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May 2, 2004
Outside Magazine
Outside magazine, March 2000 Page: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6

The get-smart, get-out-there guide to finding your fitness groove—and keeping it

By Paul Keegan
Photography by Rob Howard


Tight focus: Lorenzo Beltrame (above), an LGE Performance Systems coach, building mental toughness

It's the damn airline's fault. My flight to Florida was delayed, so I landed after midnight and woke up exhausted. And who designed this stupid hotel, anyway? Takes you ten minutes just to find the elevator. Now construction crews have me backed up in traffic. What is wrong with these people? Everyone in Orlando is ganging up to make me late for my appointment with James E. Loehr, the renowned mental-training coach, and he's going to get the mistaken impression that I'm the one who doesn't have his act together.

I've come down from New York City to visit Loehr's headquarters, LGE Performance Systems, because he's promised to take me to unimaginable heights of physical fitness by exploring territory that few trainers dare venture into—the murky realm of the human psyche. That's where most workout programs fail, he says. All I know is that I had to spill my guts on a psychological survey before even getting on the plane. Worse, he made me ask five people who know me well to take the same quiz for an independent, anonymous assessment of my character.

A sports psychologist from Denver and author of three best-selling books on managing stress in sports and business, Loehr, 56, has spent 25 years studying the habits of elite athletes and applying the resultant wisdom to elevate the games of jocks such as the PGA's Nick Faldo, Nick Anderson of the NBA's Sacramento Kings, Philadelphia Flyers hockey player Eric Lindros, back-from-the-dead tennis sensation Andre Agassi, and assorted Eco-Challenge adventure racers. Loehr believes that the same principles of performance work for anyone, in any field, and so his clients also include Hollywood directors, FBI agents, Fortune 500 executives, brain surgeons, and even stay-at-home moms.

Working with such a broad range of people, he's developed a fairly astounding explanation for our chronic lapses in fitness: We've got it tougher than world-class athletes do. "No athlete we've studied in all of our 25 years has anywhere near the kind of demands placed on his or her energy that people like most of your readers do," Loehr told me. "They are expected to work for ten to 12 hours at a stretch while keeping their focus, making no mistakes—and still try to find time for family and leisure. Where does that leave the workout?"

That's when it hit me. We all know how to work out. Thousands of books, television programs, and, yes, magazines provide a torrent of details about the latest fitness techniques and physiological insights—advice that usually boils down to a few hard facts you already knew: Eat right, do aerobic workouts, and lift weights.

So how come we're not in tip-top shape?

Simple. We're not mentally strong. Loehr aims to fix that by teaching you how to toughen the body part that really calls the shots: the gray matter between your ears. This means being able to respond to any kind of stress—physical, mental, or emotional—with flexibility, responsiveness, strength, and resilience. "When you're mentally tough," Loehr proclaims, "not only are you not knocked off-balance by the inevitable crises of life, but you're actually challenged by them. You find yourself seeking out stress to elevate yourself to the next level of performance."

To test-drive his theories, I am spending three days at LGE's training camp in Orlando, where I will take an exhaustive series of exams to produce a terrifyingly honest inventory of my body, mind, and spirit. LGE will put me on a personalized training program, and after six weeks I'll write this story to get you started. After six months I'll return to be retested for empirical proof of whether I achieved my own physical and mental goals. Then, in the September issue, you can compare your results with mine.

Be warned: Despite his celebrity roster, Loehr is no trendy feel-good guru. You and I will have to face harsh truths about ourselves and commit to serious changes in lifestyle, including sleep, diet, exercise, and how we spend our working and leisure hours. We'll need to replace bad habits with good ones, and if Loehr is to be believed, we'll have to work at least as hard as an athlete training for the Olympics.

No wonder I'm cranky this morning.

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