. So I got up to the first base camp and as soon as I took my pack off I had full body cramps for about an hour. So I literally just had to lay there on top of my pack and I noticed that I had a bunch of salt on my skin, I’d lost a lot of electrolytes but I hadn’t brought any salt tablets. So I just sort of thought through what I could do and I realized that I had a bag of almonds and at the bottom of the almonds there’s always that dust – I literally just ate all the dust and all the almonds and in a few hours, I was fine. I got up and I was able to move around and all of that but that’s what was going on the first day 

Ed: I think there’s a beautiful quote that encapsulates the niggles you encountered:

“It isn’t the mountains ahead that wear you out, it’s the pebble in your shoe”

Muhammad Ali. 

I think we prepare ourselves for the big challenges, both mentally and physically. But those little niggles that we haven’t thought about in advance – we aren’t prepared for.

Sun: Completely and they just Snowball! They start off as a little tiny irritating thing and then they just get worse and worse. And if you feed those thoughts you go into a downhill spiral. 

Lindsay: Sun, you mentioned being able to detach both from the trip happening and then from the pain. I think that that pain management is one of the hardest things for athletes to deal with and one of the biggest barriers to being resilient and can often cause us to quit our workout early or pull back a little bit in our race, how have you developed that ability to detach or is it something that you’re naturally good at?

Sun: It’s in the name ‘Endurance Sports’, you’re basically enduring a low amount of pain all the time. So I would definitely from 35+ years doing this there’s some adaptation that I’ve developed but I would also attribute a lot of it to our Brain Endurance Training system. What the system has you do during a workout, is answer these cognitive questions essentially forcing you to make decisions at the hardest points in the workout. And as you start to make mistakes, it only escalates and things get worse. So immediately you have to have this mindset when you’re doing our workouts that if things start to kind of unravel, you have to be detached enough to recognize it and fix it. If you stop or slow down for instance when doing Brain Endurance Training on the bike these little alarms go off. If you start to get the questions wrong, you can start to snowball into more and more questions wrong. And you know, that’s very analogous to the experience that I have or other athletes have: when they’re in the most difficult points in competition very well that if things start to go wrong, they’re only going to get worse. So being able to practice and have an opportunity with our product to be able to practice those sort of experiences is really beneficial. And it’s great because normally to train your mind you’d have to do a climb like I did or you have to go on a five-hour bike ride or three-hour run and you can’t do that all the time, but with our system, you can practice it a lot.

Ed: Another challenge that you faced is sleep. Over the course of the climb, you got about 6 hours of sleep, which is well out of your normal range. 6 hours is actually well out of range for a single night for you and that’s where you’ve had over the course of the entire trip! Yet, when we look at the subjective data that you’ve given in terms of your ‘Level of Readiness’, you manage to keep that really high and in some cases above your normal range. How did you manage to do that? 

Sun: To be honest, I didn’t anticipate getting that little sleep. So like the first night, when I had all the cramps and all the issues, I still managed to get 4 ½ hours of sleep. However, when we went to the next base camp, we basically had to go to sleep at 5 pm and wake up at midnight, so needless to say I got very little sleep. This is one of those situations where things can’t be ideal. But in our app, we have this mindset recovery system, which has a lot of different protocols to activate your physiology for recovery and to get in a positive mindset. And so rather than sleeping, because I just couldn’t, I basically played these back-to-back mindset sessions using binaural beats and they’re blended into really relaxing music. So you just listen to music, but meanwhile, it’s sending this frequency which in this case was a 2 Hz which effectively mimics what you would experience in deep sleep. So when your brain hears those low-level frequencies it tries to match those tones. So I literally just did these back-to-back sessions instead of sleep and my physiology responded as if I was getting deep sleep and you can even see that in my HRV scores and in the Readiness scores. But, I can tell you that definitely saved me because when I woke up at midnight on the third day with just over six hours sleep, I actually felt ready, my HRV was still in a reasonable range and I felt pretty sharp. 

Lindsay: I think we can get into vicious cycles when we can’t sleep and think: “but I have a really big day tomorrow” and then you go down that rabbit hole of thinking how it’s going to impact you and that actually starts to create your future. Even though you weren’t able to sleep, how much confidence did binaural beats give you or help you to overcome that anxiety that lack of sleep can generate?

Sun: It was pretty profound actually. It was almost like being in a lucid dream, the music that we picked is just really calming and relaxing and kind of ethereal and I was just laying there with my eyes closed and in my mind was just experiencing different moments in my life and kind of almost dreaming. I think at that low-level frequency where you’re really trying to mimic this extreme kind of physiological relaxation state, I was calm. It also let me detach a little bit because what was going on was we had very warm conditions up on the mountain and normally you’d want the area to be in basically sub-freezing conditions and that’s because we were camped out on a glacier. So 10 feet in front of me was a giant crevasse going down hundreds of feet, behind me was a big Glacier with other crevasses. With the melting snow, I was hearing chunks of ice falling off and we’re at the bottom of a hill, right near the Ingraham Glacier where 11 people were killed in a landslide. So as I was laying in the tent with every crack and falling snow I kept thinking: “Okay, if I hear a snow slide, can I open up the zipper dive out of the tent and get out of the way before the snow slide pushes me down into the crevasse.” So being able to detach a bit and just listen to the binaural beats and let my mind wander really helped me.

Lindsay: I find it so interesting, the idea of being at the same frequency as your brain waves during deep sleep. Not only the physiological impact that it has on you but also the psychological impact where it can help you to have some comfort in thinking that it’s okay that I’m not getting as much sleep right now because I know that this is a tool that can help me to be restored and recovered to some extent and be ready for what the day brings tomorrow. 

Sun: That’s right. I mean, you know, we’re all performance-minded and we know the importance of sleep, but sometimes you just can’t do anything about it. In that case, are you just screwed or can you actually do other things to help yourself? This is one of those things that you can do so it’s nice to have that tool. 

Ed: There’s a lot of things about sleep that you can control, but sometimes when you can’t sleep, you just simply can’t sleep and that takes it out of your control. So having that one tool that brings it back into your control is very reassuring. 

Sun: To continue the story… Due to the warm conditions,  in the upper part of the route, that’s part of the summit attempt, the crevasse had collapsed and there was no route to the top. So the guides went up there and worked the whole day while we were trying to sleep to carve out a new route. Usually, a route would take days or weeks and then also you want to traverse it and get it packed down and they were making the route in a single day under really crappy conditions, so that alone sort of increased the risk. When we went to sleep, there was still some uncertainty over whether we would be able to climb and we were also told that this new route would add a few more hours, which meant we would spend 14 hours climbing and a lot of the fatalities and accidents happen on the descent because you have a greater level of fatigue. Before I went I also looked into the epidemiology of climbing accidents and the number one cause of death related to a human error is slipping on snow or ice. And we had extreme conditions, I had little sleep and was heavily fatigued and now we’re trying to make your way down a mountain. So all these things were kind of going through my mind but we were woken up at just before midnight and told we were going to attempt the summit. 

At about midnight we’re going over this challenging cliff face. I’m watching every step, observing myself and making sure that I’m not suffering from any kind of cognitive fatigue. I’m watching the guy in front of me, and trying to give tips to the guy behind me because he’s tied to me and I don’t want him to fall as if he falls and I fall. So all this stuff is going through my mind and we’re going at a much faster pace because we’re trying to get up and make up for lost time with two extra hours to try to get to the summit. So I’m breathing very hard and between high threshold aerobic and anaerobic the whole time and taking huge three-foot-high steps onto shale that’s exposed on the edge of these cliffs. So it was pretty tense, to put it lightly, as we were working our way up. 

Lindsay: So in this situation where you’re on the most challenging part of the climb, people have dropped out, you’re at maximum muscle soreness and minimum sleep and you also know that a slip of the foot is the highest cause of death. How are you mentally coping with all of this? 

Sun: Yeah, it’s true and it was a really good beta test for Rewire! Knowing the science and knowing sort of the factors for when your reaction time is slow or when the negative thoughts start to creep in. For example, there was a study where they looked at all the attributes around mental toughness. And the three biggest attributes were self-confidence, positive cognition, self-belief. We know that positive cognition is basically the things you tell yourself when it’s challenging. So for me, I didn’t have any room for doubt. I didn’t have any room for you know for second-guessing or allowing myself to be distracted in any way. I had to be 100% on point with every single step and I would definitely attribute that to the high level of focus that we need to have when we’re doing Brain Endurance Training. Some athletes refer to it as being locked into the workout because you’re not allowed to slow down physically, you’re not allowed to slip up mentally you just sort of have to maintain a super high level of focus. That definitely was critical. 

Ed: Yes, and we can see that with your cognitive data. Your reaction times are really positive and you never really slip out of normal range. Actually, for most of the climb, you’re on the better side of your average! It’s incredible that your training and also the Mindset Recovery that you were doing on the climb helped in that way. 

Lindsay: It’s really interesting because, within the culture of sport, when we think about flow state, which is really just a relaxed, focussed state where you lose track of space and time and being fully immersed in what you’re doing. I think a lot of athletes right now reach flow inconsistently because most people don’t train the mind and so we don’t have as much control of when we’re able to get in that flow state. I think there can be a belief that you’re either mentally tough or you aren’t. There hasn’t been the idea that you can work on your mental toughness, just like you can work on your physical toughness through training. What I see as so powerful here, is the commitment that you’ve made to training your mind! When you say you have no room for that distraction, it’s not because you are naturally born with it, it’s because you’ve really worked at it and we all have that ability if we put the training in. 

Sun: To continue on the story… Our guide had climbed Everest and is super experienced with a 100% track record for a successful summit since 2018. So you know that safety is always the number one concern but you know that if he could do it he would make it happen. And basically he took a step through the snow and he went up to his knees in the snow which means the snow is severely soft. Normally you’d want the snow, to be really packed down because you’re wearing crampons and you have your ice pick and you’re basically relying on the snow to hold its ground. And so seeing that he was like: “Sorry guys, we’re going to turn around.” Which in some ways was a relief because I was pretty concerned about the new route being created along the edge of a crevasse with really soft snow. So obviously like he made the right call but then as further evidence that he made the right call, as we were making our way back down the rock face we started seeing lightning and it was starting to strike closer and closer. Our guide was like: “One of our guides was struck by lightning a little while ago. He’s okay now, but he was really stunned.” And then maybe five minutes later just ahead of where we were heading a strike hit and he was like: “Yeah without a doubt we would have turned around for this reason alone not to mention obviously the soft conditions in the crevasse.” So, we were trying to make our way down quickly and with a lot of precision and we got off the rock face, and I could see the base camp. It’s still pitch black and you can’t see much in front of you, you’re still tied together and suddenly we hear this big crash like the crumbling and collapsing of snow up above and our guide who was super experienced was like “Shit!” We both looked up because it was just me, him and another guy and we were literally ready to do whatever we had to do to avoid the avalanche. There wasn’t an avalanche but there was a snowfall and it was like two minutes ahead of where we were walking. So that was quite a scare. And of course, as we passed it, he goes: “Oh, yeah. This is the site where the most fatalities that ever happened in a single day 11 people died in this Avalanche”. So we made it back to the tent. and needless to say, I couldn’t sleep the rest of the night, but it was just being able to sort of the biggest impact for me was having that kind of challenge, facing my sort of mortality, and seeing how I responded. It really put things in a good perspective in terms of what’s important in my life and that was really meaningful. 

Lindsay: Was there any disappointment about not being able to reach the summit? And if yes, how did you deal with the disappointment that I think would be natural for a lot of people?

Sun: Yeah, there wasn’t a disappointment and that’s because it was out of my control. I didn’t make the call to not summit. I also wouldn’t have said like this is a do-or-die goal. I wanted to be in this rare environment, which is incredibly beautiful, especially being landlocked with COVID and not being able to really go and explore nature. Then actually to have these challenges, which are probably more interesting than an uneventful summit. I feel like I got more than my money’s worth and I’ve got a lot of respect for that mountain. I do intend to go back at some point and hopefully summit, but I just have a lot of respect for what the much more experienced mountaineers do and the risks they take. So I feel very privileged to have gone and experienced that, so no regrets whatsoever!

Lindsay: At what points do you think you were both mentally lowest and highest and what role did brain training play in both of those? 

Sun: I would say probably the lowest was the first day with the backpack and all the pain that I was dealing with. Because I was thinking that I still have two more days left and I’m already full body cramping. But I basically like being calm under pressure, dealing with it and being solution-oriented. The other part would just be the psychological pressure of knowing that the conditions are bad. We had heard about the collapsed route that first night when we got to base camp. So we were sitting with this situation for a few days and that weighed on me a bit. The highest was right after I experienced all that fight-or-flight, life-or-death type of stuff. When I got down the mountain it was like 3 am and I just stayed up all night and watched the sunrise and it was just amazing. 

Lindsay: So much of that sounds like it comes from just the ability to stay in the present and not letting all these ‘what ifs’ get in the way and just being able to enjoy it.

Sun: That’s the thing about mountaineering that’s different from some of the endurance sports. When you’re in a multi-day experience and you just simply can’t afford to not deal with the situation, it’s really a different challenge. If I’m in a race and I’m starting to struggle and it’s really difficult, you do have a choice to go down that rabbit hole of getting to the negative spiral but if you’re on the mountain like there are much more severe consequences and so you really do have to be at the top of your game, you can’t afford not to be, because of the consequences.

Ed: I think it’s a challenge in a different sense. You might not have climbed the summit but challenges you faced were far superior to that summit and it definitely sounds like the mountain was calling loud that day! 

Sun: Indeed – that’s exactly right and I’m glad we listened. While I was watching that Sunset I was listening to my binaural beats and we bring in these really cool quotes from different inspiring people throughout history. The stoic philosopher Marcus Aurelius is one of my favourites, and this came up while I was watching the sunset and it was so fitting and I just recognized how profound it is. 

“Just remember: you can endure anything your mind can make endurable, by treating it as in your interest to do so.”

Marcus Aurelius

If we try to unpack it, there’s an element of acceptance to the situation and also an element embracing the challenge that is totally endurable and within your capacity to overcome. It’s just a beautiful quote and was really fitting.

Lindsay: I love that. Yeah, I think we so often underestimate the power of the mind and it truly is the foundation of all that we do and set out to do.

Lindsay: We’ve talked about your preparation and we talked about the climb. But what did we see in the data and how did you feel during the recovery phase?

Sun: Yeah, that’s a really good question because there were some strange phenomenons happening. When I got to the bottom of the mountain I had been without sleep for over 24 hours and I felt surprisingly okay. I’m not the type that will do all-nighters these days, I’m a bit too old for that behaviour and when I’ve had to I feel wrecked but I actually felt I felt okay. We had a good meal, I took a shower, and then went to bed pretty early and the next day I basically felt normal. I did feel some soreness for sure, but it was surprising how good I felt this.

Ed: From the data standpoint, we’ve almost got a mountain in the form of the resting heart rate and crevasse for his heart rate variability, which is very fitting. So yeah for his resting heart rate spikes on the last day but it’s constantly creeping up and it’s miles out of range. If we standardize the data, it’s the lowest that he has ever been but then his recovery in terms of resting heart rate was very quick. So already by day one after it’s dropped significantly and it’s just outside the normal range and then by two days after its bang on average, which is attested to Sun’s training that he’s done for this and just shows how quickly he can recover from this kind of physical endeavour.

For heart rate variability, which many treat as a measure of recovery and readiness, he actually tapered very well before the start of his climb, where it reaches a peak. So that’s just attributed to his preparation for the climb. And that creeps down during the climb when he is faced with difficult physical challenges, but again he has a very quick recovery and is back on track almost straight away. 

Sun: Yeah, I would also say even when we’re just sort of fixated on the physiology. We really can’t divorce the mind from the physical body. So if you’re giving your body inputs through your mind that you are in physical duress, you’re going to have a negative impact on your physiology just from that alone. And so when you have extreme physical demands, you don’t need anything else contributing to that and I think that certainly had an impact on the way I was able to recover. And I was able to really activate my recovery through the different systems that we have, so that really helped.

Lindsay: Yeah, that ability that you’ve built up to feel okay, even when your HRV has dipped and your resting heart rate has spiked, plays a big role in you getting back to baseline much faster and recovering much faster.

Sun: That’s right. I even brought a pulse oximeter up there and on the second day, I was around 77 and 79 oxygen saturation, which is quite low like you’d ideally be in the 80s for climbing. So being down in the 70s is not a good sign, but I actually felt quite calm and I didn’t feel stressed out by the altitude or the acclimatization or the way my body was feeling which was super helpful.

Ed: Yeah, I think that the major differences between sort of your objective data and your subjective thoughts really highlights the mind’s impact on performance. Despite a poor physical state, you’re really able to keep your performance high and that’s just attributed to all the sort of training and preparation you’ve done and also what you’ve built up over the last 35 years.

Sun: Yeah, for sure. It was nice to feel really prepared on all levels. Not only was I physically prepared but I was mentally prepared and that was surprising to me because I hadn’t experienced it to that degree before. 

A 101 Guide to Binaural Beats

Binaural beats are a form of brainwave entrainment that have been shown to have positive effects on stress, anxiety (1,2), focus (3), motivation, confidence and meditation (4). Binaural beats work when two different frequencies are heard, one in each ear. This creates a third tone, the binaural beat, whose frequency is the difference between the two other tones, e.g. if the tone in one ear is 400Hz and the other is 410Hz, the binaural beat is 10Hz. This binaural beat is shown to have a positive impact on the user’s mindset. It is important to note that stereo headphones are required to achieve a binaural beat since when using a speaker or non-stereo headphones the frequencies are already mixed outside the brain and hence no binaural beat is created.

The various tones of binaural beats affect the user differently. The following tones are used in the Rewire Mindset Recovery System:

  • 0.5 – 3.5 Hz – Delta wave for deep sleep
    • In a 2018 study, participants who received this frequency during sleep entered deep sleep quicker and for longer (5). This allows participants to gain more of the benefits of deep sleep including physical recovery.
  • 4.0 – 6.5 Hz – Theta for meditation/sleep
    • A 2017 study showed that even listening to a 6Hz binaural beat for just 10 minutes induced the user’s brain into a state similar to that achieved during meditation (4).
  • 7.0 – 12.5 Hz – Alpha for relaxation/dreams
    • In a 1990 study, alpha wave binaural beats were shown to have a positive influence on the user’s relaxation (6).
  • 13.0 – 38.5 – Beta for Activity            
    • It has been shown that beta wave binaural beats can positively affect vigilance performance and mood (3), and a recent 2019 study showed that beta wave binaural beats have a positive impact on long term memory (7).

Binaural beats also have a positive effect in counteracting the negative effects of mental fatigue. A recent 2020 study by Walter Staiano, Rewire’s Scientific Advisor, showed that binaural beats reduce the negative effect of mental fatigue (8). This makes binaural beats an important part of mindset recovery and pre-competition preparation in sports to minimise the negative effects that mental fatigue is shown to have on endurance performance (9,10).

We have put together a demo of our mindset recovery system featuring theta wave binaural beats which you can watch and download below.

You can also hear what binaural beats sound like raw and play around with different tones here.

References

1.        Padmanabhan R, Hildreth AJ, Laws D. A prospective, randomised, controlled study examining binaural beat audio and pre-operative anxiety in patients undergoing general anaesthesia for day case surgery. Anaesthesia. 2005; 

2.        Garcia-Argibay M, Santed MA, Reales JM. Efficacy of binaural auditory beats in cognition, anxiety, and pain perception: a meta-analysis. Psychol Res. 2019; 

3.        Lane JD, Kasian SJ, Owens JE, Marsh GR. Binaural auditory beats affect vigilance performance and mood. Physiol Behav. 1998; 

4.        Jirakittayakorn N, Wongsawat Y. Brain responses to a 6-Hz binaural beat: Effects on general theta rhythm and frontal midline theta activity. Front Neurosci. 2017; 

5.        Jirakittayakorn N, Wongsawat Y. A Novel Insight of Effects of a 3-Hz Binaural Beat on Sleep Stages During Sleep. Front Hum Neurosci. 2018; 

6.        Foster DS. EEG and Subjective Correlates of Alpha-Frequency Binaural-Beat Stimulation Combined with Alpha Biofeedback. 1990; 

7.        Garcia-Argibay M, Santed MA, Reales JM. Binaural auditory beats affect long-term memory. Psychol Res. 2019; 

8.        Axelsen JL, Kirk U, Staiano W. On-the-Spot Binaural Beats and Mindfulness Reduces the Effect of Mental Fatigue. J Cogn Enhanc. 2020; 

9.        Marcora SM, Staiano W, Manning V. Mental fatigue impairs physical performance in humans. J Appl Physiol. 2009; 

10.      Lopes TR, Oliveira DM, Simurro PB, Akiba HT, Nakamura FY, Okano AH, et al. No Sex Difference in Mental Fatigue Effect on High-Level Runners’ Aerobic Performance. Med Sci Sport Exerc. 2020;Volume Pub. 

Training For The Mind: Getting Comfortable With Being Uncomfortable

To the untrained eye, the reason that we exercise is to simply improve our fitness. We lift to improve our strength and build muscle and we go on long runs, swims or rides to develop our endurance. That is what, at the most basic level, training is all about – improving our athletic performance.

Sometimes I hear people disregard rest days and the importance of recovery. I usually laugh at this as the inner scientist in me cringes. At first glance, this attitude would seem to come from the false belief that improvements in our physiology occur in the gym and whilst exercising, rather than in our sleep and time spent recovering, and for the vast majority of people, it is likely to be true that they are incorrectly taking this ‘no rest’ approach with the aim of improving their fitness.

However, to some, there is more to training than simply improving fitness. To some, training is less about the body, than it is about the mind. Take David Goggins for example, he never has a rest day, and to many, this would seem crazy and futile. But, the most important thing to him when training is the development of his mental toughness. For some people, training is not about improving their body or fitness, these are just welcome bi-products. Instead, training is about the mind. Creating a high level of suffering to develop their mental toughness and themselves as a person.

‘Who on this f**king earth would be going right now? You are! I believed it enough to where my body said: “he’s not gonna stop”.’

David Goggins

I’m certainly not suggesting that you do go at 100% all the time, and you should give yourself time to rest and recover. But we can learn a lot from the mentality shown by Goggins: we should not be using science as an excuse for slacking. In that sense, you would only be cheating yourself. We should however use the science when it is correctly applied and take appropriate recovery for the our exercise. Indeed, by its very definition, you cannot recover without putting the work in first.

“At dawn, when you have trouble getting out of bed, tell yourself: “I have to go to work — as a human being. What do I have to complain of, if I’m going to do what I was born for — the things I was brought into the world to do? Or is this what I was created for? To huddle under the blankets and stay warm?”

Marcus Aurelius

If we cave in to feelings of needing to stop we our losing an internal battle with our mind, and the mind is immensely powerful. Under conditions of mental fatigue our endurance performance is shown to decrease significantly (1,2). Yet, the science shows that using Brain Endurance Training over a 12-week programme was shown to yield 3x the improvement in athletic performance in a time-to-exhaustion trial (3). By putting our mind under uncomfortable conditions and testing our mental capacities we can break the boundaries of what was previously possible.

“That’s one of my big things too is, you know, getting comfortable with being uncomfortable”

Laura Kline – Rewire Athlete

To read more about the Rewire Brain Training System, click here.

References

1.        Marcora SM, Staiano W, Manning V. Mental fatigue impairs physical performance in humans. J Appl Physiol. 2009; 

2.        Lopes TR, Oliveira DM, Simurro PB, Akiba HT, Nakamura FY, Okano AH, et al. No Sex Difference in Mental Fatigue Effect on High-Level Runners’ Aerobic Performance. Med Sci Sport Exerc. 2020;Volume Pub. 

3.        Marcora SM, Staiano W, Merlini M. A Randomized Controlled Trial of Brain Endurance Training (BET) to Reduce Fatigue During Endurance Exercise. Med Sci Sport Exerc. 2015; 

Recommended Reading

Can’t Hurt Me
by David Goggins

Meditations
by Marcus Aurelius

The Obstacle is the Way
by Ryan Holiday

The Joe Rogan Experience #1212 – David Goggins

The Tim Ferriss Podcast: Ryan Holiday (#4)

An Athlete’s Guide to Looking After Yourself During​ the COVID-19 Crisis

Across the globe, people are limited, like never before, with what they can and can’t do. This has, naturally, had a massive impact on everyone’s life and health, meaning that it is more essential than ever to make sure that we tick all the boxes in terms of our health.

Exercise

During this time, it is incredibly important to keep exercising. Since (almost) all sporting competitions and events across the globe have been cancelled, it can become very demotivating to work without a goal. On top of this, with gyms closed and social distancing measures meaning that we cannot train with a partner, more barriers are in the way of our goals. The ability to overcome obstacles is what separates us as athletes.

“Obstacles don’t have to stop you. If you run into a wall, don’t turn around and give up. Figure out how to climb it, go through it, or work around it.”

Michael Jordan

At the very minimum, we want to maintain our fitness, however by using this unprecedented time to do more than anyone else, it distinguishes you and you will be ahead of the rest when we are released back into the sporting world again. One crucial thing to note is that it is important to do something even if it is significantly less than before. One study into resistance training showed that even when doing 1/9th of the original training, participants were able to maintain their muscle mass for the duration of a 32 week period, whereas those who did not undergo any training over 32 weeks regressed to their original muscle mass before the training plan began (1). However, now is not the time for complacency or downheartedness – we have a unique opportunity to use this time to progress and focus on our health in a way that we have never before.

It is also important to consider the positive effect that exercise has on our mental health. Exercise has been shown to reduce depression and anxiety and has positive effects on mood, self-esteem and cognitive function (2). This is another of the many reasons why we should continue to exercise regularly.

Sleep

With significantly reduced social commitments it is very easy to let our sleep habits go to pot. Aside from having a negative effect on our physical and mental recovery, poor sleep quality impairs our immune system (3), something we naturally don’t want during a global pandemic. When sleeping, there are a few crucial things to take into account: consistency, appropriate length and quality – all which influence each other. By setting a consistent bedtime and wake up time you can reduce the time it takes to fall asleep as well as improving the quality of your sleep by allowing you to spend appropriate time in each sleep stage. When considering sleep length it is important to remember not only to get enough sleep but also not to get too much, having too little or too much sleep is associated with worse health (4). We cannot ‘store’ sleep and so once we have achieved all the sleep we need, sleep is essentially a waste of time and time that we can utilise for better purposes. When considering appropriate sleep length it can also be helpful to think in terms of 90-minute cycles, rather than hours – a more accurate representation of our sleep. You can use an app such as SleepCycle to track your sleep and wake you up at the lightest point so you feel free and ready to start the day. It is crucial to practice good sleep habits, try to turn off blue light sources as you prepare to sleep so as not to interfere with melatonin secretion, which is inhibited by the presence of blue light. To read more on sleeping efficiently, click here.

Nutrition

Strictly speaking, the immune system cannot be boosted through vitamins. However, vitamins can be used to support normal immune function. Whilst it might not be necessary to supplement vitamins or minerals, it is important to get a sufficient amount in your diet, and if you are unable to achieve suitable levels with your diet, then consider changing your diet or supplementing. Essential vitamins and minerals for supporting immune function are copper, folate, iron, selenium, zinc and vitamins A, B6, B12, C and D (5). You might find it useful to use an app, such as Cronometer, to track your micronutrient intake and highlight deficiencies. One vitamin to highlight in particular is vitamin D, which we get from sunlight. Considering the lockdown measures that many countries have put in this creates a challenge, particularly knowing that in normal circumstances 40% of Americans are deficient in vitamin D (6). If you have a garden, try to use it throughout the day or if your current government regulations allow, try to get outside, whilst abiding by social distancing measures. If you are unable to get outside, then consider supplementing vitamin D. Overall maintaining a healthy diet, rich in the relevant nutrients can help to maintain immune function during this crucial time.

Mindfulness

During this strange period, it is easy for us to become stressed and distressed by the circumstances. To help combat this, set aside some time daily to practice mindfulness and breathing exercises. Mindfulness can help us to reduce stress (7), something that we all will be facing to varying extents with the forced change in lifestyle. At Rewire, we have been developing a Mindset Recovery System. This involves guided box breathing exercises (a Navy SEAL technique) to help reduce stress (8) and binaural beats which help to counteract the negative effects of mental fatigue (9).

We have put together a demo of these to help with your mindfulness during this difficult time, which you can access using the following video.

To read more about the positive effects of mindfulness, click here.

Overall, it is incredibly important to stay healthy and active during these uncertain times. Try to create structure in your life where structure lacks and use this unique time effectively to improve yourself without social pressure.

References

1.        Bickel CS, Cross JM, Bamman MM. Exercise dosing to retain resistance training adaptations in young and older adults. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise. 2011. 

2.        Callaghan P. Exercise: A neglected intervention in mental health care? Journal of Psychiatric and Mental Health Nursing. 2004. 

3.        Besedovsky L, Lange T, Haack M. The sleep-immune crosstalk in health and disease. Physiol Rev. 2019; 

4.        Kim CE, Shin S, Lee HW, Lim J, Lee JK, Shin A, et al. Association between sleep duration and metabolic syndrome: A cross-sectional study. BMC Public Health. 2018; 

5.        British Dietetic Association. COVID-19 / Coronavirus – Advice for the General Public. 2020. 

6.        Forrest KYZ, Stuhldreher WL. Prevalence and correlates of vitamin D deficiency in US adults. Nutr Res. 2011; 

7.        Astin JA. Stress reduction through mindfulness meditation. Psychother Psychosom. 1997; 

8.        Stinson A. What is box breathing? Medical News Today. 2018. 

9.        Axelsen JL, Kirk U, Staiano W. On-the-Spot Binaural Beats and Mindfulness Reduces the Effect of Mental Fatigue. J Cogn Enhanc. 2020; 

Simple Ways to Improve your Sleep for Athletic Performance

The quality of our sleep has huge implications for athletic performance. Sleep is essentially the time when physical and mental recovery occurs. With good cognitive function and physical readiness being required for us to perform at our peak, it is obvious to see how it is important that we have good quality sleep to perform at our best.

Start listening to our circadian rhythms

“We are the supremely arrogant species; we feel we can abandon four billion years of evolution and ignore the fact that we have evolved under a light-dark cycle. What we do as a species, perhaps uniquely, is override the clock. And long-term acting against the clock can lead to serious health problems”

Professor Russell Foster

Our sleep patterns our guided by circadian rhythms, which essentially act as our body clock and determine the appropriate time for hormone release, which in the case of sleep is melatonin. With the invention of the light bulb and screens has come the ability to overcome this natural body clock. The presence of blue light reduces the secretion of melatonin, increasing alertness and keeping us awake. This delays the onset of sleep and reduces the amount of time that we spend asleep. By cutting out screens as you prepare to go to sleep you can ensure that your onset of sleep is faster and thus your time in bed is more efficient.

Think in cycles not hours

“Eight hours sleep is an average amount of sleep people get per night, and it somehow seems to have become a recommended amount – for everyone. The resultant pressure put on getting this is incredibly damaging and counterproductive to getting the right amount of sleep that we individually need”

Nick Littlehales

To maximise the quality of our sleep we should quantify sleep in terms of cycles, not hours. One sleep cycle lasts approximately 90 minutes and hence if we can time our sleep to wake up at the end of a cycle we can wake up at the lightest point of our sleep and feel refreshed and ready to start the day.

We should also not be too concerned about the amount of sleep we get each day but instead over the whole week. In his book “Sleep”, Littlehales suggests that we should be getting 35 cycles per week, averaging 5 cycles a day, which works out as 7 hours 30 minutes. This approach is much more achievable than consistently hitting 8 hours which can be quite pressuring and stressful and a cycle approach is reflective of how we actually sleep. Littlehales says that this approach reduces the stress hormones released from struggling to sleep and allows us to get effective rest and recovery.

Apps like Sleep Cycle ensure that your alarm wakes you up at the lightest point of sleep possible meaning that you wake up feeling refreshed and ready to start the day.

Be more consistent

Our body adapts to the time we fall asleep and thus by being more consistent, we can fall asleep quicker and ensure the time that we spent in bed is efficient. Not only is our sleep more efficient when we are consistent, but we also get more slow-wave and REM sleep – the times when physical and mental recovery occurs respectively. This allows us to maximise the benefits of training and perform at our best. 

Laura Kline, Rewire Athlete, tells us that by developing a consistent routine she has been able to ensure she gets adequate sleep. “By 8:00 I have my magnesium drink and try to limit my screen time. I aim to be in bed by 9:30 – I find that following a set schedule makes a difference as my body knows it’s time to shut down.” Laura says that by doing this she can typically fall asleep within minutes and on the inevitable days that she can’t follow her routine she notices a difference the next day. 

Optimising our sleep is not necessarily about getting more sleep, but about making the time that we spend in bed as efficient as possible. Only by working to improve the way that we sleep can we truly allow for sufficient recovery to develop our athletic performance.

Further Reading:

Blue light from light-emitting diodes elicits a dose dependent suppression of melatonin in humans
West et al.
Journal of Applied Physiology, 2011

Sleep: Change the way you sleep with this 90 minute read
Nick Littlehales

New Feature: Sleep Consistency – Why We Track it, How Do You Compare?
Whoop

‘Arrogance’ of ignoring need for sleep
James Gallagher