Why Laird Hamilton Trains like a Gymnast

Mj 618_348_train like a gymnast
Photograph by Peter Bohler

Handstands, back bends, and bridges aren't just for gymnasts or yogis. The world's top athletes, from surfers to runners to basketball players, incorporate these kinds of moves into their training to build more strength and flexibility. And unlike weightlifting, where it's easy to cheat form and fake your way through, the isometric holds in gymnastics — for example, balancing in a perfect handstand — require you to truly master technique.

Try these three exercises alone, or grouped for a total-body strength workout. Because even the modified versions take a great deal of effort, do them when your muscles are fresh.

Few moves build upper-body strength and balance like supporting your weight with just your hands. If you haven't tried a handstand in a while, start with this version: Get into push-up position with the soles of your feet against a wall. Slowly walk your feet upward and your hands toward the wall until you're inverted, holding a handstand. Reverse back to the start, and repeat a few times. Once this feels comfortable, face the wall and kick up into a handstand. Try to take your feet off the wall, and hold your body perfectly straight, toes over hips, hips over shoulders, shoulders over hands.

Mj 390_294_the morning ritual

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Increase the challenge by shifting your weight from one hand to the other, or by trying to lift one hand off the floor for a second. When you've got this, go for the freestanding version. Stay tight in your core, elbows locked, and push your shoulders up to stabilize your trunk. Don't arch your back or hollow your stomach; it makes balancing tougher. Once you can hold this pose a few seconds, try taking "steps" forward with your hands.

Pike Holds
This move targets your lower back and abs to strengthen your entire core. Sit on the floor with your legs extended, hands on either side of your hips, palms down. Engage your abs and press your palms into the floor to lift your legs a couple of inches up; try to hold for five seconds, working up to 30. To scale the move up, place your hands on a pair of heavy dumbbells and press off those to elevate your body higher.

Our spines are constantly hunched forward from sitting in chairs. This move, also used in yoga, reverses the position, increasing your back strength and flexibility. Lie face up with your feet flat on the floor, palms down near your ears, elbows pointing up. Push through your hands and feet to raise your hips as high as you can, so your back is arched. Work up to a 30-second hold. Craving a challenge? Try bridging up so that you're facing a wall — then kick your legs up into a handstand.

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