Welcome back. In his book, Shtick to Business, Peter McGraw addresses how professionals have one of two problems: they either work too hard or don’t work hard enough. He puts forth a model for both groups called “Grind and Release.” In this episode, he brings together two solos from the world of fitness and rehabilitation to talk about the “release” side of the equation, with a focus on rest and recovery (and how they are not the same thing). If you take away anything from this episode, it is the magic formula: Walk, Water, and Sleep. Note: bonus material is back with the team talking about cannabis, mushrooms, and sex. If you are interested, sign up for the solo community at PeterMcGraw.org/solo.
Listen to Episode #113 here
Rest and Recovery
In my book, Shtick to Business, I talk about how professionals have 1 of 2 problems, either they work too hard or don’t work hard enough. In it, I put forth a model for both groups. I call it to grind and release. In this episode, I bring together two Solos from the world of fitness and rehabilitation to talk about the release side of the equation, with a focus on rest and recovery and how they are not the same thing.
Kristen M Olson is an entrepreneur, former D1 athlete, CrossFit games athlete, dog mom, and host of the podcast, Turmeric & Tequila. Steve Nagib earned his Undergraduate degree in Athletic Training from the University of Pittsburgh and a Master’s degree in Human Physiology from the University of Oregon. He’s the General Manager at Denver Sports Recovery and helping me rehab a badly dislocated finger.
If you take anything away from this episode, it’s the magic formula, walk, water and sleep. Bonus material is back where my guests and I talk about cannabis, psilocybin, and sex. If you are interested in any of those and our spicy takes, sign up for the SOLO Community at PeterMcgraw.org/solo. I hope you enjoy the episode. Let’s get started.
How’s it going?
I spend a lot of time and energy trying to live a remarkable life and help single people live remarkable life. My path at this point is through engagement, creative pursuits, and meaning. The aforementioned is trying to help other people live better to celebrate their single lives, transform them from singles into solos. However, I’m working too much.
This is a perfect segue because we are here to talk about rest and recovery. What I like to say is there are two types of people. There are the people who grind too much and don’t relax enough. There are the people who relax too much and don’t grind enough. At least those people who have goals to achieve and live a remarkable life.
I have a feeling the three of us have the same problem, which is we have no chill and drive ourselves into the ground. I’m at my breaking point. The timing of this episode is perfect for me. I haven’t had a day off in months. I can handle it all as long as things are going smoothly. They haven’t been going smoothly.
I have had a little bit of a health challenge and the natural randomness, shocks, and turmoil that happens in life. These things are lumpy, and I’m getting some lumps from that lumpiness. Let’s talk a little bit about your perspective and perhaps even a journey for rest and recovery. Let’s start with you, Steve. You set this off with your theme for 2022, which was your choice of chill, particularly intentional.
The cliché of like, “Who’s your hero in your life?” It’s my brother. I have a few heroes. I don’t think you should ever say, “This one person influenced me.” I have been blessed to have a lot of influential people in my life but my brother pointed it out right around the holidays. He was like, “I took a new job.” I love what I’m doing. It’s my first time in a managerial role.
I work at a place called Denver Sports Recovery. I love what I do day in and day out but I manage 30 people. It’s about 28 more people than I have ever managed before. He noticed it was changing me a bit. I’m a little bit more stressed and shorter, even something as small as text messages responses. My brother and I lived down the street from each other.
We talk every day and see each other probably biweekly but he was like, “You have changed a little bit.” I knew it was coming from a place of love but it was probably a sign that I needed to “chill out.” I have been on the Turmeric & Tequila podcast. We were talking about doing things more intentionally. I mentioned on that podcast how much I hate New Year’s resolutions. It’s not a theme for 2022. It’s a theme for this chapter in my life, whether that lasts more than a year or less than a year.
I have no problem with it but being more intentional with rest and recovery has allowed me to talk about the great timing of this episode to realize that I can’t rest and recover the way most people think about it. People hear the words, rest and recovery and think, “Take a day off, do nothing or go take a nap.” I started my theme for the year 2022. A little bit before the New Year, I get more anxious and worked up when I try to force myself to do nothing.
I have realized my rest and recovery are things that I enjoy doing that I end up not doing because I’m prioritizing work, working out, and things like that. I can fill up my cup if I go for a hike. It’s strenuous and tiring but every time I go hiking, I have more energy the next day. I don’t know what’s wrong with me. Like sitting on the couch for the day, if I spend a Sunday watching football for eight straight hours like a lot of my friends do, my Monday is miserable. If I go for a long walk, hang out with friends or hike, even if my legs are tired, my cup mentally and physically is fuller than the inverse. That has been an interesting realization I have made.
What I’m going to do to these two in a few moments is I’m going to start throwing potential activities at them and getting their reactions to them. Kristen, how about you? You have an ambitious life, an athlete, and perform at a very high level. Is your perspective on rest and recovery derive from your athletics or some other place?
I think both. I was a long-time athlete. My parents are athletic. I played sports in college and went to the CrossFit games after college 4 or 5 times. A conversation on recovery has evolved over the years immensely. Even in college, we didn’t talk about recovery that much. We talked about nutrition a little bit but you are broken doing things anyways.
There are a few things you can tap into in college but I learned the importance of recovery from CrossFit. I’m very much the human that has to run through the wall, have a full breakdown before we have the breakthrough. I’ve got into it. Even the CrossFit conversation of more is more starts to change. There are tons of recovery within that.
We were an extremely competitive gym, fortunate to have 5, 6 or 7 competitive girls. We are constantly pushing each other. It was a lot of more is more. I’ve got into adrenal fatigue and all kinds of stuff that I didn’t even know what it was, in addition to some things around that situation, outside of my core values, which is a whole other episode. Even though I was exhausted, some of the environmental stuff and things outside were starting to show up physically.
I was getting sore throats because I wasn’t using my voice. I did a ton. With DSR and some other health companies, I do a lot with human optimization with my marketing branding company. I was in it personally and professionally. Different blood markers are popping up around my liver, which is associated with anger. Long story short, recovery became a big piece. It wasn’t a go lay down and chill out but I could go play lacrosse game on a Sunday and get away from CrossFit, take my dogs or do some other things. I would recharge but I did learn how to be still completely.
That’s a journey in itself, and that took me to progress to go from activity. We’ve got to it but at this point, I fully recover what I’m still and not even meditating, sitting there and letting answers come in. Usually, I get more stressed from my mind running 100 miles an hour, which it always does. Me thinking about the next thing, even more so than training or doing physical types of stuff. It’s calm down and be still.
I did, on that note, learn how much everything is connected to environment training. You’ve got to consider the entire picture. You talked about your brother calling it out. My number one piece of advice is to keep good people around you. They can be like, “You need to take a break.” Many times, when you are in it and don’t see it, maybe something physically is popping up but you don’t know until you fully hit the wall, it’s critical to have those humans around you who can be like, “Something is off and switch.”
I did an episode and read a quote from a book about, “You should get in the habit of asking your friends for advice and demand that they are totally honest with you.” Nisha talked about this. They have this optimal distance. They care about you but they are not so close that they are biased. Friends can notice things that even you can’t. Care and courage can help you have those insights.
I wrestled with that a lot in 2021. My theme in 2021 was I relied on too many people for advice. I was swayed a lot. My brother pointed that out and was like, “Stop doing things because people say that’s what you should do, shouldn’t do or how it’s supposed to be.” It’s healthy to try to go on your own. I also think it’s healthy to know that you have maybe 3 to 5 friends who you can tell, “Please be super honest with me but tell me if I’m being a dick.”
One of the important things is when you are very good at grinding, you can power through a lot. The mind is powerful. I had this experience where I was fit and moved to Los Angeles. I was on leave, so I had even more time and space than I would normally. I was throwing myself into the exercise and part of a very fancy gym. It was called an Equinox. It’s filled with beautiful people. There are lots of guys looking in the mirror doing bicep curls and stuff. I would go to these group fitness classes and would be the oldest guy in the class. I was like, “I’m going to show these kids.”
Please tell me you did.
I could and would but there were times when I was so exhausted. I would have to psych myself up and turn on that competitive mode to do it. Pandemic hits, LA gets shut down. I took off to the desert and had very limited opportunities for the broad range of exercise that I was used to. After I launched my book, I had an amazing amount of free time. I decided that I was going to learn to relax, so to speak.
I walked every day and did calisthenics, maybe some pull-ups, dips, and pushups. I tightened down my eating, and something amazing happened, which was I started to look and feel better. I exercise less. I remember one day looking at myself in the mirror and was like, “You look fantastic.” My skin was great. I was lean. I thought I was going to waste away and had the opposite effect. I realized there’s a difference between being tired, which a nap or good night’s sleep, versus being worn out. I was worn out from not just months but years of going and going. I have tried to embrace this stuff.
I wish people could see how much I’m smiling. It’s something that I wrestled with literally and figuratively. Wrestling was my sport. That’s why I used that word a lot growing up. I have been around very high-level athletes my entire career. More has always been more. I don’t know if we will talk about wearables a little bit but everything from a WHOOP watch to a garment or a ring.
Wearables have entered the pro-athletes setting. It’s trickling down because the first-time pro-athletes are taking days off based on what their wearable digital devices are telling them. It’s like telling you, “Today is not your day. You slept like crap last night. Slow down.” It’s interesting. I love the way you worded it. that encompasses the entire idea of you looking in the mirror and looking better. Your skin was probably flusher. You didn’t put on weight or lose weight. Your physique changed.
I want to echo that because trackers are also in a whole other episode. If you can be still enough, maybe not completely still, your body will tell you what you need. If you feel like, “I’m worn out,” quite physically, your body is saying enough. Even if you can’t afford some of these super expensive situations, and I’m a super fan of most of them, if you pull back and be still for a minute, your body is telling you what it needs.
My high achievers and mission-driven humans, it’s the hardest for us to fully tap into that because we get so comfortable at that worn-out level until you are smoked, have adrenal fatigue, and your body is shutting down. The trackers are great. If you don’t have that or can’t afford it, if you try and pause, more than likely, your body is telling you. If you need more sugar or change your nutrition, you can lean into some of those things. It’s cliché. The answers are within. That pause piece is so critical.
You have both hits on it but said it in a very eloquent way. You can handle a lot when things are going smoothly. You didn’t say this but I don’t know if you insinuate it. When things don’t go smooth, you realize how tired or exhausted you might be. All of a sudden, everything is great, and Murphy’s Law hits. What you are pointing out, Kristen is the trackable are nice but you don’t need them to necessarily realize, “If I sit still, I can pick out the things that are going wrong.” Your body intuitively knows what it needs.
I want to highlight the point of we can all handle a lot when things are going smooth. It’s what we do when things don’t go smooth, how we change and alter how exhausted we are making ourselves. That is the essence of recovery. I don’t even want to use the word rest but how do we recover from that? How do we get back up and go back to that “work hard, play hard” mentality?
Before we get into this, is there a difference between rest and recovery?
I think so.
I have been trying to figure that out. I looked at Webster’s Dictionary and can’t remember what I have read.
Reality is more than applied meanings. It’s how the person is hearing it. If rest means recovered to you or vice versa, great. For me, rest is you being chill. Recovery, to me, is more of a proactive choice of you trying to be, maybe not ahead of the game. I’m proactively trying to recover from a workout, a loss or something. I’m taking proactive steps. Rest to me is like, “I’m kicking it, chilling and relaxing.”
I resonate more with the word recovery, and maybe that’s part of what I’m trying to figure out in 2022 but I don’t think I rest well. I can recover well because I can force myself.
That’s your profession also.
That’s true. I do run a sports recovery clinic. Come check us out at Denver Sports Recovery.
Let’s jump into these, whether they are rest-related or recovery-related. The big one that’s impossible to ignore is sleep.
I was never good at standardized tests.
Kristen, you were saying within athletics, in particular, there has been more and more focus on this idea of recovery. Sleep is the biggest one you are seeing. Professional teams changing their travel schedules.
It’s the mattresses, what you are eating and consuming before you go to sleep or the trackable that you are wearing. There’s so much to it. If you are super worn out, and your adrenals are off or whatever it is, you won’t sleep as well. You are not even recovering while you are sleeping. You are numbing so many senses on many levels. It further starts to show up and get more and more in that hole.
Let’s talk a little bit about sleep. It’s worth diving into. With this entire list, my feeling is it’s the most important.
I run a recovery center. This is horrible marketing but I admit it because of its facts. You could hot or cold tub, sauna or do everything in the world but sleep is by far statistically proven to be the best form of recovery possible.
There’s some guide who wrote an entire book looking at all the different methods. His big takeaway is you need to sleep. For the average person reading this, I hope it’s active but they are probably not as aggressive as we are. My guess is they are also not sleeping well enough.
You said a word in there. I don’t even think you realize what you said. People need to sleep better. The misconception is sleep more is not sleeping better. In 2022, we are struggling, and since the inception of the iPhone, we have been struggling with this a lot. The average adult between 18 and 40-ish, I don’t know the exact numbers needs between, it’s 7 to 9 hours of sleep but you could go 6 to 9 hours. There are outliers. I have friends who can function fine, feel great, and perform well in four hours. Some people need ten hours.
The misconception of, “I need to sleep more or go to bed earlier so I will recover better,” is becoming more and more false. The proof is becoming more real in that because laying in bed for 45 minutes before you fall asleep or 8 hours and waking up every 2 hours, neither of those is good sleep. It’s what you do 30 minutes before you go to bed. Say you only have six hours. Can you maximize? Everyone in this room, most of the people reading this, are go-getters.
A lot of times, we don’t have the luxury of setting aside 8 hours of sleep but can you get the same benefit from 6 hours of quality sleep? That’s where we are headed with the things like beds, sheets, and pillows but it’s simple as shutting off their cell phones. When do they eat before they go to bed? If the world can figure out how to sleep better, we can change the mantra, from you need to sleep more to you need to do it better.
I don’t want people sleeping six hours.
I’m not advocating it. My goal is to get eight and a half hours a night. I have been delving into the research a little bit but I’m trying to get people to realize they don’t necessarily have to increase the number of hours because people are like, “I need to sleep twelve hours. That’s the only time I feel recovered.” There are very few people in the world that have diseases where they need to sleep that long. Odds are, if you only see recovered after twelve hours of sleep, you are not sleeping well. How do you sleep well?
Kristen, what are some ways that people could try to sleep better?
There is a massive overlooked mental health conversation that is associated with sleep more than physical. Usually, if something is keeping you up or you can’t fall asleep, there’s something that you can unpack. It’s a casual statement for a much more in-depth conversation. Anytime someone says to me, “I can’t sleep,” I can tell you, it’s the mattresses, they don’t eat or eat protein shake right before. There are tricks of the trade. I agree with getting off your phone, any stimulation, reading a book, something that calms you down or even the Calm app or some of those things are great.
Anytime someone is saying, “I can’t sleep,” when we get into that conversation, it’s mostly, “I’m super stressed from this. I fought with my husband.” In some things, it’s like, “Maybe you need to journal for an hour, dump everything that’s in your head and get it out.” I associate sleep with a lot of mental health. You need it for physical health and recovery. Sleep is a massive indicator of where you at mentally and, in turn, that will impact the physical.
If you are having trouble sleeping, question your mental health and what you can do steps there. That will turn into better sleep and impact your physical health. The quick thing I do is try not to eat within two hours of going to bed. I try to get off my phone but I don’t. Ebb and flow, sometimes I’m good. Sometimes I’m not when it’s busy, and that’s it. If I have a good workout and I’m pretty smoked, I go to bed pretty quick.
My postdoc advisor, Daniel Kahneman, was pushing a lot of the boundaries about wellbeing when I was working with him. He would say that you could ask people how happy they are or how they are sleeping. Those things are highly correlated. I want to echo your point about the mental health stuff. I don’t sleep as well when I teach because it’s highly evaluative, a lot more stressful, and anxious.
I slept great in the desert in part because there wasn’t as much stimulation and as much going on. When I would wake up in the middle of the night, as tend to happen as you get into middle age, my mind sometimes will kick on, start to ruminate, seek out problems and be overly vigilant. When things are very stressful, that keeps me up even more. You get anxious because I’m awake.
It’s the negative feedback loop of insomnia. I suffer from that a lot.
What are some of the best practices for you, Steve?
I do not sleep well, admittedly. My theme for 2022 is being chill. If I do a little bit more self-reflection and dive deeper into that, it’s not to chill when I’m awake. I suffer from horrible insomnia. I’m not afraid to admit it. I use different types of supplements, whether it’s melatonin or other things, to help myself get to sleep. Once I’m asleep, I’m pretty good. I have tried reading, journaling, shutting off the phone, and none of them have worked for me for whatever reason. If you are reading like, “I have tried that too, and it doesn’t work,” you are not alone. I’m trying to figure it out.
I liked what you said about working out. It makes you more tired. One of the signs to know if you are over-training or burnt out and working out too much, insomnia is a sign of over-training. People think training more will make me hungrier and more tired. Yes, to an extent, and it does the opposite. Some of the highest-level athletes in the world that I have seen working out as hard as they can, we know when to shut them down. This was before wearables. If they were like, “No, I’m not hungry,” I say, “You burned 1,500 calories in a single workout. There’s no way you are not hungry.”
It’s like, “How did you sleep last night?” “I lay in bed for two hours.” “What’s wrong?” It’s the middle of the summer. There’s no class.” These are college athletes most of the time. It’s like, “Let’s look at the GPS data that you were wearing in your shoulder pads. No one noticed it because it was in the middle of practice but somebody got hurt and in trouble. You were the only wide receiver and ran 3 times as much over the last 2 weeks. You are over-trained. That’s why you can’t see.”
For me, journaling gets my brain going more than anything. They say you are not supposed to exercise right before bed but the best practice for me that has helped is walking. If I go on a nightly 30-minute walk, the key for me is going to be when I get home, not to check my phone quickly. It’s always so tempting. Did anyone text me while I was walking?
No one cares about me that much. There’s never a text. When I don’t see any notifications, it goes Instagram, Facebook, email or something. The hardest thing for me has been when I put my phone down because the intention is always there. I always put my phone down an hour before I want to go to bed. I always pick it up as I’m getting into bed to check it one more time. That needs to stop.
You have to address the electronics. They are stimulating. They provide light and so on. I picked this thing up called The Case Safe and did it for my class to demonstrate the challenges that people have with self-control. Since I bought it for the class, I have used it sometimes. It’s essentially a box in that you set a timer and locks whatever you put into it until the timer runs out. I have a lot of self-control, thankfully, with the electronics but when I’m struggling with it, I drop my iPad and phone in it. I turn it on for ten hours at night.
I’m good. I turned my phone off when I go to bed. Not everybody has that luxury because of their situation. I will toss a few other things besides like getting away from the electronics. Get the temperature right in your room. Most people’s rooms are too hot for them. They have poor sleep hygiene and other ways. The rooms are too bright. There are too many light sources. You either need to find a way to blackout your curtains or wear an eye mask. Noise, so having some white noise or earplugs. A lot of things that can help you avoid some of that outside stimulation that’s there. The other one is to create a habit of going to bed at the same time and getting up at the same time. That matters a lot. It’s so funny.
Talk about babies and kids benefiting from a routine, and we become adults. Why is that any different? Get used to going to bed around the same time. There’s a little bit of work that suggests that between 10 and 11 works very well for the average person. There are night owls, barks, and so on who go to bed very late or early. It’s important to know yourself there. Do you nap?
Sometimes I wish. I can’t shut my brain off enough to nap in the middle of the day. I have tried unless I have a cold or am super hungover. There’s no napping happening in my life, unfortunately.
There have been a couple of times where I’m getting back into training and the loop of things. Sometimes I’m exhausted. I have learned the hard way that when I feel that, I will take a nap. I do try to stay internally connected and listen to my body. Once I sleep, I sleep. For me, to come out of a deep sleep at 2:00 and need to get stuff done is difficult. Usually, if I mind my Ps, Qs, ands, I’m on track, I can get to good sleep. I do feel compelled to say working with athletes and different kinds of high achievers and mission-driven humans. One of the big things that I have seen in general when you can’t sleep is responsibility.
Anytime I talk to somebody, I’m like, “Are you managing a lot more people? Did you have four or more kids?” Usually, it’s this running theme of being overwhelmed with responsibility. It’s full circle in our conversation because what is laying down, and sleeping is still. If you can’t be still in your mind races, it’s going back to that recovery and rest conversation of, in general, being good at being still and addressing. Is it responsibility? Is it something else? If you can nap in the middle of the day, I would take that, too.
I’m a pro. I call it the NASA nap. NASA did a study to figure out what is the ideal length of a nap, at least for astronauts.
I thought you were going to say like standing up.
There are these competing forces. Kristen, you acknowledged some of this thing called sleep inertia. You feel groggy if you take a nap that goes too long. What is the ideal length of a nap in which you get these emotional and cognitive benefits without having that grogginess? According to NASA, it’s 24 minutes. I’m a big believer in doing that, especially if I’m having some sleep difficulties in general. If I sleep 8 good hours, I don’t need a nap but if I get 7 hours, I want my NASA nap, either of those two is ideal for me.
I have never thought of a nap this way. I’m not sure exactly what you said that made me think of it. Everything in life, you get better with practice. I will use myself as an example. Insomnia is my kryptonite for sure. I can lay in bed for three hours before I fall asleep. It’s the worst but I also never nap. I have no idea. This is not evidence-based. I thought of it but maybe going back to Kristen. What you were saying about practicing being still, could that attempt to nap in the middle of the day help me practice becoming still? When the night comes, I can fall asleep faster because I have spent twenty minutes in the middle of my day trying to. I failed or may have failed. Does that get better? I don’t know. It’s practicing going to sleep.
I wouldn’t have set it up that way. I’m going to rest for twenty minutes, lay down, and close my eyes. If you fall asleep, great. If you don’t, you have chilled for twenty minutes. You already mentioned the next thing on my list, Steve, which is walking. Walking has come up twice. You talked about sounds like decompressing at the end of a stressful, busy day. Walking seems to count as rest and recovery to me. If someone is in very poor health, a walk may be challenging. For those of you who are like, “I’m intimidated to go for a long walk because I’m in very poor health.” What is it about walking for the two of you that helps you succeed in recovering?
I keep mentioning insomnia not being able to sleep. One of the things is that when I close my eyes, I feel like that’s when my brain turns on. I feel like my brain is a ping-pong machine because there’s no other stimulus externally. There’s all this internal mind racing. When you walk, more times than not, your eyes are open. It’s not strenuous. Your heart rates stay relatively low, assuming you are in relatively good shape.
For me, I don’t burn a ton of calories and fatigue a lot but there is this low level of stimulus that has nothing to do with electronics or thinking other than when you cross the street. That is enough of a distraction. My internal brain doesn’t have the space to play pinball. My brain is a pinball machine. You need to put one foot in front of the other. There’s this low-level conscious thinking that has to happen that pauses that pinball machine. If I can do that for 20, 30 minutes a day, somehow that’s practicing calming the pinball machine.
I was a lacrosse player in college. We did lots of running. I grew up doing jogs, half-hour, what have you. It was always a great time for me to be with myself, have me time, and run through my thoughts. I felt like creativity came through at that time. That was good for me as I’ve got more into CrossFit, which was more barbell, and the longest run is 400 meters. I was running less.
I do have three dogs. I walk with them all the time. I have understood that I’ve gotten my dogs and walking more. I have that jog time I had before. It was like conscious me time. Being a leader or managing people, you are thinking about everything else or everyone else you need to do. My version of walking or running when it’s me or with my dogs is my time.
My brain gets to run through my things, and maybe it’s a little about what I have to get done but the focus is on me versus everyone else, which usually is by nature and profession. Walking, that alone time or even spinning on a bike if that’s more assessable for your joints or health condition is shutting the rest of the world off. You are solely focused on what you are doing.
I will add two things to it. I have become a huge walker. I picked a place to live that was highly walkable when I was living in Los Angeles. During that time, I had the most walkable life of almost any Angeleno. I knew how scary it would be to be in the car all the time and my New Jersey road rage being stimulated.
One is humans were meant to walk. We were designed to walk long distances. It served us in so many ways. The other one is fresh air. We spent a lot of time inside. When it’s hot in the summer, you seek refuge in the air conditioning. When it’s cold in the winter, seek refuge inside the heat. I’m a big believer in getting outside and getting that fresh air, even allowing yourself to be a little uncomfortable, sweaty, and chilly in that sense. I find that to be a very useful endeavor.
I will tell a brief story about this. This will be no surprise. When I was working on my first book, I was doing my full-time gig and traveling around the world. It was a very ambitious schedule. I’ve got a virus, a bug of some sort, and couldn’t shake it. It was weeks that I had this. I wasn’t sick enough that I was bedridden but I felt poopy all the time. That’s the technical term. I could make it through the day. I would get home and end up eating comfort food and sitting in front of the television. I couldn’t do anything else. At some point, I was like, “This is not helping and serving me.”
One night, I turned the TV off, bundled up, put on some upbeat music, and went on a walk in my neighborhood. I did it the next night and the next night. I’ve got home and felt invigorated and good. I could wind down and go to bed. It became part of my normal routine. Instead of watching some TV, something like that or snacking, I would walk my neighborhood. I had 3 walks, a 20-minute, a 40-minute, and 1 hour-long walk. It transformed my life. Ever since then, I have tried to find time to walk either early or late in the day.
That is amazing. I even liked that you had routes. You were like, “If I had a tough day, maybe the twenty-minute route,” versus home early, dinner is done like, “Let’s go that 60-minute route.” I have been doing this more. I hate the cold, first of all. What you mentioned about keeping a cooler room when you are sleeping, as much as I hate the cold, I agree with that. I sleep way better in a 65-degree room. If you can’t picture what that feels like, 65 degrees is colder than the vast majority of people’s houses.
Some of the toughest times in my life have been either in the brute of winter or the superhot part of the summer. Being okay with being sweaty or putting a heavy jacket on and going can be life-changing, whether, in that moment or your whole life, it depends on the situation. Braving the conditions for that walk a lot of times ends up being worth it more times than not.
It’s being anti-fragile. Go expose yourself to some stuff. Get used to it. You need germs, fresh air, and things. It’s cliché but the movement is medicine. There’s a whole chemical response when you are moving blood, your body, and your brain away from the TV. There are so many things that are happening. You don’t even need to worry about all that. Get up and go move.
I can repeat it for the rest of the time. Movement as medicine is probably one of my favorite sayings in the entire world.
There is a counterintuitive element to this. When you are tired, move, and suddenly you become re-invigorated rather than feeling tired, you rest. It’s about finding the right type of movement.
Marketing branding is my forte, and why I started my podcast was to disrupt some of these realities that we were sold gracefully. What do you see in cold and flu commercials or anything else? Everyone is tucked under a bed. They are sleeping. Our constant messaging is, “Go hideaway. Hibernate like a bear until you are healthy again.” It’s the exact opposite.
If you look at some of these different parts of the world, blue zones, I don’t know if you are familiar, they base it around centenarians, people that live to be 100 or older. They look at the 7 or 8 habits that help them essentially do that. It’s movement, nutrition, and community. It’s a lot of stuff but it’s no cold medicine. You still have to hunt your food or find your things. You have to move essentially. Without getting too far into it, when in doubt and you don’t feel good, go move some blood.
Let’s talk about some of the kinds of things that you work on, Steve and Kristen, that you probably have used a lot. I’m going to throw out a whole bunch of them. We don’t have time to go deeply into each one. It’s things like a hot tub, cold tub, sauna, cryo, space legs, massage or stretching, all of the above.
We can put it all into one thing. For those of you that don’t know what space legs are, the most famous name brand is going to be Normatec, compression pants that move things. I don’t want to give it away but everything you said, I’ve got this down because I give the tour of DSR daily. Everything in our sports recovery facility, which you mentioned, has one goal, blood flow. Moving your blood around every single thing.
We will run through them, hot tub, cold tub. We do a lot of contrast therapy, 5 minutes in the hot tub, 5 minutes in the cold tub, going back and forth. When you go in the hot tub, the way your body dissipates heat is it pushes the blood towards the skin, more blood towards the skin surface area, so and so. That’s how we dissipate heat and not overheat. Our body is always trying to save our internal organs. It doesn’t care about your fingers, toes, arms, and legs. It’s all about internal organs. When you get jumped in the cold tub, 52-degree water, all the blood rushes to your cords.
The object pumps blood through your body from the skin to the core and vice versa, compression therapy, the space pants. The easiest way is that all the water in that hot tub has to go through the filtration system to get cleaned on the cold tub. Any swimming pool has the same thing. We spend most of our time when we are awake, upright, whether we are sitting or standing, we are still upright. If you have a good heart, your feet don’t swell because your heart is your pump. The hot tub has a pump.
Your blood is the water that’s in that hot tub. It has to go through your natural filtration system. The heart, kidney, liver, and lungs are our filtration systems. The space pants mechanically will squeeze your legs, pushing all the blood back into that filtration system in your upper body. As it reenters our lower limbs, it’s reoxygenation, more nutrients, and things like that. Sauna is the same thing. Heat gets the blood flowing. Cryo is the same thing.
Cryotherapy is the newest alternative to the cold tub. We have a full-body cryo. That’s probably one of the most popular. It’s this chamber that you stand in. Your head is above the chamber. It’s an open-top. Your head doesn’t get cold, which makes the experience way better from your shoulders down. People go in fully nude. This chamber fills with nitrogen gas. The temperature of that chamber generally speaking drops to about negative 250 degrees. It’s a three-minute treatment. It’s way faster than the cold tub.
You shock your body into thinking it’s freezing to death. When that happens, all the blood has to rush to your core because your body was like, “We can lose arms and legs. We can’t lose our liver.” You can’t live without most of your organs. After you get out of that ultra-cold environment, your blood naturally and slowly is going to go back to your extremities like your skin.
When it got forced to your core, it got forced through your heart, kidneys, liver, and lungs. It was filtered and reoxygenated. It picked up nutrients along the way. It’s one of the best ways to recover. It’s fast and cold. If you are intimidated by negative 250, it’s okay. You go in warm, and your head is out. Your head was not cold. That’s where we lose a lot of our heat anyway. The first minute is fine. Imagine if you ran out to your mailbox at the end of your driveway in a snow blizzard. We can all do that. The second minute sucks. There’s no sugarcoating it. In the third minute, you are numb, honestly. It’s not a bad numb. It’s just a numb feeling. Everything we are talking about is super good but there’s so much out there. “What should I do? What shouldn’t I do?”
Let me ask this. My sense of the things that we ran through and you talked about is not for the run-of-the-mill person, as much as it is for someone who’s training hard. Could the schoolteacher who has a long day benefit from a hot tub, cold tub, sauna, cryo or space legs?
Yes. Teachers spend eight hours on their feet. We have so many bartenders that come in, ironically enough. It’s because we’re downtown but they’re like, “I spent ten hours on my feet Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.” We have restaurant owners that come in. It’s funny. Every Monday, all our restaurant owners come in. Most of them are closed Monday or Tuesday. The weekend is their bread and butter.
I’ve been so fortunate to be an athlete in the mix and work with permanent health and wellness companies, human optimization, not just from athletics but maybe Special Forces where their jobs depend on their survival. It’s a whole different conversation. The best part of my job that I’ve seen over the years is seeing some of these tools that have become available for your high performers that our kiddos are questioning a better way than their parents. It’s not about performing the best of the game but about feeling good in life.
I want to walk through this world happily, content, fulfilled, not have any pain and not eat a ton of sugar. All these conversations for human optimization at a very elite level are trickling into the masses. It’s phenomenal to see because our young people are starting to be aware of things that maybe took our 20s, 30s or 40s to get into it. The physical is so great but if we talk about the mental conversation, we’re negating a much more important conversation from my perspective.
We physically are well but so much happens with blood flow and serotonin. You can see who’s tough when they do get in the cold tubs. That’s good mental training. There is so much that comes with it. The important through-line is that mental health progression. Everybody should be fighting some angle to take care of themselves. You can go jump in a river if you don’t have $65 to do the cryo machine. There are ways around all these things. It’s a more conscious pursuit of taking time for yourself and doing that rest and recovery to take care of yourself.
You could also do cold showers at home, hot to cold.
That’s honestly how I started. I do 30 seconds, either at the beginning or the end, depending on the day, of ice-cold water. It always makes me feel better. With the space pants, I want to say one thing. There’s a ton of research on congestive heart failure. That heart is the pump and blood pooling in your feet like people with diabetes and congestive heart failure. We were talking about, depending on how to fit you are, if walking is easy or hard for you.
We have a gentleman who comes in every single day and can’t walk. He’s either on crutches or in a wheelchair. He does the space pants for an hour every single day. His doctor only gave him X number of months or years to essentially be around. He has doubled or even tripled that at this point. He says, “It’s because this external machine is doing what my heart can’t do. It’s pumping my blood for me.”
I’m glad I asked about that because I assumed this was for active people.
Why do you think we don’t hear a lot about it? Who makes a lot of money off people being sick? There’s a whole business conversation that blocks what we could most likely handle ourselves. It’s like the blue zones if you see these people living to 100. Not only surviving but they’re thriving. Their mental capacity is great so and so. The world wants us on medication. They want us to do these certain things. They don’t want you going to DSR and doing space pants. I’ve never heard that term.
Let me ask quickly about two big ones that we haven’t talked about and have a whole other category. That’s a massage and stretching. Is massage an extension of moving blood or are there other elements to it?
There are other elements to it. It depends on who you talk to and what your goals are. Everything in our body is living tissue and fibers, whether it’s muscular or not. Your body is smart until it’s not. Say you tear your hamstring, the word fibers like muscle fibers and fiber optic cables are both fibers. Imagine a fiber optic cable or a cable in a straight line. That’s what your hamstring looks like. When you cut that fiber optic cable, to us, the Verizon or Comcast guy comes out, fixes it. It looks brand new. Your body is smart only to a point. When it reattaches those fibers to each other, it doesn’t look good. I don’t know how to articulate what I’m showing but it’s janky. It looks like a rat’s nest.
Your body will reconnect those two ends that tore but it won’t do it in a nicely laid down uniform fashion. That’s when we hear terms like a breakup of scar tissue and fascial adhesions. Anytime there’s an injury, massage is one of the first things. Eastern Asia got it right hundreds of thousands of years ago. I don’t know who said icing an injury is the best practice because it’s not. There are not many things I take a hard stance on but moving injuries and even if it’s lightly massaging, say it’s an acute injury, is way better than icing an immobilization.
It’s because those fibers need help. A massage is a guidance for fibers to be laid down in less janky. Stretching is the same thing to an extent. You are not helping relay fibers down but you are stretching them in the manner that they should be laid down. You are encouraging them in the right direction if they are in the wrong direction.
I’m here for massages and fascial stretching. I first had with you massively here for it but the takeaway is being proactive with stuff instead of reactive. I know you talked about this on our podcast. Massaging post-injury and fascial stretching is great after an injury but if you can be a little more limber, stretch correctly, have your body lose or release some of that tension before having the problem, you are likely going to recover or heal faster.
That proactive conversation is so much better. You are not paying all this money to an insurance company for that surgery. There’s a lot you can navigate around. I would say do the massage, both luxuries, and the fascial stretching, particularly if you are in a competitive athlete or in a job position where you are moving.
We always heard the term preventative care. The word preventative care gets thrown around a lot. You can’t prevent much. You can’t prevent getting hit by a car. You can practice things that are helpful to mitigate that risk. Prevention is a word that is thrown around a lot. I use the word proactive a lot. If you could be proactive about your health, you will spend a lot less time being reactive about it. You’ve got to do the work. There’s no quick fix to anything. You’ve got to prioritize your health if you don’t want to age quickly and be in pain all the time. You are not preventing anything. You are being proactive and taking care of your body before it’s too late.
Let’s move on to something that I don’t know if it fits: water, food, and supplements. My sense is the average person doesn’t drink enough water. When they do drink something, it’s way worse because it’s caloric. They drink too many calories. I sense that water is essential for this rest and recovery process or the replenishing element to it.
Going back to walking, if you think it’s too hot in the summer to walk, you are dehydrated. If you are fully hydrated, your body intuitively can auto-regulate. You won’t sweat and be too hot. The same thing, if you sleep too hot, you are probably dehydrated.
Water is a no-brainer. The average person doesn’t drink enough, and they should not just add it but replace whatever else they are drinking with water. What about food? One of the things that I have started to hear a lot about, and Kristen, you are talking about how things are trickling down. This notion of inflammation is suddenly a thing. What you eat can exacerbate or ease inflammation. Is that true?
Inflammation gets in the way of healing and recovery. That’s where this misguided idea of icing comes about.
I’m going to say something controversial. You’ve got to let me know if you get any messages.
My community has become very comfortable.
Forward all of these messages to me, and I will field all of them. Ice does not decrease inflammation.
Unpack a little bit, cold tub, and cryo.
It’s blood flow. I never said the word anti-inflammatory when I was talking about cold tub and cryo. A lot of people like you were talking about the cold and flu commercials, how we are being marketed to think sleep is how you get rid of a cold. That’s what we have been marketed. I love the cryo and the cold tub but it is not anti-inflammatory. It is so healthy in many different ways.
What is it that people are eating that is either causing inflammation? What might they eat to help decrease it?
Sugar, dairy, pretty much probably anything you are eating that’s not one ingredient. It has some inflammation points.
It makes me sad. I love my dairy.
I agree with you, Kristen, but the dairy is good. That gives me a little gas.
That’s your body reacting to it.
It’s true. I don’t do well when I eat bread. I feel groggy.
What about gluten-free bread?
I have tried that, too.
The gluten-free bread is still processed.
If you go back, it is South Beach diet, keto, gluten-free, paleo, whatever it is. I lived in Senegal in 2019 and South Africa in 2014. My family is from Egypt, so we visit there frequently. I love the continent of Africa. Senegal is a former French colony. When I was in Senegal, I ate a baguette every morning for breakfast. I never felt bad. I’m not dissing America. I don’t know much about the food industry. It’s this thing of inflammatory markers and everyone needing an allergy test saying, “I’m sensitive to eggs or dairy.” None of us are sensitive to food. We are sensitive to the crap that’s getting put in food. Look at the yogurt that makes you feel crappy. It’s not the fermented milk that’s making you feel crappy.
It’s all the sugar that is poured into it.
There are words on the back of ingredients labels. I can’t even pronounce them because they are eighteen letters long. Kristen said a good buzzword that is starting to catch on, which is single-ingredient foods. Not every food can be a single ingredient but the fewer ingredients, the better. It’s a good principle to live by.
This made a huge difference in my life. I moved from eating sandwiches to salads. It had a profound effect on the way I look and feel because you are removing processed food and adding micronutrient-rich food that also fills you up. You don’t get hungry as quickly.
Did you notice a cognitive response difference?
I have always been very smart. I can’t say that per se but I certainly felt it physiologically.
Smart is like sharpness, clarity or processing.
You are not getting that lull, big calorie bomb in my stomach.
This can be such an overwhelming conversation but in Big Pharma, there’s big food. There’s a lot of marketing and sales. The simple conclusion, “I have tried everything I have worked with most companies in this space,” is consumer packaged goods. Realistically, we all need some package good at some point, especially if you have kids and convenience but the more you can simplify your situation of plain eggs, fruits and getting away from the process, you can navigate around full elimination of most things when you eat as simple as possible.
Kristen, there’s a saying in CrossFit about food. Do you remember exactly what it is?
I don’t know.
It’s meats, fruits, vegetables, no sugar, some nuts, and seeds.
It’s Paleo. I’m thinking of the Big Mac song. I also think that shocking your body is a good thing, too. Some people get so regimented by the stress that cortisol levels go up. You’ve got to chill.
We are going to ignore supplements. It’s too big. The average person, if they are drinking lots of water and not eating processed food, they are eating fruits and vegetables, lean meats, don’t need supplements.
When in doubt, always remember the health and wellness space. I eat, sleep and breathe. I am this human. Always remember it is a business, bottom line. Someone is monetizing something, so do your homework.
If we were to rank all the things that we have been talking about, the supplements would be close to the bottom.
There’s space for it.
Let’s talk about a cheat day, meal or something. You honed in on it. It is a release of sorts. There are two types of people in the world, the people who don’t cheat enough and the people who cheat too much. We are addressing the people who don’t cheat enough. Does the cheat meal or cheat day fit into R&R, as we are talking about it, in your opinion?
People get so wrapped up, especially when you are in such a competitive situation or a Navy SEAL. There’s such a little gray area to truly let go because the second you do, there’s someone there to take your spot. When I see my high performers cling so hard to this structure, you see cortisol levels and mental health starts to go up, and there’s no release. I don’t even care about the caloric situation for the allergies. Sometimes you need to have a free day, let your mind, body, and everything chill out. Get back to your routine, and it will be there. I do think it’s beneficial for your body and system. Antifragility to shock it, let it recover in itself, and go back to it.
The holidays come and everybody is like, “The average American eats 3,000 calories on Thanksgiving.” You are like, “That’s not the problem.” If you eat well, you can handle 3,000 calories. It’s drinking and eating fast-food every day. It’s not this once every two weeks where you have a burger and fries. It’s the people who eat burgers and fries every day.
One meal will never break and make you. The old saying, “Six packs are made in the kitchen.” You can work out seven days a week as hard as possible, never burn out. If you are eating burgers and fries every night, it’s negating all your workouts. I agree with you in that regard. There is an idea that I have been keeping to myself. I’m going to, in real-time, drop it on the world and see what the reaction is. We talk about cheat meals in the sense of the actual meal. How many calories can my body handle shock? Everything we talked about is real. I’m going through a little bit of mental health revamp myself.
I started seeing a therapist and am going through some personal stuff in a relationship, the whole nine yards. I have some body image issues. I remember talking about food. I grew up as a wrestler and would cut weight all the time. That’s probably where it stemmed from. I was 220 pounds in 8th grade. I was a huge kid. I have always dealt with body dysmorphia and things like that. The idea that I have been thinking about and been working on with someone who’s helping me get through this is not the cheat meal. The cheat meal doesn’t matter like we were talking about. One meal a week doesn’t matter. It’s how you react to the cheat meal.
When you wake up the next morning, how do you feel about it?
How do you feel the next hour? I noticed that my cheat meals are on Sundays. I love watching football, sports, having a beer, going out for wings and fries. I noticed retrospectively that when I was getting home, I was never bingeing and purging or anything like that but I still would feel this guilt. “Why did I do that? I worked so hard all week. Why did I ruin it with wings and beer on a Sunday?”
A lot of people are so focused on the meals but if we take a step back, a lot of people would realize and agree with me. I’m living this in real-time. I’m not focusing on the meal as much. I’m going to keep doing it and binge on a lot of things. My conscious goal for Sunday night is not to feel bad about myself because I know I’m going to eat well because I want to.
Interestingly, you say this because I have changed my language around. I’m not a big cheat meal person. Occasionally, I will hit the dark chocolate a little hard late in the day. I will crave a burrito. Burrito is not that bad for you when you get down to the grand scheme of things. If the average person ate burritos, they are doing okay. For me, sometimes, I pay attention like, “I must be in a caloric deficit. I’m craving this thing.” I have changed the language because I track a lot of things. I use the word indulge rather than binge. It feels a little lighter and uplifting where binge sounds gross.
There’s a negative connotation to it. Everyone likes to indulge. It doesn’t even have to be food. It could be indulging in a relationship and the Netflix thing.
We are going to close with some advice. Before we do that, are there any bad rest and recovery things that people do to pursue a break from the grind that might backfire on them?
That’s personal to you. In general, if you are spending a ton of money on getting something versus addressing the problem, that’s where you are making a wrong turn. It might sound ambiguous but I promise you if someone is reading this and it’s them, they are going to get it. If you are seeking this answer by spending a lot of money and doing all the things you think you should be doing versus what you need to be doing, unpack that personally but that’s your first wrong turn.
If money is not an object, that’s one thing but to a lot of us, that’s not our reality. If you are going to spend a bunch of money and that stresses you out because you are in financial hardship, that could be detrimental. It’s that negative feedback loop. When you make it more of a chore and you are like, “I have to rest and recover because I’m exhausted,” that’s not going to have the same effect of, “I’ve got to rest and recover because I worked so hard.” Making it more of a reward than a chore, you will have a more positive experience.
There is a theme that’s starting to emerge here which is, “How you feel about what you are doing matters as much as what you are doing.” Gretchen Rubin, who wrote a book called The Happiness Project, had a tweet that landed for me years ago. It said, “If you are so tired that all you can do is sit and watch TV, go to bed.”
I have a saying, “Create more than you consume.” It’s fine to consume what I would call nutritious media. With that said, if all you can do is watch TV, that’s not going to be good for you, and you should do something else. If you are going to watch television or a movie, do it with intention and in a way that is going to be stimulating in a sense.
A lot of people are so tired at the end of the day that they plopped down in front of the couch, put something on and let the world do the work for them. If you can break that cycle as I did on those walks in my neighborhood, a lot of good can come from that. Let’s do this at a little bit fast pace. Any non-obvious advice that you would give people about the rest and recovery? Anything that maybe you prepared or come to mind?
I can’t reiterate this enough. It has been such a journey for me to learn but truthfully, learning to be still and listen to your body. You don’t need all these trackable recovery things that all give access, which is great. Everything you need is assessable for truly optimal health.
There’s another theme that’s emerging here, which is, “This is not fancy.” The basics, sleep, water, and walking, get you 80% there.
Your body will tell you to rest around food, nutrition, stress, sex, everything else if you are reading this overwhelming message. If it feels wrong or your skin is breaking out, it’s all there. It’s upping that awareness in general.
It’s nothing I haven’t already said. Coming into this, my non-obvious advice was that rest and recovery don’t have to be sleeping and doing nothing like, “I’m going to be a couch potato because I’m tired.” A lot of times, it has a bad outcome. My advice would be, even if it’s an activity, find something that fills you up because every day you are going to get emptied, whether that’s from work, professionally or personally. Your rest and recovery can be movement as long as that movement is filling you up and not depleting you.
You can tell I care a lot about this, and I’m thinking a lot about it. I’m going to give you three. The first one, and you alluded to it, Kristen, is looking in the mirror. Strip all your clothes off, get good lighting and stand in front of the mirror. That’s going to tell you a lot about how you feel in that sense. You need to get to know your body in the same way as important to get to know your mind and persona and become comfortable with that because it allows you to feel good when what you see feels good. You were talking about body dysmorphia. I noticed this with me, too. I’m like, “Why is my skin so bad?” It’s not because of my skincare routine. It’s because of how I’m sleeping, eating or what my stress levels are.
One of the practices that have helped me a lot because I had a hard time looking in the mirror was taking a picture at that moment and looking at that picture. I don’t know why but it’s something psychologically. For some people that are struggling with body image issues, looking at a ten-second-old picture is easier. Even though nothing has changed, it’s something about looking at yourself live. Work towards the mirror but that’s the first step.
I want people to feel proud of their bodies. One of the things I always talked about is the media presents these amazing bodies. Have you spent any time on Instagram? Not only are you seeing people who are training and doing everything they can to have this great body but they are also using filters, lighting and doing all these things. I always talk about having the best body that you can have.
They have their issues, too. I promise you, it’s the most beautiful fit humans think is all good but they are unpacking the same side.
The next one is a lot of what we have talked about are small interventions considered a big one. One of the things I started doing during the pandemic were reading retreats where I would take off for 5, 7 days, no pile of books, almost no electronics, pads of paper, and a little bit of cannabis on the last day and would sit, read, walk and be detached from the world. I would still work out but wouldn’t crush myself during that time. I would come back re-invigorated in a sense. Thinking about what I might be able to do to take a longer break, take a vacation. Americans are terrible about taking vacations. When they take vacations, they do it half-assed. Oftentimes, they bring work with them.
The last one is, especially for the types of people who have a hard time switching off, I like to trick myself. I do what I call a move with joy workout. If I’m low energy but I want to move, I go into the gym and do things that I like to do. I will do some handstands and balance work. I’m not pushing myself to the edge in any way, shape or form but I do lots of things that bring me joy. The other one is I joke about the guy at my gym. He’s like, “How many towels do you want?” “I want the full boat.” I get three towels and do my executive workout. I go, sit in the steam room, and sweat.
I push a ton of water through me. I haven’t done any exercise, yet I feel flush and have gotten some toxins out of me. It can be a very nice feeling to have. I bring these up not to tell other people they should be doing executive workouts or reading retreats but think about things that work with your schedule and set of challenges to try to find a little bit of peace and pleasure in your rest and recovery. Thank you. This is very fun. Everybody reading, please give us feedback.
- Shtick to Business
- Turmeric & Tequila
- Denver Sports Recovery
- Kristen Olson
- Turmeric & Tequila – Past Episode
- The Happiness Project
- @KOAlliance – Instagram
- @SteveNagib – Instagram
About Steve Nagib
Steve Nagib earned his undergraduate degree in Athletic Training from the University of Pittsburgh and Master’s Degree in Human Physiology from the University of Oregon. He is a general manager at Denver Sports Recovery.
About Kristen M. Olson
Kristen M. Olson is an entrepreneur, Former D1 athlete, CrossFit Games Athlete, dog mom, and host of the podcast Turmeric & Tequila.