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In the Gym With Mark Verstegen, Athletes’ Performance
Never one to follow the pack, Mark Verstegen set out to give athletes a new kind of training camp. And in 1999, with innovation, ethics, and integrity in the plan, he brought Athletes' Performance to Tempe, Arizona. Four years later in L.A., the top-rated strength coach did it again. Sensing a trend? Now with four sprawling state-of-the-art facilities to its name, Athletes’ Performance remains one of the foremost leaders in professional and elite performance and tactical training (and our number one pick for Most Innovative Gyms in the U.S.). But before hitting the innovation labs or jumping in with the next top NFL draft picks, Greatist tracked down Verstegen to talk “brain training,” daily rituals, and how to make corporate America fit, healthy, and happy again.
What inspired you to create Athletes’ Performance?
Responsibility. At the end of the day when our athletes said, “Coach, I’ll do whatever it takes (ethically) to achieve my goals,” that is more or less the responsibility that is Athletes’ Performance.
Did you feel like there was no facility out there at that time did anything close to what you were looking to achieve?
No, not at all. And if there had been I would have tried to join and help make it better. But it wasn’t happening structurally inside the collegiate ranks or at the professional ranks either. What we needed to do was create a living, breathing model that would provide the finest systems, specialists, and facilities — all seamlessly integrated to enhance our athletes’ performance.
Was there a specific target athlete or individual you were looking to cater to or was it pretty broad at the time?
It had much more to do with a mindset than anything else, a mindset of someone who wanted to be a little better tomorrow than they are today — what we call an achiever mindset. Many people hear about our NFL combine training (last year we had about 14 out of the 32 top picks), but fundamentally, athletes come to us because they trust us and expect to achieve great results working within our program. The philosophy here is very much about individualizing things and educating around the integrated mindset: nutrition, movement, and recovery. That integration really helps the individual achieve his or her goal. Even if they’re 5-foot-2, they can still be great powerhouses and achieve great things.
Wait, are you talking about me?
Yeah, I’m talking about you! [Laughs] No, but at the end of the day the goal is to motivate and educate and we do really try to make it fun and engaging — and sustainable.
For those who haven’t experienced AP yet, what can they expect to find here that they can’t find anywhere else?
Our culture, for one. Everything about it is just in high definition and positive. The other big thing about us is our commitment to innovation, which is unmatched in the industry. We have a Performance Innovation Team, a multidisciplinary team that’s solely committed to driving leading edge programming, research, and results at each one of our facilities.
As one example, this year we partnered with Axon Sports [to integrate] training above the neck, or brain training, in a way that no one has ever seen or done before. So athletes can get as many sports-specific repetitions and work as hard at recognizing pitches, or recognizing defenses or offensive sets as they do with everything else. And we’ve found that if you train hard above the neck, amazing results below the neck will follow.
You hear of muscle repetition all the time, but to think of brain recognition — that makes a lot of sense. What else are we missing? In your opinion, no workout’s complete without what?
Hmm, that’s like picking your favorite kid. … I would say that no workout is complete without starting with self-soft tissue and pillar preparation, which is the complete activation of the shoulders, torso, and hips. It’s the foundation to fascial health and allows us to keep body in the right alignment. So using a foam roller, or even a basketball or volleyball, this means literally rolling back and forth up and down, kind of like you’d roll out pizza dough. Do that for your quads, glutes, calves, low back — it also helps find those trigger points, those little knots in your muscles. Self-massage will get that to release.
And more broadly speaking, if you could offer one “pro tip” to live by, what would that be?
That’s easy: Create a perfect day from when you wake up until you go to bed. Ninety percent of our daily actions run in our subconscious, so we have to really work to upgrade our daily rituals. But by building yourself a healthy, what we call “perfect" day, you can fill it out (hydrate more, eat more color, get more sleep) and then each day see how well you did across those simple things. All of a sudden people have an actionable way to keep score of their health.
Why does so much of the industry look to Athletes’ Performance, and why do the pros seek you guys out as opposed to others?
First of all, I think we practice what we preach. And what we ask from our people is to move forward with great respect, great humility, and responsibility. We’re honored to be able to help individuals achieve their goals. Philosophically, we’re just trying to help others and that includes the people in our industry as well. Learning from them, but also sharing with them.
Would you say that you have any competition out there? And are there any other facilities that made our list who you particularly respect and admire?
Tons of them. The word “competition” — I don’t look at it that way. I think that we all have a tremendous amount of work to do to help change the state of proactive health in the U.S. and globally. It’s going to take all of us — plus way more — to help change the tides. You will not find too much testosterone or ego around here.
But if I were in New York, I’d say Joe Dowdell — he does great stuff at Peak Performance. Also, Pat Manocchia at La Palestra. They run below the radar, but they’re just really special. Michael Boyle, obviously, is spectacular. There are so many great people out there.
What’s the future of Athletes' Performance?
Core Performance is really where we’re headed next. Core Performance has the same core fundamentals as Athletes' Performance — the mindset, the nutrition, the movement, the recovery — but we’re partnering with great companies, like Intel and Sheraton, to bring our proven systems to employees around the world. We’re getting people to think differently and trying to upgrade people’s lives within the corporate structure by really meeting them where they’re at.
The other place you’ll see us a lot more — and we just can’t talk about a lot — is what we do within the military space to support these men and women. Injury prevention, effective fueling, their overall performance… it’s all being implemented with just terrific, terrific results for the people who help provide us our freedoms. That’s really special for us.
The Bottom Line (i.e. your gym’s philosophy in 140 characters or less):
Treat every day like game day. Prepare, fuel, train, and rest for success.
Locations: Phoenix, AZ; Carson, CA; Gulf Breeze, FL; Frisco, TX. Plus 40-plus Core Performance corporations worldwide.
Hours: Vary by location.
Prices: Vary by program. Contact Athletes' Performance for more information.