Laird Hamilton is a pioneer of tow-in big wave surfing and founder of XPT which gets Hollywood’s elite into shape. At 56, he’s got the physique of a fitness model and remains a shining example of how aging might actually be a choice. These are his pioneering secrets to staying young in both body and mind
Quest or Conquest?
To the outsider, Laird seems to possess an insatiable appetite to challenge the power of the world’s oceans, which may even seem like a need to challenge the limits of life itself. This has forged a mindset which can help teach you how to stay the course with your quest for lasting wellness.
“First of all, it’s important to keep the right kind of perspective in your life because being able to exercise and eat healthily is always a blessing and a honor – never a chore,” explains Hamilton. “Being healthy and able-bodied is a fortunate position which you only truly appreciate once you’ve become injured. If you’re hurt and can’t exercise, you quickly realize that there’s nothing else you think about. It’s so easy to take things for granted when you have them and that’s become interesting with the COVID situation because people are now turning more towards healthier lifestyles. One of the ways I retain my motivation is that I don’t allow myself the option not to train. I don’t think of it as negotiable because it’s like oral hygiene – something you do every day. It holds a position of such high importance that I want to do it each and every day. Yes, there are other motivational techniques such as making sure exercise is fun, social, inspiring, but top of the list is making sure you don’t consider skipping workouts as a viable choice. To help with this, I make sure I always draw the connections between how I feel with my nutrition, exercise and sleep quality.”
Follow his lead and take stock of your own feelings when you do and don’t train. Even write it down and you’ll soon develop a clear picture of the benefits you’ll get from regular training and effective recovery.
Having trained for extreme sports his whole life, Laird has always pushed his body to the limit, but hammering away at full throttle can have negative consequences, unless it’s done correctly. Part of this is planning your successes.
“There has been plenty of research around goal setting and when you have clear goals then you can improve your overall output and performance by 11-25%,” explains Hamilton. “And while I do still have athletic goals, I try to focus more on aspirational ones because there are two types of people: those who are competitive and those who are creative. Competitive people want to beat others, while creative people want to accomplish new things. I’m a bit of both because there are aspects of both which everyone can use to create improvements. Perhaps you want to swim an 80lb dumbbell across a pool and enjoy that accomplishment instead of competing against someone else to do it. Personally, I like to work towards a creative performance in the ocean or some feat I want to do. The training is the foundations for making those things happen. Along the way, it is also important not to create too many comparisons which may set you up for failure. For example, you probably don’t want to know how much time it took you to cycle up a hill which you knew you could do faster when you were younger. For me, that’s a dangerous game because it can create expectations and disappointments. I tend to move away from that style of measurement and prefer to make things a little more ambiguous because you need a regular source of successes to set yourself up to be successful. If you don’t have that, then over time you will never really accomplish anything that reaches a level which feels fulfilling. I’m currently reading a book which says monotony is the killer of drive and motivation. This is something that’s definitely sat with me because I like to do new things and get a feeling of success when I do something for the first time. Once you’ve done it a thousand times it’s harder to get that reward of accomplishment because of all the history you already have with it.”
The take home message is that you should never stop chasing new experiences because they will deliver the highest benefits to your body and motivation. These truly are words to live by.
Flow Like Water
In his quest for new and interesting challenges, Laird created a unique training experience called Extreme Performance Training (XPT). It’s a group-style workshop that teaches a system based around these three principles: Breathe, Move, Recover. Much of it takes place in water and is founded around the training he used to prepare himself for big wave surfing where he carried rocks underwater to condition himself.
“It’s a lifestyle program we first implement in our own lives,” explains Hamilton. “We use different workouts, foundational breathing and heat or ice exposure. It’s based around a culmination of all the things we’ve been exposed to in our careers. The workout structures always change, but the structurally aligned movement patterns you go through are the tools we rely on for success in overall health and wellness. It does demand a level of physicality and there’s a certain level of damage being done, but we include things to counterbalance this element.
“Working out is hard and plenty of types of exercise can cause injury so we try to avoid this and give participants different options to offset this damage,” he continues. “I don’t have a trophy cabinet full of the contests I’ve won. Instead I collect the lives I’ve improved through the training and supplements we’ve developed. We have a theory that nothing is new, it’s all just a new application of an old idea. Stuff that’s worked for us doesn’t mean it’s the only way, we’re just explorers who find cool stuff which we use and share. And if there’s one thing everyone should take away from what I’ve learnt is that nose breathing is crucial for everyone. Do it during exercise and recovery and you’ll notice remarkable improvements.”
Sound advice which anyone can adopt and use within their daily routine.
Mind Before Body
We all get what nature gives us and it can be tough to fight your genetic makeup, which is a major player in how long you live. However, that doesn’t mean you have to accept being short-lived because mindset can be a powerful ally.
“There’s an old saying that you can’t make an eagle out of a chicken, but you can make a super chicken,” laughs Hamilton. “By this I mean that people have set genetics but there is an overall philosophy present in people who have lived in a timeless fashion. The most powerful trait is curiosity where you’re able to retain your youthful enthusiasm for exploring new things. This means you’re not getting to 50 years old then falling victim to the social pressures or stigmas that are expected of you. There are young people who decide to be old and old people who decide to remain young. This is based on what drives you and much of this will come from having a good base to work off. To fuel this curious mindset, you have to make sure that you sleep well, watch what you’re reading, have fun and forge lasting relationships with friends and family.”
Strength Through Family
Laird and Gabby Reece have been married for 20 years which is something he feels has contributed to his youthful vitality and a paper in the >Annals of Behavioral Medicine agrees that having a life partner increases your changes of living longer. Part of this involves being a good role model to his family of three daughters.
“Being a militant solider doesn’t go over well with family because they’ll only resent you for it later,” he says when asked about the family’s approach to training. “You have to be a role model for your family because they all learn by osmosis. It’s better to let them make the connections of cause and effect when it comes to health. This evolution has brought me a certain stillness because I know the position of being a dad is so important. You’re like a post in a house – as long as it’s there, the ceiling stays up. They need to be able to rely on you to be there and present because this creates a sense of reliability. Being a parent is amazing and certainly one of the greatest stages in the arc of life that makes up the pillars of being a fulfilled human.”
If you’re ever looking for inspiration to be better today than you were yesterday, then look no further than your family for lasting motivation.
Laird grew up in Hawaii where most food came from fishing, hunting and farming. From an early age he developed a close connection between nutrition and how it makes him feel, a skill everyone should try to cultivate.
“Years ago, I met Paul Chek and he taught me the food philosophy that if it wasn’t there 10,000 years ago, then you shouldn’t eat it,” says Hamilton. “This means that if you can’t pronounce an ingredient in your food, then you probably shouldn’t eat it. He also taught me to avoid elements such as white flour, sugar and milk. When you’re eating healthy food from nature it’s hard to go wrong. That said, I have had problems with over-consumption because of the metabolic demands of all the exercise I do. To get over this, I will do fasting from time to time. Overall, you want to strike a balance where you can enjoy all foods because there’s a theory that if you completely avoid gluten then you’ll become intolerant to it. This means you should have an attitude towards food where you can eat things that aren’t great for you, yet still adapt to them. You don’t want to deprive yourself of everything, but still keep it in moderation.”
Laird’s balanced perspective on food is something everyone should look towards adopting because deprivation will only lead to binging. Instead, allow yourself to enjoy life the way Laird clearly has because following his lead will take you on a journey to a longer, more fulfilling life.