Focusing on Post-Traumatic Growth

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A firefighter works with the TRX suspension system.
David Pacileo, a firefighter with the Marine Corps Logistics Base Barstow, California, Security and Emergency Services Fire Department, trains with the TRX system at the Yermo Annex fire station on May 26, 2015. (Carlos Guerra/Marine Corps Logistics Base Barstow)

The TRX is truly a revolutionary fitness product that has brought a new fitness genre called “suspension training” to the masses.

For the past decade, we have incorporated the TRX into many of our articles and workouts of the week at the Military.com Fitness Pages. However, there is something more important happening now with our combat veterans, and the TRX is one of the contributing factors to the success of transitioning veterans dealing with post-traumatic stress. 

The TRX is an intricate part of the Boulder Crest retreat's Warrior PATHH (Progressive and Alternative Training for Healing Heroes).

Making peace with the past, living in the present and planning for a new future is at the heart of post-traumatic growth. The military veteran trainers at Boulder Crest retreat recently introduced me to the Warrior PATHH -- an 18-month program that begins with a seven-day initiation at the retreat.

They offer this program to combat veterans as well as their families for free. The Boulder Crest retreat is a privately funded nonprofit organization. Its training model is built upon reconnecting the warrior with the mind, body, and spiritual and financial wellness that they have locked inside them. Boulder Crest trains veterans how to reconnect with themselves again and unlock all the strengths that being a person of service provides. The first thing they do with the students is a morning workout, using the TRX. The TRX is quite adaptable to all fitness levels and scalable for those starting again and advanced athletes as well. There is also a 150% increase in physical activity and fitness among the PATHH students after introducing them back to morning PT and the multifunctional training device, which can be deployed anywhere.

Education is key to post-traumatic growth. Understanding the physiological responses to stress can help the combat veteran realize they are not uncontrollable. The simple tool of breathing to calm yourself down when upset is reenforced in the Warrior PATHH Program. Together with self-awareness, a trained veteran can learn to navigate successfully through events or thoughts that previously caused isolation, anger, a loss of sleep, substance abuse and worse.

Taught by a retired Army Ranger, meditation is one of several wellness practices in which the retreat's instructors train the students so they can detach from anxiety and promote harmony and self-realization. 

One of several ways the Boulder Crest retreat helps warriors reconnect with themselves is through meeting the three beautiful horses on the property. It is a powerful moment when a 2,800-pound draft horse connects with you. You have to be yourself when that happens. You cannot fake it. Other warrior traditions include the use of the labyrinth, archery and other forms of marksmanship. Even walking among the trail of the labyrinth, a warrior loses track of the outside world, leaving what burdens them in the center. Currently at the six-month mark, the PATHH program is seeing dramatic and sustained reductions in symptoms (40%-60%) and anxiety, depression and stress (50%-70%). In addition, students show significant and sustained improvements in ability to manage stress, integrate previous and current life challenges, and post-traumatic growth.

Notice that nowhere in this article did it mention therapy. The Boulder Crest retreat prides itself as post-military training, using the tools that the military gave you to thrive and survive in stressful situations. However, they educate you on how to use these tools in our backpack in daily life.

There are also some things in our backpack we no longer need to carry. The retreat helps you identify those burdens and lightens the load for the combat veterans that attend this program. References and recommended reading:

Studies on post-traumatic growth

Special thanks to the folks at the Boulder Crest retreat, TRX and to the generous donations that make this place free for combat veterans to become active leaders in our society.

Stew Smith is a former Navy SEAL and fitness author certified as a Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) with the National Strength and Conditioning Association. Visit his Fitness eBook store if you’re looking to start a workout program to create a healthy lifestyle. Send your fitness questions to stew@stewsmith.com.

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