Sweat Mecca: EXOS Demands Intensity

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The word elite gets a bad rap these days. But around an EXOS gym it’s a badge of honor. Certainly there’s nothing conventional about the way EXOS is run, whether at the program’s 31,000-square-foot Phoenix flagship facility or at one of its other five venues around the country, as the staff trains you in far more than circuit workouts (although you can expect plenty of those too).

What started in 1999 on the campus of Arizona State University in Tempe has turned into one of the most well-respected facilities for professional athletes. “Our in-season is every sports’ off season,” Nick Winkelman, EXOS’ director of movement, tells Edge, “[and] our heritage is in our professional and elite-level athletes.” There’s that word again.

Recognized as one of the go-to facilities for NFL combine prep and off-season workouts, EXOS creates a "pit crew-like experience"—surrounding clients with a fully-integrated team during every aspect of their program.

When founder Mark Verstegen worked at the International Performance Institute and formed his ideas for his new facility—it started as Athlete’s Performance before rebranding this year as EXOS—he knew there was so much more to fitness than “lifting weights and doing cardio and jumping on a field,” Winkelman says. “He had a vision of training being a systems-based approach like a pit crew for a Formula 1 driver.”

At EXOS, that system encompasses mindset, nutrition, movement and recovery. And EXOS’ facilities are designed to facilitate that system it. Walk into any one of EXOS’ gyms and you’ll immediately sense an intensity that helps creating a culture of work.

Even before athletes start training, they must walk through all aspects of the EXOS environment. Athletes, on Day 1, meet with registered dieticians for an assessment of what really goes into their bodies. Then a customized program allows the “performance café” chefs to create a diet plan individually crafted for the length of an athlete’s stay. Winkelman says that every client, whether in an evening youth program or during NFL combine prep, goes through that step, with the NFL prospects even visiting a grocery store—“we go to the ends of the earth”—with EXOS personnel to learn how to navigate it correctly.

All “coaches”—there are no “personal trainers” at EXOS—have at least four-year degrees, and all have the space to put their expertise to use, with a 60-yard turf football field, covered basketball court, batting cages and pitching mound, 3-lane track and 25-meter pool all outside the heavily stocked Phoenix facility.

The fourth area, recovery, is a part of everything going on at EXOS. Says Winkelman, “All of our methods, the design of the facilities are meant to bring all [four components] together.”

The elite athletes will come and go, dropping in for as little as a couple of weeks or for as long as six weeks once or twice each year, immersing themselves in the fully individualized training programs for their specific body and sport.

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For those “general population” folks who want in on the service—and can afford it—there are windows of opportunity to train in the gym at 6 a.m., 7 a.m. and noon in a coach-led environment, still with full access to physical therapy, nutrition, massage and more.

EXOS has branched well beyond the gyms in Phoenix; San Diego; Los Angeles; Raleigh; Frisco, Texas; and Gulf Breeze, Fla., now offering in-house training for major sports teams—the U.S. Men’s National Soccer team, the Chinese Olympic Committee, up to eight MLS teams, the German National Soccer team and plenty more included—and even the U.S. military. EXOS has the largest human-performance contract in the world with staff on every single U.S. military base on the globe. The military sends entire battalions to EXOS’ Florida facility for weeklong training sessions. EXOS has also started working with major corporations, running coaching programs for the likes of Google, Walgreens and Intel.

It all comes back to that definition of elite, the one predicated on intensity. “We take this as serious,” Winkelman says, “as an orthopedic surgeon takes surgery. We ask for that intensity.”

Tim Newcomb covers stadiums, design and gear for Sports Illustrated. Follow him on Twitter at @tdnewcomb.