What was learned could save your life, and make you a more focused person.
I remember a traumatic experience at a swimming class when I was very young. I don’t remember how old I was, but I do remember the instructor simply asking me to put my face underwater, but I would freak out. I left the class completely defeated. Even to this day, the smell of an indoor pool or chlorine brings back a sliver of a memory of that time, place, and moment of defeat. It was hard, and I quit. That apprehension in the water still exists to this day, even after years of riding waves. Who would have thought that one day I’d be training with a former Marine Raider?
Fast forward many years and I slowly trained myself to be more comfortable in pools and the ocean. I learned to ride waves in my teens from the older guys. Eventually my love for riding waves overrode some of that apprehension. Key word: some. It’s obvious that the more you do something the more comfortable you get, so over the years, I did just that: got more comfortable by default.
As I got more into fitness and training in my late teens and 20s, I started to get even more confident as I got bigger, stronger, and improved my cardiovascular fitness. I started to experiment with making my own workouts in the pool and ocean, usually small circuits mixed with swims, but nothing with any sort of professional prescription. Even more recently, like in the last couple years, I’ve seen a lot of success with apnea training and using an apnea training app for O2 and CO2 tests. All of this has been great, but it’s just a scratch on the surface to what I learned in two days with a former Marine Raider, an actual professional in the water.
Discovering Deep End Fitness
I stumbled on Deep End Fitness a couple of years ago on Instagram (@deependfitness) after seeing some intense underwater training. I said to myself that I needed to experience this. It’s something I wish I had in my teens.
On a recent trip to San Diego for an insane multi-day running event, I decided to take an extra two days to get in a session with the Deep End guys. I reached out and was connected with Rick Briere, a 34-year old Master Instructor with Deep End Fitness and a former Marine Special Operations Raider with combat experience in Afghanistan. He served 8 years before becoming an instructor. For more background on Marine Raiders, they were originally formed during World War II but were no longer active at the end of the war, then they were reactivated in 2006. They are considered to be highly elite forces that are trained to be ready for anything.
I learned a tremendous amount from Rick in just two days…
The Initial Recon
After connecting with Rick, I sent over a list of about 10 questions to learn as much as I could about him, Deep End Fitness, and this training so I’d be best prepared for the experience and to tell the story afterwards. What was most interesting from this initial exploration was just how important mental fitness and resilience is to what they do and teach.
Diving In: Day One
We showed up at the pool at 8AM. Rick had a few pairs of goggles, a GoPro, and two dumbbells. I was instantly excited. Although, it was a little chilly.
We started the session with breath work. Rick explained how to take deep breaths from the belly or diaphragm and not just the chest. We then practiced some basic box breathing where we took deep inhales, paused at the top for a few seconds, then slowly released. Then, we worked on recovery breaths, much slower, natural-like breathing but with intense focus. The slight nervousness I had slowly shifted to calmness here.
From there we tread water. I was surprised to learn that I tread water like shit. I was wasting a ton of energy by fluttering my feet and not closing my fingers together. Rick taught me to kick my legs out to my sides more like a frog and to close the gaps in my fingers.
Then we moved into Bobs, the act of sinking to the bottom while slowly letting out air, then exploding to the surface only to repeat again and again. On the first day it was much harder than it looks on the gram, but I slowly picked it up. (Day two was significantly better, in fact, quite euphoric at one point.)
Next up was max breath holds. Simply grabbing the wall, the goal was to just take a deep breath and hold for as long as possible. Initially I struggled, but progressively improved with each round, but still, could hold for significantly less time than I can on land. My max breath hold on land is about 2:30, in the water, it was 40 seconds this day. To put it into perspective, Rick is about 5 minutes in the water. On land, God only knows.
After the breath holds was a small circuit including something called Gutter Ups (essentially muscling yourself up and out of the pool) followed by a short Freestyle swim, followed by a series of Bobs. It was surprisingly quite hard.
Finally, the main event, the Dumbbell Walk. Rick jumped in the pool with the two dumbbells straight to the bottom, 13 feet. Here, he explained the importance of remaining calm, focused, and taking the task one step at a time. His first directive was to simply swim to the bottom, touch the dumbbells, then return to the surface. The first time was a little shaky, and I thought there was no way I could swim all the way down, then carry those dumbbells anywhere. I recovered, focused, went down, touched the dumbbells and stood up, then returned to the surface. His next directive: Grab them, stand up, lean forward, and walk to the first line. I did it. Then it became the second line, then he tweaked my form a bit to be more efficient at carrying them. Then, I made it to the middle of the pool! Wild! Couldn’t believe it!
At this point, Caitlin, who was also going through the training, did her walks in the 7 foot lane. Inspired by her successful carries, I decided to give the 7 foot lane a try. To my own surprise, I was able to make it all the way to the other side. Completely stoked!
Day One Training Takeaways
- Being able to focus on your breath, breathing, and focus is an incredibly powerful tool, I think a lot more powerful than we even may realize. There’s a lot of talk of mental resilience, mental fitness, and breath work, but being put into a situation where it needs to be applied in a survival / life situation, it really shows what we’re capable of.
- Breaking a task down into smaller steps is the key to everything.
Diving In: Day Two
Initially, there wasn’t supposed to be a day two. It was just going to be a day with Rick, but after sharing a meal together, learning about each other’s shared appreciation for the water and fitness and challenging ourselves, Rick said a second day would be another day of tremendous growth, and he was not wrong.
We started day two exactly the same way with breathwork, but this time, I went into it with even more hyper focus. My goal was to absolutely crush what I did the day before. I knew I was capable of much more, but may have been caught up in the moment of meeting someone new, being somewhere new, and trying something quite wild. In fact, many of the local swimmers were starstruck both times Rick showed up. He’s a kind, humble beast that wanted to just share every ounce of knowledge he had. Not only was I impressed with his physical abilities and coaching abilities, but his openness to help anyone and everyone that popped over to ask a quick one.
Next, the max breath holds. This time, because of my focus and extra attention during the breath work, I was able to smash my time by more than 30 seconds. Cait had a similar experience.
Then, onto the Bobs again. This time, after a few wobbly ones, I started to enter a state of trance or euphoria. I was completely comfortable, I flowed up and down, inhaling and exhaling in total harmony. Honestly, it’s one of the most peaceful moments in my life. Rick saw it and he pushed me to do it for 30 seconds non-stop. I felt as though I could have gone all day.
Next, we learned Crossovers. Simply (but not so simply) kicking off the wall, getting as streamlined as possible, and making it to the other side in one breath. This is something I still need some work on, but since we didn’t practice on day one, I’m giving myself a break. I was able to make it across, but with junky form. Rick gave me a few small tips like keeping my head down when driving forward, keeping my arms tight to my sides, and dipping my head and torso down when my body started to float up.
Next was a circuit, but tougher than day one. This one gassed me. Three rounds of 10 dumbbell snatches, 10 gutter ups, a 25 yard freestyle swim, and a 25 yard crossover. Considering I was feeling much better in the water and had some familiarity with this type of workout, I did fairly well. We didn’t time it, but I was definitely very tired during the freestyle swims and crossovers. Most of my crossovers needed an inhale midway through. But, I did it.
Finally, it was time to challenge myself with another dumbbell walk. This time, instead of doing it in the 7 foot lane, I was going all the way to 13, and my goal was to get 3/4 of the way instead of 1/2 of the way this time. Rick told me to take my time, connect with my breath. I told him I was going to take his advice from day one and take it in small steps, just touch them, return, and reset. He liked the idea. After completing the first task, it was time to go for it. I took the deepest breath I could, kicked to the bottom, picked them up, focused on one foot in front of the other and walked. Line one, line two, line three, line four… I started to feel a little convulsion, but relocked my focus on one step at a time, I was just about there and wanted to stop, I did enough, but I hear Rick screaming “YESSSSS” underwater, which pushed me further. I made it. I swam all the way to the bottom, grabbed those dumbbells and walked all the way to the other side of the pool. I was completely in shock. I was completely blown away by how powerful the mind is. Rick was just as stoked, if not more stoked than I was. What a great experience. We hit the hot tub the warm up, then it was off to the airport. But this is not a good-bye forever.
Day Two Training Takeaways
- Everything I learned in Day One was just amplified in Day Two. The power of focusing on your breath and breathwork, and the power of taking things one step at a time.
- Rick Briere, and Deep End Fitness are doing something very unique and special. For all the talk about the power of the mind, a lot of it is hard to actually measurably see. The power of the mind was proven time and time again during both days. Longer breath holds, longer carries, more efficient Bobs, everything.
- I can’t wait to do more with Rick and Deep End Fitness and hope that others get to experience it as well.
A Human to Follow: Rick Briere
Rick Briere is a 34-year old Master Instructor with Deep End Fitness (DEF) and a former Marine Special Operations Raider with combat experience in Afghanistan. He served 8 years.
Marine Raiders are a special operations force originally established by the US Marine Corps during WWII to conduct amphibious light infantry warfare.
Rick and Deep End Fitness coach people on creating and developing a process on how to handle daunting situations such as being trapped underwater. He excels at teaching people to overcome the anxieties that come from those situations.
Rick describes the DEF practice as movement, breathwork, and strengthening one’s mind towards optimizing human performance both in and out of the water.
During our sessions, many of the local swimmers were starstruck both times Rick showed up. He’s a kind, humble beast that wanted to just share every ounce of knowledge he had. Not only was I impressed with his physical abilities and coaching abilities, but his openness to help anyone and everyone that popped over to ask a quick one.