Nam Baldwin – World Champion and Olympic Athlete Elite Performance Coach
Imagine being out in the Southern Ocean far from land and dropping into a giant wave that is as tall as a 3 storey building. It looms high above you as you slide out your bottom turn, then you are sucked up and over falls, pushed down hard by dark cold water that has the force of an explosion. Whilst being held under, without air, you don’t panic but rather you are calm and clear on the decisions you take which save your life.
Today on the podcast I am joined by elite performance coach Nam Baldwin. Coach of surfing multiple world champions Mick Fanning and Stephanie Gilmore, numerous Olympic athletes & many other elite performance sports & business teams. Nam Baldwin is a specialist in Emotional & Physiological Intelligence. Basically thinking & acting differently under pressure.
- [3:01] Nam’s process for developing oneself aligned to your identity, vision & values.
- [4:38] The terrain travelled, car & driver model of optimal performance.
- [6:30] Mick Fanning’s dynamic warm up video.
- [7:45] The outrageous challenge Cheyne Horan asked of Nam as a training objective.
- [8:20] Testing the various facets of a panic response mixing science with experience.
- [9:30] Teaching athletes to habitually go into deep meditative states on cue.
- [12:44] Using the parasympathetic response to help with anxiety, pain control & recovery.
- [14:55] “The quality of a person’s life is down to the quality of their emotions!“
- [17:20] Using Kinesiology to check muscle activation & effectiveness.
- [19:30] Overcoming horrific obstacles to achieve greatness.
- [21:50] How a good process / routine can prevent athletes “choking”.
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- What are your favourite instructional books or resources on health and nutrition? If there has been a book that has deeply changed your life what one was it and what did it fundamentally change in you?
- If you had to prescribe 3 daily exercises or practices to make a significant change to a million people in 8 weeks what would you have them do?
- Having worked with multiple elite athletes & teams what are the biggest mistakes that you see most amateurs making?
- Who do you think is an excellent competitor that transformed themselves from a basic base?
- What does the progression of your programs look like? What phases do you take people through and why?
- I believe you make comprehensive training programs covering a lot of traditional and non-traditional areas like emotional intelligence. Can you please tell us about your programs and what makes them so different?
- (Part 1) For people that don’t know what breathe enhancement training is could you please explain what that is? (Part 2) To me it has to be part about the mind going further than it believes it can under extreme pressure. I think about Ross Clark Jones in the Storm Surfers film talking about when he is held under 15 foot waves he imagines he goes into a nightclub , looks at the girls, what they are drinking, has a dance with them etc. How do you train to get past the panic to believe you can do something?
- What does the optimal elite athlete look like to you? If you had to divide up 100% to strength & fitness training, flexibility, nutrition and mindset – what split would you allocate and why?
- (Part 1) Who are your heroes and why do you admire them so greatly? (part 2) What is the best lesson that they have taught you and how do you bring then this to your athletes?
- Can you please tell us where can people go to find out more about you and your programs
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Announcer: Welcome to the fitbits.com podcast, where we show people who want to be happy and healthy how to get the maximum from their training and nutrition, even if they hate to exercise or diet.
Anthony: Imagine being out in the southern ocean far from land and dropping into a giant wave that is as tall as a three story building, your limbs high above you as you slide out at your bottom hand turn. And then you’re sucked up and over the falls, pushed down hard by dark cold water with the force of an explosion. Whilst being held under without air you don’t panic, but rather you’re calm and clear on the decisions you take which save your life. Today on the podcast I am joined by elite performance coach, Nam Baldwin, coach of surfing multiple world champions Mick Fanning and Stephanie Gilmore, numerous Olympic athletes and many other elite performance sports and business teams. Nam is a specialist in emotional and physiological intelligence. Basically, thinking and acting differently under pressure.
Anthony: Hi Nam. Welcome to The FitBits Podcast today.
Nam: Thank you Anthony. It’s wonderful to be here.
Anthony: So, can I just start by asking who are your heroes and why do you admire them so greatly?
Nam: Well, heroes, my heroes, I think if I’d like to just start with this, a hero to me is someone that I admire in relation to what they’ve done in their life, but has contributed or given back to other people. And growing up partly in South Africa during Apartheid, Nelson Mandela was someone that we spoke about a lot in our household and when we were living there he obviously went through tremendous challenge. And my father was working with some of his allies from the ANC, and he would come home and discuss the challenges that he was going through, and as kids we learned so much about our value system and what that means as a human that you have sound values. And looking at Nelson Mandela, he obviously is so much about other people and giving back, and going to such adversity to get to the point where he got to was something that I always looked at and after reading his book and being in that experience as it was unfolding, it really build part of my identity in relation to assisting other people and learning so much about myself in the process, so that I could then be completely authentic with what I teach.
Anthony: I think there’s very few people that are legends in their own lifetime. I guess Mohamed Ali was one of them that’s just left us. And yeah, Nelson Mandela’s just an amazing, amazing role model. Could you tell us what’s the best lesson that Mandela taught you and how would you bring that to, say, your athletes?
Nam: Yes, I guess probably big thing for me is, first of all, get to know yourself. In other words, get to understand how you think, your emotions, what you love, what you dislike, your strengths, your weaknesses, get to know your identity. And then really be clear on your vision. And that’s what he was so good at was he had a vision and he stuck to it. So once you know what you want, then discover the process which will obviously help you get there. And a couple of things that come with that in my mind is make sure you surround yourself with people that can assist you, and then within that experience when you’ve got the right people around you, make sure that you always get to the inconvenient truths as in things that you might need to really look at, but may be a little bit inconvenient for you to do so. So looking at your weaknesses and seeing if you can learn and grow from that. So, he was a shining example of that in relation to having a vision and then obviously having the right character, knowing his identity that could help him move forward, closer and closer, towards his vision and it took 27 years, but in the end he got there.
Anthony: Absolutely amazing. And I guess with training a number of world champions and working with elite athletes, what does the optimal elite athlete look like to you? If you had to divide up 100% to strength and fitness training, flexibility, nutrition and mind-set, what split would you allocate and why?
Nam: Good question. Well, the physical is very, very important depending on what is it participating in, but making sure that they’ve got that as a deep foundation. That’s always obviously something that I would lean towards at the beginning of working with someone, is to discover some of their physical attributes and potential weaknesses they may have. And then with the flexibility, obviously that comes with the physicality. In other words you want to be strong, but also flexible. And again, depending on the positions that they have to go into, flexibility is a great part. The nutrition is the fuel for the engine and the body that’s doing all the work. So, that’s a very important part as well. And then the mind-set is really…in my mind, that is the athlete. So that’s obviously got to be worked on in a great way. The split? Well, everything needs to be in balance. I know that’s probably escaping the answer, but if you think about it, you do need balance of all things. And then in different circumstances in the events that people have, they may have to call upon any one of those things and I guess you would discover some weaknesses in those areas that may need to be worked on more than others. That would only come from working with an individual. Would I see what would be necessary to work on the most? That’s probably asking the why in relation to the split. Until I know the athlete, it’s tricky to answer that question. But once that’s established, I always go through all of those processes within a session.
Anthony: Makes a lot of sense. I was amazed. One of my favorite videos I think on YouTube is actually of Mick Fanning warming up. I’ve never seen anyone do such a dynamic warm up before in my life. That’s just a video that I like to watch over and over. I think it’s fantastic. For people that don’t know what Breath Enhancement Training is, could you explain what that is?
Nam: Yes, yes so that they can’t ignore the principal. Yes, breath enhancement training, myself and my partner put together many, many years ago. I got approached by a great guy called Shane Haran who in his day, surfed up some most ridiculously big waves and I was very much into free diving when I was younger and managed to really improve my breath hold beyond what is normal. And from there, teaching scuba diving at the time, I was approached by a number of big wave riders because of the fact that they heard I had held my breath for so long. And one of the first guys, the first guy, was Shane Haran. He asked me can we help him improve his breath hold when he goes under high pressure, high stress in a wipeout scenario. And it was pretty evident to me that a good breath hold requires complete calmness. So that was pretty tricky to provide. He was wanting minutes on end and I said, “Well, okay, what’s the environment?” And he said, “It’s amongst 60, 70 foot waves.” I said, “Well, that can be really tricky because you are pulling yourself in one direction and pushing in another.” So I then said, “But I can think about it, come up with an idea and then if you like, we can test it.”
So me and my partner basically went to a coffee shop, had a couple of the people around us that were wanting to do it as well. We came up with some tremendous ideas of how to challenge the nervous system, the mind, the lungs, breathing, all being under a considerable amount of stress. That was the first step, is to go, “Okay, well let’s make it realistic to surfers in particular because they go out in high heart rate, intense stress and they need a good breath hold in the same scenario.” So very quickly we went out and tested what we knew from science, what she had studied, what I had studied from martial arts and free diving and we came up with this program that then allowed athletes and surfers initially to extend their breath hold whilst under stress. And then teach themselves or teach them how to self-regulate their nervous system response, their flight or fight response, all in the matter of wiping out, coming back up, taking the next wave on the head, getting out the back, all in the matter of moments where they could really assist themselves to come out of that high stress response, deal with high levels of carbon dioxide that you experience when you do a breath hold, when your heart rate is elevated, when you are getting thrashed around.
And then from there we just, on top of that we build a little component of it that taught athletes and surfers how to go into deep levels of meditation through very simplistic mental queues that allowed them to reduce their breathing rate to about one or two breath cycles a minute without any effort. And then from there that obviously opened up tremendous pathways from a brain’s perspective and nervous system’s perspective to gain greater insights about oneself and how to deal with stress in a better way, what worked, what didn’t. And on top of that adding in a training component that involved letting all the air out of your lungs and then doing activity under high pressure with no air in your lungs, so that if that occurred, you could then deal with that consequence. And that opened the door tremendously for a deep level of initially what’s called the parasympathetic response where the nervous system calms down so dramatically that we’ve now discovered that it really helped people who have deep anxiety, deep pain due to an injury. It really helps the healing process of those things.
And then it led into working with top athletes. One of our first athletes that we worked with was Pat Rafter, the tennis player, and we were meant to just train him for a six week block, but we ended up training him for three years just because he got so much out of the program, not only for tennis, but also for his surfing and dealing with stress every day. We discovered that this program lead into now athletic performance not just surfing performance and it had such tremendous uses for all athletes because the foundation of performance, in my mind, starts with the breath. So it linked in so well to everything else that we teach.
Anthony: I was fascinated by the… I guess what you just said there, in part, was about going beyond what the instinctive body reaction is. You can…you are very deliberately going past the point where the fight or flight kicks in and you would just necessarily take an action based on what the body wants, but being able to control and make rational decisions beyond that. I think that’s got so much application to all sports.
Nam: Yeah, that’s right.
Anthony: We all come up against limits that we think that we can’t do something. I wonder if you might elaborate a little bit on, you mentioned there about slowing the breathing rate down to one or two breaths a second. Is that almost like a meditative state where the brain is getting some time for recovery of its own?
Nam: Yes, one or two breaths per minute not per second. One or two breaths per minute meaning an in-breath and an out-breath is a cycle. So it’s one or two breath cycles in a minute. Yeah, what you are doing in essence is breathing in such a way that the nervous system in particular starts to really go into what we call a parasympathetic state, which then lowers the brain wave activity. So thoughts start to dissipate. And then in those moments you have the ability to process information so much better. So if you look at deeper version of that, it would be going to sleep because we sleep for many reasons, but one of them is to help process information. So when we go into this state, and we regulate our breathing to that level through other little physical attributes, you allow your brain to process a tremendous amount of information whilst consciously awake, which is quite a neat process and that in itself has such a great benefits because if there is any stress that maybe in the background, in your subconscious, I believe that during this process we assist other people to process that information and let go of some of the behavioral characteristic traits that put them into stress through their own thinking. That’s really powerful.
Anthony: I believe you make comprehensive training programs covering a lot of traditional and non-traditional areas like emotional intelligence. Can you please tell us about your programs and what makes them so different?
Nam: Yeah, we call it EPIC, which is Emotional and Physiological Intelligence for the Community and it’s combining both the emotional component of learning, so learning about emotions and what triggers different emotions, the whole chemistry behind emotions within the brain and the body. And then also the physicality or the physiology behind how nutrition assists us in how we think and feel, how activity and exercise can really help us through challenges and looking at the best ways though neuroscience, through holistic methods, and then through the scientific realm too. The best ways in which we can assist people understand more about themselves because in my mind, the quality of a person’s life is down to the quality of their emotions. So the more that they know about their own emotions and what creates them, the easier it is that they can then regulate them. I guess probably the biggest thing that I’ve discovered over the years of doing all of this is the biggest gain in my life has been from being able to self-regulate how I feel. But I’ve only been able to work on that through understanding and learning different techniques that help me gain control of the emotional brain in particular, which tends to lead into the fight or flight response.
And that program is purely a very comprehensively basic level of emotional, physiological and intelligence to give people an understanding about themselves, so that they can better the life that they are living and it’s had great success. We’ve been running it for about four and a half years now and it just seems to attract more and more people with greater and greater results. So, it’s being wonderful.
Anthony: Yeah, fantastic. Are you referring there to a bit to the croc brain or the monkey brain, you know, the primal brain, that is taking control of that? Are you familiar with…?
Nam: Yeah, that’s right, yeah. You’ve got, in very basic terms, you’ve got three parts.
Anthony: What does the progressions of your programs look like? What phases do people go through and why do you put them through that staging?
Nam: Yeah, so initially taking a person on to actually start in an office with a white board where we can throw down what’s the vision, what are we after. So we start with part of the mind-based concepts first and get an understanding of who I’m dealing with and what they’re after, because if they don’t have a goal post, it’s pretty tricky to then assist them in the other realms. So that’s probably the first process, is just to discover what it is that they would like to get or achieve. And then yeah, definitely take them through a physical component that allows me to assess how they move, any areas that may be potentially not aligning with their body. So I go through a muscle check, through kinesiology and being a kinesiologist you can check a number of muscles in the body and see whether they are firing effectively and doing what they should be doing, so that the body stays in balance when we go through activities. So that’s a very important step, is to assess, have they got muscle activation happening within their body? Every session we then go back to that and make sure that muscles are working effectively, because different athletes have such stresses going through their body, it can change the function of their muscles and how they fire. So that’s an important part. We really look at nutrition. I believe that that’s a major component to build from right from the start so that the fuel going into the body is optimal and making sure that they’re very clear in understanding how that works. So a lot of the processes that I get my athletes or whoever I’m working with, to understand is that I will teach them so they can then get it clearly in their mind why they are doing it and then there’s a greater reason for them to follow through.
Phases, well, we go through a number of different physical phases obviously towards an event and making sure that always aligns with anything that may be coming up. Because with surfers it’s a 12-event process over a year. So you’ve got to be every aware of when they are going to be peaking, etc. and the whole thing about us a humans we go through so many different levels ourselves in terms of biorhythms and weather changes, and conditions changing, and places where they travel to and so on. So we must have a progression around what we do, so that we can meet the environmental and all the different things an athlete, or anyone, goes through. We’ve got to make sure that there’s a nice progression through that, so that they can get the best of their ability to come out when it counts.
Anthony: Yeah, very interesting. Can you think of a…someone who is an excellent competitor that transformed themselves from a basic base?
Nam: I think Mick Fanning is probably the prime example. He ripped his hamstring off the bone, and then came back to win a world title couple of years later. Working with a really good trainer at the time, Jan Carton [SP] who does a check form of training. That was incredible. And before that, yes, he was a very good surfer, but didn’t have any real training program under his belt. And then that was when he started to really kick into gear, into training and from a basic level, he sort of was the forerunner of getting surfers into physical training. And consequently, he’s won three world titles and arguably one of the fittest guys on the tour. Amazing man.
Anthony: And his body is every bit the athletes body these days, isn’t it?
Nam: Yeah, and he has his weaknesses. He’s got some pretty good scoliosis going on in his spine, but he manages, we manage to work around that and improve upon it, so that he doesn’t get injured and that’s probably one of the biggest things that I pride myself on it from his perspective, is that the five years that we’ve been working together, we’ve never had an injury that took him out of an event.
Anthony: Having worked with a word with multiple elite athletes and teams, what are the biggest mistakes you see most amateurs making?
Nam: Probably overthinking. They let their mind take them out of the event itself. That’s probably the biggest thing I see is that they get too anxious due to lack of experience potentially and then not having a process in which they follow. So letting their mind wander, and therefore emotions go with it and that interferes with their performance.
Anthony: And if you had to prescribe say three daily exercises or practices to make a significant change to a million people in just eight weeks, what would you have them do?
Nam: Definitely some form of exercise, a physical component obviously. I would blend that to both cardio and strength bearing activity. That would be one exercise. I would then really get them to do some mindfulness meditational work and breathing involved together, so that they can learn to calm their nervous system and obviously help self-regulate the thoughts they have in their mind. And then work on nutrition, nutritional practices such as eating clean wholefoods, hydrating. And within that component also recovery, how to recover from stress. Whether it be exercise, stress that you experience at work, etc.
Anthony: With your exercise-based training, are you more into say gymnastic style training or body weight exercise, or is it weight room type exercise?
Nam: A little bit of all of that really. I like to blend it all in. As you get older, you tend to get weaker and less flexible so I like, with an athlete, to bring all aspects of body weight, some weight bearing, and then obviously some movement that involves multi-joint movement and activity that again is similar to the discipline of what they’re doing, so that they can be sure that their body is prepared to, if it’s a surfer, literally almost be crumpled by a ton of water or going into a position where they are almost upside down or landing from doing a massive aerial. We’ve got to involve all of those components.
Anthony: And what about your favorite instructional books or resources? Is there any book that’s deeply changed your life?
Nam: There’s many. Where would I start? Let me think. Well, currently I am reading, probably for the fifth time, “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.” That’s a really good book by Stephen Covey.
Anthony: Stephen Covey.
Nam: Yeah. I had some really good alliances or alignment with “Art of Mental Training” by DC Gonzales. That was a really good book too. “The Walk to Freedom” with Nelson Mandela, I really enjoyed that. I thought that was very, very powerful just from the story he was saying. No one book, there’s many.
Anthony: Was there one that made a fundamental change in you?
Nam: Well, “The Long Walk to Freedom” I read in Fiji at about four days, which is quite a feat itself because it’s a very thick book. But that was a great changer. I really enjoyed that, that’s for sure.
Anthony: I’ll have to pick that one up and have a read.
Nam: Yeah, and then there was one actually, I have to say, there is this other one that I read many years ago, probably almost 20 years ago. It was “The Peaceful Warrior” by Dan Millman and that was really, had a really big effect on me back then.
Anthony: I’ll dig those up and get some reading.
Nam: Yeah, they’re pretty good. You’ll enjoy them.
Anthony: Fantastic. Thank you for that. Could you tell us where people can go to find out more about you and your programs?
Nam: Yeah, sure. Probably the easiest place is to visit our website, www.equalize.com.au. You can just jump on there and then go from there and there’s some contact details that you can obviously get through with email, etc. and have a look around.
Anthony: Yeah, I saw there’re some great articles on your blog there too. I really liked the one about oxygen being the missing supplement.
Nam: Yeah, absolutely.
Anthony: That was great. Really good read, I should say. Well Nam, thanks for being on the podcast today. It’s been fascinating to talk to you. There’s probably hours more I could talk about. No doubt half an hour is not going to do it justice. But yeah, thank you very much for giving me some of your time.
Nam: Thank you Anthony. Thank you for exposing me and letting me voice some of these things. It’s wonderful.
Anthony: It’s fascinating. Absolute pleasure. Thank you very much.
Nam: Awesome. Thank you.
Anthony: See ya.
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