Ten years ago I wouldn’t have known the difference between an athlete and a jock. I would have insultingly grouped them together in the same locker room, snapping towels and trash talking each other. Now I know that there is a spectrum with jock on one end and athlete on the other. The jock is the schmuck who by some stroke of nature is physically adept at activity, but is carrying around a sack of rocks for a head. They can be arrogant assholes or just meatheads who are gifted at one particular task. They usually wind up at used car dealerships when they cannot evolve past whatever their basic latent talent happens to be, desperately trying to reclaim their glory days when they peaked. At the other end of the spectrum are athletes, people who use their minds as much as they use their bodies, if not more so. They may begin with a basic talent for sport, but that only serves as an inroad to a larger pursuit of personal achievement. In many cases their athletic activity is merely a reflection of an inner competitiveness or drive to succeed. Sport is just one manifestation of their mind set, and the rest of their lives reflect this inner athlete. It’s inside the athletes of the Special Olympics who do not allow a physical limitation to stop them from training, competing, and winning. It’s the A-type personality, the inwardly driven, self-motivated person who needs to be active because without it they would explode. At its worst, athletes can be control freaks trying to understand and manage every small piece of their lives. At its best, athletes represent the best of us, what can happen if you fuse mind and body through personal will. Core Performance is a gym designed by athletes, for athletes.
The gym is the extension of the Core Performance philosophy created by Mark Verstegen. The facility is designed to mimic the individual professional coaching he’s provided for world class athletes. By replicating in a computer system the adaptable workout plans that normally would be done moment-by-moment, the Core Performance computer system begins with a baseline workout designed to meet each client’s personal goals. This can include working within micro and mezzo cycles of periodization plans, or just a systemic approach towards better health and fitness. Before a plan is generated each client is given a full intake evaluation including a physical test of movement, VO2 max (the rate at which your body processes oxygen through the blood), and a psychological profile. This last piece informs how Core Performance treats you as a client. Some clients need more individual attention and motivation, and others want to be left completely alone to do their thing. Core Performance can adapt to either person, and every in-between. This also manifests itself in how the computer program adjusts your individual workout. Some super-aggressive athletes want to be destroyed after their session, so the computer can determine how to present a workout that meets that person’s long term goals while addressing their micro goal of needing to go big or go home. For someone like myself, I need to trust that the ongoing data will inform the next workout and I will take whatever is served. As long as I trust the messenger, I’m willing to listen to what needs to be done. Though I didn’t do the psychological battery, I like to think I’m mentally flexible in my workout, and I’m learning that my mood going in to a workout often is not reflective of my ability for that day. Sometimes I feel tired and I have buckets of hidden energy. Sometimes I’m actually tired.
I arrived ready to work, wanting to have my butt kicked while exploring what Core Performance could do for me as a triathlete. The entire staff of Core Performance have the quiet, kind confidence of people that know the product they’re proselytizing is good enough to speak for itself. At no point was there a hard-sell by anyone, or the wide eyed “join us” zombie drone of so many hipster spots desperate for new members. Perhaps its because so many of the staff aren’t from Los Angeles. The parent company is headquartered in Boston and the incredibly nice trainer who put me through my paces came from a military brat background having traveled the world. Later, I warned the staff that they were never going home. Flying back to Boston in November after spending the fall by the ocean in Santa Monica is going to ruin them. They are the first ones to say that their gym isn’t a pickup spot for gym rats, or a lame way to siphon guilt money out of people who think just belonging to a gym gets them healthy, or the Machine is all they’re selling. The environment is squeaky clean, it’s possible to maintain a sense of privacy in much of the space, and even in the open environment of the gym facility itself you have your own station and are kept busy interacting with props, the Machine, and a trainer nearby making sure you’re working. There’s just no time to be a Sleestack and hit on your neighbor – you’ve got to keep moving and hitting that jolly red button! But I’m getting ahead of myself.
First, the bathrooms. This isn’t just the nicest locker room I’ve seen, it’s one of the nicest bathrooms I’ve been in. In my technology work I’ve been privileged to be in some of the nicest homes in Los Angeles, and by extension, used some of the finest facilities. I’d put the Core Performance bathroom right up there. I was shown how to use the digital locker keypad and got changed for my workout. If I were my wife I would have spent more time fondling the product and smelling everything.
I was introduced to Andrea, a pint sized powerhouse of enthusiastic smarts. Again, the difference between an athlete and a jock was clear. She’s someone who has been physically active and fit her whole life, but it was merely an extension of a personality that sought new experiences and challenges. Going into fitness and training was not her primary life work, it’s part of her approach to the world. She knew me from the opening event party so we already had a rapport going into the gym. Since this was an introductory session I did not receive the full intake workup, so Andrea asked me some simple questions about my training, experience, and personal goals. She then overrode the system with her keycode and punched up some preset workouts that would give me a good idea of a Core Performance workout. And thus commenced the ass kicking.
We spent half an hour at the Machine and to my surprise I spent 2/3 of the time using props and working off the machine rather than the pneumatic arms of the device itself. This isn’t how every session will work, but for this particular kind of workout I used a foam roller, the free weights, and spongy knee pads for a lot of floor work, then the Machine for some funky twisting action and overhead pulls. It’s clear that the machine can do thousands of exercises by simple adjustments of its arms and seat, but the prop area is just as important. My house is already filled with exercise equipment cobbled together over the years and urged by my bodyworker/yoga teacher. I have a foam roller, The Stick, an 8 lb kettle ball, free weights in 3, 5, 10, and 15 lb varieties, power bands that can be used as resistance bands, a Bosu, two inflatable exercise balls, jumprope, tennis balls, pink racquetballs (both for rolling out kinks – Andrea told me she uses golf balls – OUCH), and on and on and on. The Core Performance setup packs all this stuff and more into a big black rotating cube. I want one. Andrea is a gifted trainer, correcting my form in a non-judgmental way, treating me as an experienced athlete who just needed pointers on how to maximize the intent of the exercise. This is part of the experience that can’t be obtained from books, where the difference between training an incorrect muscle memory and training the right set of muscles can be just a few centimeters off. A long time ago I lived with an ex-bodybuilder and we would go to the Gold’s Gym in Studio City. He taught me a lot about working out and proper order, but it wasn’t until years later when I went to a yoga class with Jill Miller and received minute adjustments that I understood that proper form is more important than how much weight you can lift, pull, or push. Things my friend took for granted I didn’t even know to ask. This is why at Core Performance a computer screen mounted on the Machine gives instructions on each pose, but it’s kind of like watching a DVD at home. The computer screen registers the wattage output of every move using the pneumatic weights, so it’s possible to evaluate consistency over every single rep. The great benefit is in having an Andrea close at hand to make adjustments until proper proprioception can take over in time. I was able to see another trainer offer guidance to two other clients, one needing more feedback than the other. Her guidance was convivial, encouraging, she regularly checked in with the more experienced client, and made it all look easy.
After a progressively tougher half hour workout we moved to the cardio area of treadmills and bikes. I was fitted with a wireless heart rate monitor (clients get their own and wear it throughout both sessions for continual monitoring and data mining) and Andrea picked a hill attack power session. The bike’s wheel resistance is magnetic, and it’s perfectly even unlike other mechanisms that wear down over time. This also lets them measure wattage, or power, which when combined with heart rate data is every cyclist’s dream data. This same kit can be installed on a regular bike by replacing the rear hub with a power tap meter. Having it at the gym integrated with the weight session is a great tool. “Training with power” is the current standard for online coaching as it informs the distant coach the real wattage output of their clients.
Andrea changed things up and gave me a different bike program halfway through to show me the different setups, and my only complaint of their bike is that the user has to manually shift gears using a sensitive throttle. Since the machine is computer controlled there should be an automatic adjuster with a manual override. A minor complaint. But a sensitive throttle gets harder to nail down when you’re spinning at 110 rpm with heavy resistance.
We finished up and went to the nutrition station where I declined Gatorade and initially declined a Myoplex protein bar. This opened the discussion up as to why I was against Gatorade and Myoplex. For the first, I pointed out that Gatorade derives its calories primarily from High Fructose Corn Syrup, an engineered product that is the ass end of the industrial food complex. There are better ways to get sugars into the system, preferably single-sourced like fruit. Andrea countered that the Gatorade immediately post-workout was still a good way to replenish minerals and some calories – it’s the passive consumption of Gatorade as a recreational beverage that resulted in calorie overload. I agreed, but I still wasn’t happy that they were pushing a healthy nutritional philosophy long term life goal while serving a short term unhealthy option. But she is right – drinking Gatorade during and after a workout is fine and won’t turn anyone into a cornball. It does have sodium and potassium, necessary minerals lost during vigorous training. I drink water and take salt tabs, but I am also far more involved in my food and nutrition these days. Then came the EAS bars. I rummaged through the selections and ever single one of them had HFCS. Laughing, Andrea asked what the big deal about HFCS was. I told her to read the Omnivore’s Dilemma. It’s not the HFCS itself, it is that HFCS is just one of the many ways the food industry has gotten us to eat more corn and subsidize the midwest corn farmer who is going broke planting that crop. In being overrun by corn we’ve changed ruminant animals into corn-eating animals, which requires pumping them full of antibiotics and hormones to digest something they never evolved to eat. HFCS is in every processed food these days and my wavy gravy perception sees cows forced to eat corn to fatten them fast for market alongside the dramatic spike in obesity in this country. Passive consumption of calorically dense foods yields fat mammals. Andrea countered again that it was individuals who ate a protein bar (with enough calories and nutrition as a meal) as a snack that was the abuse of the food. And many clients didn’t know to eat within 10-30 minutes of their workout to resupply needed protein and carbohydrates, so the protein bar was suitable for those people. Like an idiot, I didn’t bring my own protein shake meal with me and she was right – I should have brought my own food. I ate the Myoplex bar. It was tasty, damn it. But I wasn’t done with Core Performance and EAS. Oh no, not yet.
Andrea and I parted ways and I stepped into Bryant’s office for a debriefing of my experience and what Core Performance had to offer. Mostly we talked about our lives and interests, and had an extremely pleasant discussion about the facility and its target audience. I was honest with him, I thought it was a great workout for all the reasons I just detailed above. When he slid over the summary of prices I was shocked – not by how expensive it is, but by how cheap. Most people in this town are used to paying hundreds of dollars to sign up for a gym, and then a monthly fee. The gyms count on this because they know most people won’t come in but keep their membership out of guilt, or “I plan on working out” and never show. That’s free money for them. Core Performance doesn’t do that. Many people in this town hire a personal trainer several times a week, sometimes they work out, sometimes they get coffee. Core Performance doesn’t do that, either. Core Performance charges significantly LESS than a personal trainer workout – for their entire fee. A ridiculously low yearly membership price, and a staggeringly low per-session fee. It is clearly designed for the goal-oriented person. Use is and pay, don’t use it and it’s only a loss of fitness not money. Pay a little more on the yearly fee to get preferential booking of equipment 10 days ahead of time. I told Bryant honestly that I didn’t know how they were going to make money that way, but I was amazed and delighted by their pricing structure.
Moreover, I could envision using Core Performance in several ways. The inexpensive way is to use them for several months to teach me how to workout, how to structure a core strength workout that compliments my triathlon work, and teaching the muscle memory required to self-train. Eventually I could do the work at home, and come in as needed for new goals. This would not reap the full package of services they have to offer, but it would provide some structure to what is now nonexistent. To really capitalize on their services I’d go there several times a week, gaining new skills and over the course of a year seeing systemic growth supported by their sophisticated data mining. But there are many points in between doing it on the cheap and going in full bore like an NFL draft pick. For those A-types with disposable income, this is an ideal, affordable way of achieving real physical and mental goals. To Bryant’s surprise, I didn’t need a sales pitch. I immediately saw the value of the Core Performance system and told them I thought it was the deal of a lifetime.
Working in technology means that I’m often able to see several years downstream of a product. I’ve been doing this long enough to see there’s rarely a “game changer” device or technology. Most things are recombinations or refinements of existing tech. Every so often someone comes along with a real leap forward putting together the best of several worlds to create a new product. In the case of Core Performance I can easily see having one of their machines and equipment in my home with a data uplink to their network. The machine itself is basically a computer controlled pneumatic Bowflex with wattage detection and fancy parts that move by themselves. But there’s nothing that says this kind of dynamo can’t be installed on a resistance trainer hooked into a laptop along with a wireless heart rate monitor that talks to their Mother Ship for its data and customizable workout plans. We already have the ability to put a power tap into bikes and the price point has steadily dropped every year. The benefit of going into Core Performance is the overall package – nutrition, PT, the gym itself, and the individual attention during training to make adjustments and motivation if necessary. But for people as self-driven, and likely as financially successful, as Core Performance’s clientele – the home gym version would be very attractive. Eventually, this is a system that can be sold just like a Bowflex, but linked to your home computer network and integrated with a Core Performance online coaching system.
As Bryant and I were talking, Chris, the Chief Marketing Officer came in to say hello. The three of us started talking about Core Performance, Boston versus LA (I went to school in Western Massachusetts and for years drove east for records and shows), and I not so subtly asked him how the charitable aspects were coming. He pulled up a chair and we had a great conversation about the steps they were taking towards charitable giving (they are working on it), and the overall gestalt of the Core Performance brand. Of course, EAS came up in our conversation and I repeated a lot of what I said to Andrea at the nutrition bar along with my feeling that because of D-SHEA companies had no incentive to scientifically prove the efficacy of their product. In fact, quite the opposite. If your competitor doesn’t need to prove their snake oil works, why would you test it only to find out it’s bunk? Chris had to correct me – EAS rigorously tested their products using third party independent labs, and was the only company creating sports nutrition food for professional level leagues – primarily because of the lack of hormones, steroids, and other substances that can cause problems in drug testing. I asked him for those reports and he said he’d email them to me, and within hours they were in my inbox. I’m still going to research EAS and their products, and it’s unlikely I’m going to switch over to a processed food. But I can save the vitriol for companies that aren’t committed to proving their product. Lastly, Chris told me about an EAS product called Muscle Armor, and said that independent research showed actual, statistically significant results in using that product with training. And sure enough, their nutritionist has sent me the paper and the stuff works.
I wound up spending an hour talking with Bryant and Chris, mostly about how unique the Core Performance brand is in the fitness world. They are not a gym for everyone. They are aimed squarely at a confident, goal-oriented clientele looking for quantifiable gains in fitness – physically and mentally. They know the product they’re selling is both effective, solid, and proven, so the hard sell isn’t necessary. Afterwards, I emailed the coaches and professional fitness people I knew to check them out. Core Performance is most definitely NOT Curves for jocks. It is a well thought out, well engineered, systemic approach towards fitness and I’m going to figure out how to incorporate them into my life as an athlete.
Full disclosure – I offered to buy Mark Verstegen’s Core Performance book, but they gave me a copy as well as a gym bag loaded with goodies. I felt incredibly taken care of, they spent a generous amount of time with me, and also indicated that they knew about this blog. Though the gym bag of goodies was pretty rad, it was not a quid pro quo for a positive review. The goodie bag is given to new members.