Only a few hours removed from an emotional victory over California, Dave Philistin found himself missing something.
It wasn’t the euphoria of a great game. It wasn’t his mother and brother, who made the trip from New Hampshire to watch the Maryland linebacker roll up a game-high 13 tackles against the Golden Bears.
It presumably wasn’t his appetite, since Philistin happily joined his family for dinner.
Finally, he realized what was different. The exhaustion typically part of the package of playing 70 snaps or so on a muggy, late-summer day wasn’t there.
“Somebody asked me ‘How do you feel’ after the game, I said ‘I could play another game tomorrow.’ That’s how good I felt,” Philistin said. “When I get high tackles in a game, I’m usually like ‘I don’t want to do anything. I don’t want to go out. I want to go to bed.’”
Not any more, not after Philistin arguably made the shrewdest offseason acquisition of anyone in Maryland’s program: an altitude machine that permits the senior linebacker to spend more than 10 hours a day at a simulated elevation.
He certainly isn’t the first to try a nouveau version of altitude training. Washington Wizards guard Gilbert Arenas, Indianapolis Colts wide receiver Anthony Gonzalez and Green Bay Packers linebacker A.J. Hawk are among a growing list of athletes who utilize similar devices.
Philistin already senses the results. The senior ranks second on the team with 39 tackles as Maryland (4-1, 1-0 ACC) prepares for Saturday’s trip to Virginia (1-3, 0-1).
“It’s a great advantage when the fourth quarter comes,” Philistin said. “If I can play in the fourth quarter like I do in the first quarter, that’s the ideal as far as playing football.”
A wise investment
Philistin is the freethinking and quirky sort, so it isn’t a surprise alternative training methods would pique his interest, even if it meant putting a clear tent over his bed and lending his dorm room a space-age feel.
“I’ve heard about it, but to see it was like something off a cartoon,” cornerback Nolan Carroll said.
Philistin’s brother mentioned the possibility after watching a segment about Gonzalez, who used a similar machine when he played at Ohio State, and he later bought Philistin the $7,000 device as a gift.
The concept is simple enough. If someone spends enough time in an environment with less oxygen available, eventually his or her body will make physiological adaptations to adjust to the thin air. As a result, the person will be able to fend off exhaustion at a lower altitude and perform at a higher level for a longer stretch.
So Philistin gradually increased the machine-generated altitude, starting at 4,000 feet before a two-week process eventually brought him to 10,000 feet. In addition to sleeping in the bubble, Philistin also watches game film and television and does homework in the unusual environment.
Philistin keeps the noisy machine portion of the device next to a desk in his spartan room. Aside from a few pairs of shoes, there is little clutter in the single. With a twin-size bed, Philistin removed the bed frame and placed a mattress and memory foam on the floor with the plastic dome hanging over top.
It can be zipped up from the outside and the inside, and even Philistin admits he was slow to grow accustomed to the atypical setup.
“You’re sleeping with a bubble over you and it’s not the most assuring thing,” Philistin said. “It feels weird. At one point, I went up too fast. You think you’re good and you think ‘I want to get up to my peak level.’ You have to work your way up as the days go by.”
He issued a similar warning to preseason camp roommate Ben Pooler, who wanted to give it a try before Philistin said he could hyperventilate if he spent too much time inside without an adjustment period.
Philistin faces no such problems. A year after rolling up 124 tackles and finishing fourth in the ACC in that category, he feels even better during practice and games after sliding from middle to weakside linebacker.
“I’m breathing [hard], but my body’s not cramping,” Philistin said. “That’s the biggest thing you’ll notice. You just feel like you can do a lot more. It’s like being winded without pain. I’m still breathing out there, but it isn’t breathing where I won’t make a call because I’m tired or I start to cramp up and you see me bent over.”
Philistin believes he gets on-field results as a result of the machine, and there’s little question he fields plenty of questions from teammates.
On a recent Friday morning, Philistin welcomed a reporter and photographer into his room - much to the curiosity of fullback Haroon Brown, who was amused to find visitors there to inspect “the bubble bed.”
“Does it help you breathe?” a teammate asked Philistin from the hallway.
“It gives you more red blood cells,” Philistin replied.
Not everyone seems quite as interested. Philistin said defensive coordinator Chris Cosh ducked into the team dorm during camp and shot him an odd look before departing. In the weeks afterward, Philistin heard the occasional (and inaccurate) barb “to go hop in the hyperbaric chamber” when he fouls up in practice.
Nevertheless, Philistin is eager to educate anyone who asks about his training method.
“When people see it, they think I’m some kind of weirdo,” Philistin said. “I tell them what it does and they’re like ‘Hey, that’s cool.’ … When people come over, they think I’m crazy, like I’m camping or something. I try to let them know I’m not camping.”
The machine does lend itself to a few comedic moments. Linebacker Moise Fokou entered Philistin’s room one night during camp, only to find Philistin asleep. But he made too much noise and startled Philistin, who can’t clearly see out of the plastic bubble.
“His con-trap-tion?” Fokou said. “His little machine? I’ve seen it. He looks like a Bubble Boy when he’s sleeping in it. I can’t believe he has one.”
Not only does he own one, Philistin already completely believes in its results.
Philistin’s tackle totals are almost evenly split between the first half (19) and the second half (20) this season, so the numbers don’t reflect an improvement in performance late in games. But Philistin insists there is a difference well worth the investment.
“It seems like he’s sticking to his guns on this one,” Pooler said. “From what I see, it’s helping him produce. I don’t know. Maybe it’s the aura of the tent.”