We’re about two thirds of the way through a circuit training workout in a grassy field on a cliff overlooking the ocean Malibu, and I’m doing the wrong exercise. It’s 9 AM on a Friday morning. I’m enthusiastically doing some variation of a squat, and the five dudes in my group are doing something very different. But I’m fairly confident I’m following the instructions. I think they’re all wrong.
Gabrielle Reece shakes her head at me. Sternly, but in a knowing, accommodating way. She’s made a correction to an over-eager pupil before. That much is clear. She shoots me a look and nods toward the other dudes.
I promptly start doing what they’re doing.
Earlier this summer, I joined about 60 others for a free outdoor workout hosted by Gabrielle Reece and Laird Hamilton, and between a circuit of sixteen exercises that left me sore for a full two days, a breathing exercise that left me lightheaded for an hour (I now completely understand how Kelly Slater passed out during a Wim Hof training session), and something I can only characterize as a float-grappling exercise that left me feeling inadequate as a hunter-gatherer, I headed home feeling pleasantly disoriented. It’s the kind of refreshing jilt that makes you think a lot harder about something you tend to take for granted until it’s gone: your health.
Spending time with Gabby Reece and Laird Hamilton will do that to you. It’s not just in pictures that they appear to be the pinnacle of health. They very much live it. Between Gabby’s HIGHX Conditioning Program, Laird’s XPT Life, and their general accolades in surf, volleyball, fitness, and beyond, they’ve clearly built a life around being active. Which, to me, seems like an exceptional thing to do. To earn a living that revolves around approaching peak physical health not just to win medals or competitions, but rather to literally enjoy the earth as effectively as possible seems about as close as enlightenment as exists. I think they’ve continued to find success because they seem to embrace creative and unconventional methods to do so. As a former college wrestler, I’ve participated in some miserable workouts over the years – losing as much as eighteen pounds in two days and doing things that notorious Hawkeye and Olympian Terry Brands once said “would make a billygoat puke.” As a result, I feel like I’m a decent judge of a workout, and I don’t doubt the Hamilton clan has a war chest of workouts that might fit that bill. This was not one of them, but it was unique. It made me think about the power of breathing in a way that neither yoga nor running nor any other workout has before. Beyond that, it had a functional element to it that’s designed to make an impact on daily life.
As Reece explains, “When I stopped playing volleyball, people used to say to me, ‘Well, what are you training for now?’ Like it was weird that I was still training training hard…I go: Well, I’m training for my life.”
It almost sounds silly were it not for the intensity in her eyes and voice when she says it. Because, really, what else would you train for?