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What Training Like A Navy SEAL Taught Me About Recovery

Steve Costello
May 26, 2016
Steve Costello
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Photo by Stocksy
May 26, 2016

Picture this: 14-mile overnight mountain hikes; 8 hours overnight "surf torture"; 450-pound monster logs; crawling through thorns; hostage interrogations; lock picking; and thousands of push-ups, pull-ups, air squats, and burpees.

Welcome to Special Forces "crucible experiences" for civilians. I've just completed two in the last three weeks: the 50-hour SEALFIT Kokoro Camp in California with no sleep, and the 36-hour Mill Gym Cadre Camp in Perth, Australia, with 10 minutes of sleep and one Snickers bar.

Kokoro (Japanese for "merging the heart and mind in action") is modeled after the U.S. Navy SEAL Hell Week, and the Cadre Camp is an abridged version of international Tier 1 Special Forces selection course. Both camps are designed to smash you open and rebuild you into a better leader and teammate. After 12 to 15 hours, your body is done; it becomes more about spiritual growth, via extreme physical measures.

It's true to say, "If the mind is willing, the body will follow," but you have to train hard for these camps and be 100-percent committed. You also have to focus on your recovery just as much as your training—that's what kept me on track and injury-free.

In the months leading up to back-to-back camp experiences, I researched many different recovery methods, consulted experts, and made myself a human guinea pig. Here are the 10 things I believe worked for me and allowed me to not only survive Special Forces–type training but to actually thrive. Many are inexpensive, except the cost of a little time and effort.

1. Nutritional IV Therapy

As a means of treating fatigue, I visited The Drip Club, Adelaide every two weeks for megadose combinations of vitamins (C and B complex), minerals (iron, magnesium, zinc), and antioxidants (glutathione and alpha-lipoic acid) in their most potent form, directly into my bloodstream.

2. Journaling

Every morning, after drinking a glass of water with lime, I'd quickly note down anything I was grateful for. It would be simple stuff—like the roof over my head, a fridge full of food, or the vitality to undergo the challenging quest ahead of me.

3. Kokoro Yoga

Yoga therapy is an emerging field of self-care with scientifically proven benefits for your anatomy, body, and physiology. I followed the sequences found in Kokoro Yoga, which opened my spine and hips and stimulated blood flow after eight hours of sleeping.

4. Box Breathing

Using the Pranayama Breathing app, I "Box Breathed" for 10 minutes before and after my workouts. This involves inhaling, holding, exhaling, and holding, for four seconds each. This reduced my mental chatter, balanced my energy, and renewed my focus.

5. Meditation

This is like a magic potion that's existed for thousands of years to combat stress, worry, and lack of focus. Its side effects include improved peace of mind, well-being, focus, creativity, and better relationships—all of which have been proven by scientific studies. I attended Vipassana, followed by 450 consecutive days of Headspace.

6. Sleep

I approached sleep as a critical aspect of my recovery and often let myself wake naturally without an alarm to give my body the rest it needed overnight. I slept deeper when lying on my nondominant side and wearing nasal strips and took a short eight-minute daytime naps with my feet elevated to stimulate blood flow.

7. Tea

I replaced coffee with loose-leaf tulsi (holy basil), Pu-erh, and licorice. I liked the calm focus that the theanine from single-origin green tea gave me.

8. Supplements

I experienced better strength, stamina, aerobic capacity, mood, and recovery from a natural testosterone booster and adaptogenic herbs like rhodiola rosea, Sensoril® ashwagandha, shilajit (used in Ayurvedic medicine), and maca (20:1 extract).

I took systemic enzymes, which lower c-reactive protein (a measure of inflammation) without the toxic burden of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). They also eat scar tissue, cleanse the blood, and boost immunity.

Finally, I used transdermal magnesium, a key mineral that's depleted with sweat and stress in athletes. (All supplements are available here.)

9. Cold thermogenesis (CT)

In Beyond Training, Ben Greenfield says CT enhances your immune system's ability to fight infection, improves blood flow (great for endurance performance), metabolic efficiency, and recovery. On top of that, you'll be cold and wet for most of both camps. So why not get used to that feeling ahead of time while accessing the recovery benefits? Throughout my training, I'd take a daily cold shower, Friday ice baths, and Sunday ocean swims. I wouldn't leave until my body felt numb.

10. Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) practitioners have helped athletes' recovery from fatigue, pain, and injuries for thousands of years—and I do believe that the occasional acupuncture session improved my sleep, mobility, and digestion.

"Health comes from balanced Qi, or energy flow within us," says Dr. Carla Brion of SA Integrated Therapies. "Where there is pain, there is stagnation, and where there is lethargy, there is deficiency."

A TCM practitioner can also assess your nutritional habits and needs. Here's an example: "If you struggle with lethargy, fatigue, and a lack of appetite, cook your food with warming spices like ginger, and avoid cold drinks, sugar, and dairy," says Brion. "But if you're moody or irritable, eat more celery, cabbage, beets, nori, leeks, basil, bay leaves, rosemary, and grass-fed beef while avoiding alcohol, coffee, fatty and fried foods."

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Steve Costello

Steve Costello is a freelance writer, editor, and SEALFIT Kokoro 42 graduate. In a former life, he was a teacher and lawyer. Connect with him via Twitter @SteveWCostello.