Category Archives: Laird Hamilton

The Exercise and Nutrition Guide to Staying Young

Fri, 05/24/2013 – 2:26pm — Editor

It’s not something we think about every day, but once in a while this thought creeps into the mind of most everyone over 30; “I don’t feel as invincible as I use to”. That’s because sometime around 30 our bodies start to change, specifically our hormone production starts to decline. This declining hormone production affects the way we feel, perform and even think.
A reduction in testosterone production occurs as we age
The reduction in testosterone production that occurs as men age can contribute to increased feelings of fatigue, insomnia, weakness, increased body fat, lack of motivation, depression, and decreased sex drive. This decrease in testosterone level also adversely affects women (yes, women have testosterone to) causing low energy, diminished sex drive, anxiety and depression.
Growth hormone production also declines as we age
Our growth hormone production also declines as we age, in men and women alike. The decline in growth hormone also begins sometime around 30. This decline in growth hormone production has a significant impact on the aging process, including decreased lean body mass, lower bone density, less strength, and depression, as well as negatively impacting cell reproduction (affecting such aging issues as reduced skin elasticity, plus slower hair and nail growth).
Slow down the aging process through a combination of exercise and nutrition
Fortunately, you can significantly reduce the decline in hormone production and slow down the aging process through the proper combination of exercise and nutrition. Just a few (but highly critical) adjustments to your exercise and nutrition program can make a dramatic difference in the way we look, feel, perform, and our overall quality of life. Here are a few important guidelines we should all try to follow:
1) Incorporate High-Intensity Exercise
Short high-intensity exercise has been shown to boost testosterone as well as growth hormone production. There is probably no more important adjustment you can make to your fitness program when you are over the age of 30, than incorporating short-duration and high-intensity exercise. Explosive functional training or plyometrics burst type exercises (like we offer at G&L.com) will engage your fast muscle fibers and stimulate growth hormone production as well as lean muscle development.
As we age, the days of long and slow cardiovascular conditioning should be left behind, because a primary goal of our workouts should be to increase youthful hormone production. Unfortunately, excessive endurance training can have the exact opposite effect on overall good health, and when overdone can lead to a further decline in growth hormone production. Both Gabby and Laird make high intensity functional workouts the mainstay of their fitness program, as should we all.
2) Boost Intake of Essential Amino Acids
Our bodies depend on the availability of certain essential amino acids to both stimulate and optimize growth hormone production. The amino acids Glutamine, Arginine and Lysine when taken orally immediately after exercise and just prior to sleep is an effective growth hormone releasing agent, providing you combine high intensity training. These amino acids are found in protein such as fish, chicken, eggs and lean meat, but can more easily be obtained in the proper quality and timing through amino acid supplementation (such as TRUition Max).
3) Strength Training
As we age, it is also important to include strength training into your routine fitness program. Your body especially needs the benefits of weight barring exercise as we age, to maintain both skeletal and muscular strength. Unfortunately, you see far too many people gravitate to the treadmill and elliptical trainer as they age. When in fact the weight room or resistance equipment is what they really need. By simply moving to the next resistance exercise with minimal rest (circuit training), you can improve cardiovascular health while also providing your body all the benefits of strength training.
TRUition co-founder Don Wildman, who is still an avid cyclist and competitive racer at the age of 80, always reminds his friends and fans that he considers his infamous circuit training program far more important to youthfulness and overall good health than his cycling. “When time is at a premium, I always make sure my strength training workouts come first. If I had to make a choice, I would always choose circuit training over any other type of exercise”.
4) Consume More Protein
Without question, consuming plenty of fresh plants, fruits, and vegetables is important to overall good health. We all need the phytonutrient and immune boosting antioxidants from a broad diversity of fruits and vegetables (see TRUition Greens).However, because muscle development declines as we age; proper protein intake becomes even more important.
In order to get the full benefit of your strength training program, proper protein intake both before and after exercise is recommended. Such foods as eggs, lean meat, fish and chicken are high in protein. A cup of coffee before your morning workout is simply not the right fuel for muscle development, nor is pancakes or bagels with cream cheese. Some organic egg, or better yet an organic whey protein shake, is what you need (see TRUition Whey). Whey protein is actually more bioavailable than fish, meat, chicken or eggs, and therefor easier to digest and quicker for your body to utilize.
5) Get Proper Rest
There are two very important aspects of rest which can’t be overlooked or substituted in any way. During our periods of rest our muscles recover and rebuild. Without proper rest between high intensity workouts, we will not be able to effectively build more muscle. Additionally, hormone production is at its highest just after exercise and while you’re sleeping.
Once again, one of the primary fitness goals of anyone over 30 should be to offset declining hormone production in order to stay young. You simply must take the time to rest properly in order to get the maximum benefits from you exercise and nutrition program. There is no way around it.
Develop these few critical exercise and nutrition habits and stay young
It doesn’t take much to slow down (and in some cases reverse) the aging process. If you have been inactive for years, had a poor diet deficient in protein, fruits and vegetables, and a high stress lifestyle which lacks proper rest, then following the 5 anti-aging guidelines explained above will be life changing. We should all want to live a long and high quality life, and to help make that happen you just need to develop a few critical exercise and nutritional habits.
Written by
John Wildman
THE G&L Team

Eat Like Laird Hamilton



Eat Like Laird Hamilton – Best Life Magazine

A big-wave legend’s 10 rules for eating healthfully

People think I look as good as I do at 44 because I exercise a lot. That’s only half the equation. The other half is what I eat. I love Japanese food. I love Hawaiian food. I love food in general. But I don’t eat haphazardly. I eat for performance and health, and let’s not forget pleasure. Those are the elements of what I call “food intelligence.” Not that I’m obsessive. My meals don’t take three hours to prepare, I don’t measure food by the gram, and if I get into a position where I have to eat an airplane meal or a Big Mac, I’m not going to love it, but it won’t put me into toxic shock. Instead of being like a high-performance car that is sensitive to any impurities in the fuel, I’m more like a diesel truck. If a little water gets in there, it’s still going to be okay. Here’s how I power my body.

1. Push Start
I like to begin the day at the blender with a smoothie. My favorite recipe contains five supplements that help me optimize my nutrition. A single tablespoon of Catie’s Organic Greens, for instance, equals seven servings of green vegetables. I also add apple or cherry juice and frozen bananas and berries for a nice consistency. My morning smoothie gives my body a huge amount of nutrients, which are easily absorbed because liquids are easier to digest than solids. Less than an hour later, I’m ready for whatever activity is on the agenda.

2. Don’t Graze
I don’t like to eat unless I’m hungry. When I sit down to a meal, I want my body to be in a state of craving. Not eating until you’re hungry means you’re not snacking much, if at all.

3. Chew Slowly
All too often we take our food for granted. I’m always reminding myself to eat more consciously, to savor what I’m chewing. Nature has given us millions of unique flavors. Our job is to explore and appreciate them. It also makes you hyperaware of how much you’re eating.

4. Eat Real Foods
Be wary of any food that has been created by humans rather than nature. The ingredients on the labels of processed foods, such as the average cracker or potato chip, are mind-boggling. If I don’t know what it is, it’s not going into my body.

5. Be Diverse
The food universe is vast, and in it there are hundreds of nutrients, minerals, enzymes, essential fatty acids, bioflavonoids, phytochemical, all kinds of elements. Each one provides something unique to our cells. That’s why the more diverse your diet, the healthier you’re going to be. Mix it up when you grocery shop. Don’t just buy the same stuff every time.

6. Experiment
Eating colorful, interesting foods exposes me to new flavors, and that’s really what makes eating fun. There are countless things you can try, but strange fruits, vegetables, and grains, such as acai berries, seaweed, and quinoa, are becoming easier to find. A palm fruit native to the Brazilian Amazon, has 30 times the amount of antioxidants of red wine. Try mixing it with bananas and granola for breakfast. Edible seaweeds such as limu kohu and nori contain minerals and elements you won’t get anywhere else. Next time you have sushi, try a seaweed salad instead of edamame. Quinoa, unlike other grains, is a complete protein, which means it contains all nine essential amino acids.

7. Listen to Your Body
Cravings have a bad reputation because they’re often related to sweets, but I think they’re the body’s way of indicating that it’s looking for something. Listen to your body to figure out what the craving really means. If my body wants sugar, I eat fruit, such as papaya or pineapple, instead of candy or doughnuts.

8. Don’t Be Thrifty
People say that buying quality food is too expensive, but then they’ll go out and buy giant plasma TVs. So you’re eating like crap but you’re staring at a nice screen? I don’t understand that logic. Instead, budget so that you can spend a little more money for better food. In particular, be sure to upgrade anything you eat on a regular basis. If you have coffee every morning, for instance, buy the best beans you can find. Or, even better, drink espresso. It contains less caffeine than drip coffee, delivers more antioxidants, and isn’t as acidic.

9. Skip Starches
If I eat any bread, it makes me want to go to sleep. In general, I avoid wheat and other starchy foods such as potatoes, rice, and pasta. I’m not saying I’ll never eat a waffle or a sandwich, but it’s a rare thing, and I’m not going out of my way to do it.

10. Eat Sustainable Foods
If you eat meat or seafood, look for terms such as free range, grass fed, organic, or locally caught. The closer it is to wild, the better. Sadly, one of my favorite wild foods is tuna. Buy only yellowfin or ahi, and make sure it’s caught by trolling or with poles; long-lining produces bycatch, which means that other ocean creatures are wastefully killed in the process.

Wikio

Workout Tips from big-wave surfer Laird Hamilton




August 17, 2009

By Jeff Ostrowski

Surf superhero Laird Hamilton is best known for catching waves like the one above, but to prepare for those inevitable hold-downs in huge surf, he logs plenty of time cycling and at the gym.

Hamilton’s recent book, Force of Nature: Mind, Body, Soul, and, Of Course, Surfing, serves up a heaping helping of useful health hints. I’ll never get towed into a 30-footer, but even a kook like me can benefit from Laird’s advice for making the most of weight workouts.

Some of his tips:

Don’t sit around between sets. “You want to get your heart rate up so you’re getting a cardio workout while you’re lifting,” Laird writes. “That means moving from exercise to exercise with as little downtime as possible.”

Alternate muscle groups. Bodybuilders like to work one muscle group to exhaustion, but Laird alternates between upper body and lower body, or works chest on one exercise and back on the next. (Glad I ignored that musclehead’s advice years ago about not switching muscle groups during my workout.)

Use your core. “Machines are great at targeting a specific area, but that’s not the way we use our strength in real life,” he writes. To combine strength training and a core workout, Laird stands on an upside-down Bosu ball for curls and rows. (For us mere mortals, the inverted Bosu ball is treacherous, so work up to it with a right-side-up Bosu ball, balance board or Indo Board.)

Vary your reps. Laird recommends 25 reps on the first set, 15 on the second and five on the third, with more weight on each set. (After 20 years of doing 10-rep sets, I tried this last week and found it freshened my stale workout.)

Change it up. Laird warns against doing the same workout every time you go to the gym (an infraction I’m definitely guilty of). Change the order of your exercises, and mix in new machines and exercises.

Finish with a “cardio chaser.” Laird suggests 15 to 30 minutes of low-intensity running, cycling or swimming to flush the lactic acid created by strength workouts.

Lose the shoes. Laird lifts while barefoot. Shoes cause the muscles, tendons and ligaments in the feet and ankles to atrophy, he argues, so he goes barefoot as often as possible.

Wikio

Laird Hamilton’s Strength Training Circuit Workout 2-18-11


WORKLOAD
1 Circuit (1 Hr 15 minutes Total)
20-30 seconds in-between moves
22 Exercises In This Circuit – Some Moves are Repeated
15-20 Reps of Everything

GOALS
Quality Technique, Range of motion, Endurance, and Flexibility. The goal is to do high reps with heavy weight. Laird’s exercises incorporate 2-3 muscle groups per each exercise.

EXERCISES
(Video 1)
1. Cable Machine Front Cable Raises – Balancing on Indo Board
2. Over Head Ab Press on Declined Bench – Weight Plate
3. Pull Ups with Legs at 90 Degree Angle on Hack Squat -360 Body Hang Stretch
4. Single Leg Wall Sit with Rotator Cuff (against stationary Object)
5. Cable Machine – Rotating Ab Twist in Squat Position (Middle to Side)
6. Upright Row on Indo Board
7. Golf Ball Stance (Foot Torture)
8. Dips with a Single Dumbbell between thighs
9. Push up to Hop Up (demoed by Hutch) similar to a ½ burpie
10. Stability Ball Balance Squat with Shoulder Flys
11. Cable Lunge Squat with a Chest Fly

[12,13,14 – 3 Circuits]
12. 1 Minute Wall Sit (single leg 90 degree) 1 with rotator cuff
13. 1 Minute Wall Sit (single leg 90 degree) 1 with bicep curl
14. 1 Minute Handstands

15. Lying Sliders Burn Out – In/Out – Side/Side (Hips Up)
16. Bosu Ball Ab Reach Up – Hands to Toes (lift arms up at the same time as legs)
17. Straight Leg Deadlift with Dumbbells (on elevated structure)
18. Wide Cable Lat Pull-down (stand on stability ball or indo board)
19. Back Lunge on Slider with Overhead Shoulder Hold
20. Leg Extension with a Shoulder Press
21. AB-CORE Leg Twist on Declined Bench (bend legs, use hips and core for height)
22. Face Down on Stability Ball on Bench – lift legs up, scissor, lower back down

Circuit Training with Laird Hamilton


Posted by,
A Laird Life Editor
1-4-2010
Taken from Laird’s book, Force of Nature

Laird Hamilton explains three ways to do a circuit training workout, one of his favorite ways to train in the gym.

Depending on how hard you want to go and how much time you have, you can choose how many rounds you want to do and how many reps you’ll do in each round.

1- The Basic Circuit: Three rounds: First round is 25 reps; second round is 15; third round is 5. Increase weight on each round.

2- The One-Round Endurance Circuit: One round: Do 40 to 60reps (as many as you can do, keeping good form) of each exercise with light weights

3-The Grind: Six Rounds: first round is 30 reps; second round is 20; third round is 10; fourth round is 5 (as heavy as you can go); fifth round is 15, sixth round is 25.

Here’s an example of a few exercises. All 15 exercises plus demonstrating photos can be seen in Laird’s book “Force of Nature”.


1- Crunch: Works your abdominal muscles and obliques (the muscles along your sides that enable you to bend and twist)

2- Plank: Arms are bent at 90-degree angle with elbows directly under your shoulders and palms flat on the ground directly under shoulders. Hold for 1 minute.

3- Cable Pulldown: Use an overhand grip with your hands slightly more than shoulder-width apart, and pull the cables (or bar) down. Keep your body stationary; make sure you’re not rocking backward and using that momentum to move the weight.

4- Chest Press: There are all kinds of ways to do a chest press, both on a machine and with free weights on a bench. If you use the latter, you can vary the movement by changing the position of your body: flat, decline, or incline. Each angle works your chest slightly differently.

5- Leg Extension: Sitting with your back flat and your feet hooked behind the pads, straighten your legs (being careful not to lock or hyperextend your knees.) Slowly lower legs to starting position.

Wikio

Laird Hamilton, Ultra-Fit at 40


40 is the new 30 at least on the playing field One evening last June, in a more publicized but less fraught equivalent of Hamilton’s ordeal, seven pitchers age 40 or older took the mound in major-league baseball games. In fact, 40-year-olds are playing a more prominent role in almost every professional sport, from ice hockey to ultimate fighting, not to mention the swollen ranks of masters athletes competing in all kinds of races and activities. It’s as though 21st-century professional athletes and weekend warriors are living out the Dorian Gray fantasy: Through a combination of scientific training, disciplined diet, and advanced sports medicine, they are overturning immutable laws of biology, and they are reversing, or at least fighting to a draw, the aging process. The new old pros are busy making 40 the new 30. The truth behind the headlines, while encouraging, is complicated. Overall, athletic performance clearly declines with age. At the same time, late-career athletic productivity is showing an unprecedented rise. To explain the apparent contradiction, let’s start with the bad news.

In 2005, Ray C. Fair, a Yale University economist, published a statistical analysis examining the age of peak performance among major-league baseball players. Fair determined that the age of peak production for hitters was 28, and that pitchers achieved optimal production at 27. Data from the National Football League and National Basketball Association tells a similar story. The Fair study further determined that, at age 40, a ballplayer’s average decline from peak performance stood at 9.8 percent when measured by on-base -percentage plus slugging percentage (or OPS), and 14.9 percent when measured by earned run average. In other sports, the decline is less dramatic: At 40, the average decline from peak for sprinters is 3 percent; distance runners, 4.1 percent; and swimmers, 2 percent.

While these numbers seem modest–if not actually encouraging–from a citizen athlete’s perspective, they are huge for elite performers. The average middle-distance runner who notched a 4:00 mile at his peak, for instance, slows to 4:12 at age 40. On the track, that translates to a gap of about 100 meters. “It’s irrefutable: Certain physical changes accompany advancing age,” says orthopedic surgeon Vonda Wright, director of the Performance and Research Initiative for Masters Athletes (PRIMA) program at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. “Power, flexibility, balance, and VO2 max all either level off or decline from peak levels.”

Various studies in the American Journal of Sports Medicine and the Journal of Clinical Sports MedicineJournal of Physiology. The researchers at the University of Texas at Austin and the University of Colorado at Boulder determined that athletes could still maintain peak endurance performance until age 35. This was followed by modest decreases until age 50, with more dramatic declines thereafter. Three factors contribute to this decline: lower lactate threshold, lower exercise economy, and lower VO2 max. Of these factors, VO2 max proved the most important.
have detailed the different aspects of this decline: Starting around age 30, maximum heart rate decreases six to 10 beats per minute per decade, thigh muscles start to lose density, intramuscular fat increases, and the number of type-2 fast-twitch muscle fibers decreases. Lung function and capacity, anabolic hormone levels, and the number and quality of neural pathways also show inexorable drops with advancing years. Among all the physiological changes connected with aging, none correlates more closely with athletic performance than the decline in VO2 max, which measures the body’s maximum cardiovascular performance. The latest data suggests that VO2 max decreases by approximately 10 percent per decade, starting at around 30, according to a groundbreaking study published this year in the
When the researchers tried to determine the precise physiological mechanisms by which VO2 max declined over the years, however, they came up with a surprising discovery: There didn’t seem to be any. “The decreases in performance and VO2 max in aging athletes are associated most closely with reductions in exercise training intensity,” the study concluded, “i.e., … reductions in energy, time, and motivation to train.” In other words, older athletes don’t perform as well as they used to partly because they don’t train as hard as they used to. They work out less, in turn, not because of bodily limitations, but because of psychological and societal factors. At this point, the contradictory knot starts to unravel: While age-related physical decline from peak performance stands as scientific fact, athletic extinction proves to be a layered story open to a host of culturally influenced interpretations and different endings. The good news begins.

“Of all the variables limiting performance in the older athlete, physiological changes aren’t enough by themselves to prevent him from staying near the top of his game,” says Wojtek Chodzko-Zajko, PhD, a professor of kinesiology at the University of Illinois. “It’s not as if some light goes out in the body at 43, or at any other age. Athletes who remain competitive past the age of 40 do so because of a complex set of reasons, not because of the number of fast-twitch fibers.”

Dr. Wright, the PRIMA director, puts the matter plainly. “Whoever said performance depends on a predetermined chronological age?” If an athlete maintains consistent high-level training and avails himself to advances in nutrition and injury prevention, he can remain productive at the highest level. “In fact,” she says, “he might outperform younger players who lack his experience, savvy, and feel for the game.”

Indeed, factoring in intangibles such as wisdom, judgment, tactical acumen, and refined technique turns the argument around, especially for sports such as baseball, cycling, golf, running, swimming, and big-wave surfing, which rely so heavily on those qualities. If you make productivity–i.e., consistent high-quality performance–rather than peak performance the standard, the evidence weighs even more heavily in favor of the more mature athlete.

Consider major-league baseball. There were only six players age 40 or older on major-league rosters during the 1997 season. In 2007, there were 21 players who were 40 or older, according to Bill Carle, of the Society for American Baseball Research. While these older ballplayers aren’t putting up the same numbers as they did in their prime, they’re performing dramatically better than older players of the past. Prior to 1982, for example, batters 35 or older never hit more than a combined total of 232 home runs in a season. In the 2000s, –admittedly the steroid era–batters 35 or older have hit at least a combined 565 homers each season, with a high of 756 in 2004.

Finally, while the scientific studies attempt to calibrate rates of age-related physiological decline, they often fail to measure factors mitigating those declines among elite athletes: scientific training and nutrition; improved equipment and advances in injury prevention; vastly improved rehabilitation from injuries; the fact that, in contrast to athletes of earlier generations, contemporary jocks have been privy to the laws of optimal health for their entire careers; and, most important, the psychological sea change that athletes no longer buy into the myth of a certain arbitrary age signaling decline. Older athletes are no longer slowing down.

“The male athlete in his forties potentially occupies that beautiful place,” says Paul Chek, training advisor to Hamilton. “There’s a sweet spot for men between the ages of 40 and 45. If they’ve been smart and careful, their bodies are only just starting to decline. At the same time, they have finally gained some wisdom. If you can keep him healthy and motivated, then the 40-year-old is the most dangerous athlete you’ll come across.”

“I look at my career as following two lines on a graph,” says Hamilton. “One line shows my physical systems, stuff like VO2 max and fast-twitch muscle fibers, either flattening or very gradually declining. The other line shows the intangibles–maturity, experience, judgment, passion, perspective–steadily rising. The two lines cross at an interesting place, and I regard that place as my peak. It’s not a point, but a plateau. Your peak isn’t really a product of your body, but of your enthusiasm. I intend to live on that plateau for a long, long time.”

Extending your performance plateau On the morning after our interview at the cafe in Paia, Hamilton stands on a corner of Baldwin Beach Park, preparing to give me a lesson in stand-up board paddling. “It’s the best core workout,” he says. “It’s also good for balance and flexibility.”

About a decade ago, Hamilton had been fooling around with stand-up paddling, which is the traditional, native-Hawaiian style of surfing: Paddle out, flip around, catch a wave, and ride it in using the paddle for balance and steering. Hamilton added his own wrinkle: Paddle on flat water for a workout. A non-weight-bearing exercise, paddling sharpens the sense of balance, which erodes with age. It also simulates the motions of big-wave surfing and takes Hamilton out on the ocean. “I’m learning every moment that I spend on the water,” he says. “The tides, the winds, the slant of sunlight. Every detail works to my advantage on the next big wave.”

Hamilton lifts the 12-foot-long board out of the bed of his pickup. He has chosen an especially wide board for me, but I’m still nervous.

“Don’t worry,” says Hamilton. “If you can stand, you can do this.”

Of course it isn’t that simple, and I’m anxious. By Hamilton’s lights, that’s a good thing. Fear is a healthy, constructive emotion, he maintains. In fact, as part of a training regimen that’s Herculean in its intensity and encyclopedic in its breadth, Hamilton sets a goal of being frightened once a day.

“Even if Laird didn’t ride big waves, he’d be a legend because of his fitness,” says Chek. “I’ve been working out with some of the best athletes in the world for 20 years. No false modesty–Laird is the only guy I regard as an equal.” Chek has created fitness programs for a diverse clientele ranging from snowboarder Shaun White to the Chicago Bulls to the U.S. Air Force Academy.

A typical week during the summer–when the big waves subside and Hamilton and his family move to their second home in Malibu, California–is based around his workout staples: two hours of nonstop circuit training, with an emphasis on lunges, presses, squats, and powerlifts; three to 10 miles of stand-up paddling, usually performed with partners such as Chris Chelios, the 46-year-old NHL star, or Don Wildman, the 73-year-old founder of Bally Total Fitness, both passionate converts to paddling; hill climbing with 50 pounds strapped to a mountain bike; and running on the beach while harnessed to a 100-pound log. During the winter, which is big-wave season on Maui, Hamilton spends less time in the gym and more time on the water or on his bike.

Each exercise, including the exotic ones, is specifically tailored to the demands of big-wave surfing. Log pulling, for example, builds the explosive power that Hamilton relies on at the start of a big-wave ride. Stand-up paddling enhances his balance, and long bike climbs build endurance: important on days when 80-foot waves imprison you underwater. In between workouts, he remains in perpetual motion, working around the house, chopping wood, hauling, and cleaning.

“When you’re training, you eat better, sleep better, think better, and have better sex,” he says. “The challenge for me is not to overdo it. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve become more systematic. I pay attention to cycles and seasons. You can’t play the Super Bowl every day.”

Now, at Baldwin Beach Park, Hamilton leads me to the water. “Basically, you just want to plant your feet wide on the middle of the board,” he says. “Remember to breathe and don’t be afraid to dig in with the paddle. The board is like a bicycle: It’s easier to keep your balance when you’re moving.”

Clutching the paddle, I crawl up on the board, stand, wobble, and fall off. I try again and again. Seldom-used muscles throughout my body fire as I struggle to maintain my balance. After a few minutes, Brett Lickle joins Hamilton on the beach. Finally, on perhaps attempt number 12, I’m able to stand on the board for 10 to 15 seconds. I even take a few shallow strokes with the paddle. Hamilton beams.

“Terrific!” he says. “You got the idea. Next time you try it, you’ll be good to go.” I wade into shore, pushing the board in front of me. Hamilton hops on it and with a few smooth strokes cuts over two five-foot swells, heading out to where the larger waves roam.

On the beach, Lickle reassures me. “You did fine,” he says. He falls silent for a moment, watching Hamilton paddle. The wound on Lickle’s left leg is on the mend but still shows as a jagged, livid scar. “I think I’ve finished my business with the big waves,” he says. “I’ll surf for the rest of my life, but I’m done with the 80-footers.”

Out on the water, Hamilton catches a 10-foot breaker, gliding into shore with slow, graceful loops, his body at one with the board and the wave, moving the paddle as if it were an extension of his hands.

“With Laird, of course, it’s different,” says Lickle. “He still hasn’t taken his best ride.”

40 is the new 30 at least on the playing field One evening last June, in a more publicized but less fraught equivalent of Hamilton’s ordeal, seven pitchers age 40 or older took the mound in major-league baseball games. In fact, 40-year-olds are playing a more prominent role in almost every professional sport, from ice hockey to ultimate fighting, not to mention the swollen ranks of masters athletes competing in all kinds of races and activities. It’s as though 21st-century professional athletes and weekend warriors are living out the Dorian Gray fantasy: Through a combination of scientific training, disciplined diet, and advanced sports medicine, they are overturning immutable laws of biology, and they are reversing, or at least fighting to a draw, the aging process. The new old pros are busy making 40 the new 30. The truth behind the headlines, while encouraging, is complicated. Overall, athletic performance clearly declines with age. At the same time, late-career athletic productivity is showing an unprecedented rise. To explain the apparent contradiction, let’s start with the bad news.

In 2005, Ray C. Fair, a Yale University economist, published a statistical analysis examining the age of peak performance among major-league baseball players. Fair determined that the age of peak production for hitters was 28, and that pitchers achieved optimal production at 27. Data from the National Football League and National Basketball Association tells a similar story. The Fair study further determined that, at age 40, a ballplayer’s average decline from peak performance stood at 9.8 percent when measured by on-base -percentage plus slugging percentage (or OPS), and 14.9 percent when measured by earned run average. In other sports, the decline is less dramatic: At 40, the average decline from peak for sprinters is 3 percent; distance runners, 4.1 percent; and swimmers, 2 percent.

While these numbers seem modest–if not actually encouraging–from a citizen athlete’s perspective, they are huge for elite performers. The average middle-distance runner who notched a 4:00 mile at his peak, for instance, slows to 4:12 at age 40. On the track, that translates to a gap of about 100 meters. “It’s irrefutable: Certain physical changes accompany advancing age,” says orthopedic surgeon Vonda Wright, director of the Performance and Research Initiative for Masters Athletes (PRIMA) program at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. “Power, flexibility, balance, and VO2 max all either level off or decline from peak levels.”

Various studies in the American Journal of Sports Medicine and the Journal of Clinical Sports MedicineJournal of Physiology. The researchers at the University of Texas at Austin and the University of Colorado at Boulder determined that athletes could still maintain peak endurance performance until age 35. This was followed by modest decreases until age 50, with more dramatic declines thereafter. Three factors contribute to this decline: lower lactate threshold, lower exercise economy, and lower VO2 max. Of these factors, VO2 max proved the most important.
have detailed the different aspects of this decline: Starting around age 30, maximum heart rate decreases six to 10 beats per minute per decade, thigh muscles start to lose density, intramuscular fat increases, and the number of type-2 fast-twitch muscle fibers decreases. Lung function and capacity, anabolic hormone levels, and the number and quality of neural pathways also show inexorable drops with advancing years. Among all the physiological changes connected with aging, none correlates more closely with athletic performance than the decline in VO2 max, which measures the body’s maximum cardiovascular performance. The latest data suggests that VO2 max decreases by approximately 10 percent per decade, starting at around 30, according to a groundbreaking study published this year in the
When the researchers tried to determine the precise physiological mechanisms by which VO2 max declined over the years, however, they came up with a surprising discovery: There didn’t seem to be any. “The decreases in performance and VO2 max in aging athletes are associated most closely with reductions in exercise training intensity,” the study concluded, “i.e., … reductions in energy, time, and motivation to train.” In other words, older athletes don’t perform as well as they used to partly because they don’t train as hard as they used to. They work out less, in turn, not because of bodily limitations, but because of psychological and societal factors. At this point, the contradictory knot starts to unravel: While age-related physical decline from peak performance stands as scientific fact, athletic extinction proves to be a layered story open to a host of culturally influenced interpretations and different endings. The good news begins.

“Of all the variables limiting performance in the older athlete, physiological changes aren’t enough by themselves to prevent him from staying near the top of his game,” says Wojtek Chodzko-Zajko, PhD, a professor of kinesiology at the University of Illinois. “It’s not as if some light goes out in the body at 43, or at any other age. Athletes who remain competitive past the age of 40 do so because of a complex set of reasons, not because of the number of fast-twitch fibers.”

Dr. Wright, the PRIMA director, puts the matter plainly. “Whoever said performance depends on a predetermined chronological age?” If an athlete maintains consistent high-level training and avails himself to advances in nutrition and injury prevention, he can remain productive at the highest level. “In fact,” she says, “he might outperform younger players who lack his experience, savvy, and feel for the game.”

Indeed, factoring in intangibles such as wisdom, judgment, tactical acumen, and refined technique turns the argument around, especially for sports such as baseball, cycling, golf, running, swimming, and big-wave surfing, which rely so heavily on those qualities. If you make productivity–i.e., consistent high-quality performance–rather than peak performance the standard, the evidence weighs even more heavily in favor of the more mature athlete.

Consider major-league baseball. There were only six players age 40 or older on major-league rosters during the 1997 season. In 2007, there were 21 players who were 40 or older, according to Bill Carle, of the Society for American Baseball Research. While these older ballplayers aren’t putting up the same numbers as they did in their prime, they’re performing dramatically better than older players of the past. Prior to 1982, for example, batters 35 or older never hit more than a combined total of 232 home runs in a season. In the 2000s, –admittedly the steroid era–batters 35 or older have hit at least a combined 565 homers each season, with a high of 756 in 2004.

Finally, while the scientific studies attempt to calibrate rates of age-related physiological decline, they often fail to measure factors mitigating those declines among elite athletes: scientific training and nutrition; improved equipment and advances in injury prevention; vastly improved rehabilitation from injuries; the fact that, in contrast to athletes of earlier generations, contemporary jocks have been privy to the laws of optimal health for their entire careers; and, most important, the psychological sea change that athletes no longer buy into the myth of a certain arbitrary age signaling decline. Older athletes are no longer slowing down.

“The male athlete in his forties potentially occupies that beautiful place,” says Paul Chek, training advisor to Hamilton. “There’s a sweet spot for men between the ages of 40 and 45. If they’ve been smart and careful, their bodies are only just starting to decline. At the same time, they have finally gained some wisdom. If you can keep him healthy and motivated, then the 40-year-old is the most dangerous athlete you’ll come across.”

“I look at my career as following two lines on a graph,” says Hamilton. “One line shows my physical systems, stuff like VO2 max and fast-twitch muscle fibers, either flattening or very gradually declining. The other line shows the intangibles–maturity, experience, judgment, passion, perspective–steadily rising. The two lines cross at an interesting place, and I regard that place as my peak. It’s not a point, but a plateau. Your peak isn’t really a product of your body, but of your enthusiasm. I intend to live on that plateau for a long, long time.”

Extending your performance plateau On the morning after our interview at the cafe in Paia, Hamilton stands on a corner of Baldwin Beach Park, preparing to give me a lesson in stand-up board paddling. “It’s the best core workout,” he says. “It’s also good for balance and flexibility.”

About a decade ago, Hamilton had been fooling around with stand-up paddling, which is the traditional, native-Hawaiian style of surfing: Paddle out, flip around, catch a wave, and ride it in using the paddle for balance and steering. Hamilton added his own wrinkle: Paddle on flat water for a workout. A non-weight-bearing exercise, paddling sharpens the sense of balance, which erodes with age. It also simulates the motions of big-wave surfing and takes Hamilton out on the ocean. “I’m learning every moment that I spend on the water,” he says. “The tides, the winds, the slant of sunlight. Every detail works to my advantage on the next big wave.”

Hamilton lifts the 12-foot-long board out of the bed of his pickup. He has chosen an especially wide board for me, but I’m still nervous.

“Don’t worry,” says Hamilton. “If you can stand, you can do this.”

Of course it isn’t that simple, and I’m anxious. By Hamilton’s lights, that’s a good thing. Fear is a healthy, constructive emotion, he maintains. In fact, as part of a training regimen that’s Herculean in its intensity and encyclopedic in its breadth, Hamilton sets a goal of being frightened once a day.

“Even if Laird didn’t ride big waves, he’d be a legend because of his fitness,” says Chek. “I’ve been working out with some of the best athletes in the world for 20 years. No false modesty–Laird is the only guy I regard as an equal.” Chek has created fitness programs for a diverse clientele ranging from snowboarder Shaun White to the Chicago Bulls to the U.S. Air Force Academy.

A typical week during the summer–when the big waves subside and Hamilton and his family move to their second home in Malibu, California–is based around his workout staples: two hours of nonstop circuit training, with an emphasis on lunges, presses, squats, and powerlifts; three to 10 miles of stand-up paddling, usually performed with partners such as Chris Chelios, the 46-year-old NHL star, or Don Wildman, the 73-year-old founder of Bally Total Fitness, both passionate converts to paddling; hill climbing with 50 pounds strapped to a mountain bike; and running on the beach while harnessed to a 100-pound log. During the winter, which is big-wave season on Maui, Hamilton spends less time in the gym and more time on the water or on his bike.

Each exercise, including the exotic ones, is specifically tailored to the demands of big-wave surfing. Log pulling, for example, builds the explosive power that Hamilton relies on at the start of a big-wave ride. Stand-up paddling enhances his balance, and long bike climbs build endurance: important on days when 80-foot waves imprison you underwater. In between workouts, he remains in perpetual motion, working around the house, chopping wood, hauling, and cleaning.

“When you’re training, you eat better, sleep better, think better, and have better sex,” he says. “The challenge for me is not to overdo it. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve become more systematic. I pay attention to cycles and seasons. You can’t play the Super Bowl every day.”

Now, at Baldwin Beach Park, Hamilton leads me to the water. “Basically, you just want to plant your feet wide on the middle of the board,” he says. “Remember to breathe and don’t be afraid to dig in with the paddle. The board is like a bicycle: It’s easier to keep your balance when you’re moving.”

Clutching the paddle, I crawl up on the board, stand, wobble, and fall off. I try again and again. Seldom-used muscles throughout my body fire as I struggle to maintain my balance. After a few minutes, Brett Lickle joins Hamilton on the beach. Finally, on perhaps attempt number 12, I’m able to stand on the board for 10 to 15 seconds. I even take a few shallow strokes with the paddle. Hamilton beams.

“Terrific!” he says. “You got the idea. Next time you try it, you’ll be good to go.” I wade into shore, pushing the board in front of me. Hamilton hops on it and with a few smooth strokes cuts over two five-foot swells, heading out to where the larger waves roam.

On the beach, Lickle reassures me. “You did fine,” he says. He falls silent for a moment, watching Hamilton paddle. The wound on Lickle’s left leg is on the mend but still shows as a jagged, livid scar. “I think I’ve finished my business with the big waves,” he says. “I’ll surf for the rest of my life, but I’m done with the 80-footers.”

Out on the water, Hamilton catches a 10-foot breaker, gliding into shore with slow, graceful loops, his body at one with the board and the wave, moving the paddle as if it were an extension of his hands.

“With Laird, of course, it’s different,” says Lickle. “He still hasn’t taken his best ride.”

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