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

Rob Howard
LGE corporate fitness director Steve Gray demonstrates a supported lateral raise (left); Gray supervises an intervals session on the bike

After swearing at the jerk ahead of me to step on it, I finally pull up to a modest, one-story office building near Lake Nona that houses LGE (named for Loehr and his partners, sports scientist Jack Groppel and trainer Pat Etcheberry, who together founded the business in 1992). I'm greeted in the reception area by David Striegel, a compactly built 32-year-old sports psychologist who, like everybody else working here, is relaxed, upbeat, and in annoyingly great shape.

Turns out there was a highway accident that made the LGE staff late, too. Striegel leads me past the large gym that occupies the entire right side of the facility, away from the six sun-drenched tennis courts where two internationally ranked women—Nicole Pratt (57th) and Erika De Lone (67th)—are whipsawing each other with fierce forehands. We end up in a tiny conference room.

Locking the door behind me, Striegel pulls a stack of papers from a manila folder. Yikes. Time for the results of my Mental Toughness Quotient (MTQ) profile, based on the 75-question survey that I and five others filled out and faxed to LGE. I chose three old friends, my sister, and—just to be fair about it—an ex-boss who would have fired me if I hadn't quit first. We all rated me on a scale of one to seven in areas like Unmotivated vs. Motivated, Unfriendly vs. Friendly.

This is the first of three steps the LGE people put its clients through to effect change. They call it Face the Truth. I'd call it an ambush. The printout, which should have been titled "The Top Ten Things Wrong with You," listed the areas in which I scored lowest. We go over my faults—impatient, constantly seeking praise, thinks "me," unorganized, poor team player, poor listener, critical of others, undisciplined, suspicious, etc.—as I silently plot how to kill each of my "friends." Sensing my discomfort, Striegel points out that I didn't necessarily score low in these areas, just lower than in my other areas, and that everyone has certain aspects that need work. Still, the whole process is pretty humiliating.

It's an ordeal designed to answer the question "Who am I?" Which leads to step two: "Who do I want to be?" Step three is the all-encompassing training program that will get me from my old me to my new me. (Since I had to go through all this, so do you—see "The Naked Truth," facing page.)

These steps may sound simple, but Loehr is actually cramming three major schools of psychology into one program. Step one employs the classic cognitive approach that focuses on understanding and diagnosing a problem; step two grows out of the self-actualizing theories pioneered by psychologist Abraham Maslow and others; and step three follows the behaviorist tack of John B. Watson and B. F. Skinner, which works on stimulating a desired change, or a "call to action," as Loehr puts it. He believes that the ideas of these thinkers are perfectly adaptable to the realm of fitness, and he's dressed-up his program with insights from the latest sports-science techniques—and mixed in some Zenlike Phil Jackson zeal for extra measure.


Rob Howard
Mental mogul: LGE chief Jim Loehr

I'm eager to meet the man who masterminded this Swiss-Army-knife approach to mental re-engineering, but Striegel tells me I'll meet Loehr later. As usual, the Wizard of Orlando is on the road leading a corporate seminar. I've interviewed him several times over the phone, so I know he was a good athlete himself—a tennis player at Denver's Regis University before developing a calcium buildup in his right elbow. He earned his doctorate of education in psychology from the University of Northern Colorado in 1968. From 1973 to 1977 Loehr worked as the director of a mental health center in Alamosa, Colorado, when two pro football players were referred to him because they were having trouble on and off the field. He was so intrigued by working with them that in 1978 he set up a practice in Denver devoted to the psychological treatment of athletes. "These were not broken people," he says, "but they needed psychology to help maximize their performance."

Over the next 15 years, Loehr acquired a vast fund of knowledge not only about the inner workings of the minds of elite athletes, but also their most private habits and the rituals that helped them perform. The similarities among all his clients astounded him. As he broadened his client base, he noticed that other successful high-pressure professionals—doctors, police officers, executives, even artists—possessed remarkable discipline in four key areas: mental, emotional, physical, and ability to recover.

Getting your gears clicking in each of these areas, he says, is how top performers reach that quasi-mystical place known as "the zone"—or, in the parlance of psychologist Mihali Csikszentmihaly, "flow." (Loehr prefers calling it the "ideal performance state.") You know the feeling: You can do no wrong; you're alert, focused, confident. You pedal right over a log that usually psyches you out, forcing you to dismount. Or you you punch through a hole that typically separates you from your kayak.

Loehr's pivotal assertion is that such moments need not occur randomly and infrequently, but can be reached every day, whenever you need them. Since he's a coach, not a mystic, he wants to quantify a client's progress with hard data. Borrowing an approach from elite military units like the Green Berets, Loehr tries to get his clients' pistons firing at 75 percent of their capacity in all four areas. "That," he says, "is when your life really gets humming."

For your physical potential, LGE simply consults percentile charts for your age and gender. And while figuring out 75 percent of your potential in intangible areas like mental and emotional discipline may seem impossible, Loehr has developed some yardsticks. My MTQ profile, for example, revealed that I'm weakest in mental disciplines like time management (45 percent) and the recovery skills like managing stress and balancing work and life (low 50s). I'm strongest in the emotional skills of managing adversity (75 percent) and positive critical thinking (67 percent). Odd as it feels to have my personality given a statistical ranking, this actually sounds about right.

After three hours with Striegel, I'm handed off to two other trainers for some physical tests. I lift weights and ride a stationary bike with wires pasted to my chest, a snorkel in my mouth, and a computer crunching the numbers. They take blood and analyze a log of everything I ate over the two days prior to my arrival. I'm told to strip down and sit inside the "bod pod," a giant fiberglass egg that looks like the Orgasmatron out of Woody Allen's Sleeper, to have my body-fat percentage measured.

The results: I'm in pretty good shape but hardly Green Beret material. My VO2 max—an indicator of how much oxygen my body can pump through the bloodstream to power my muscles—is about average at 33 milliliters of oxygen per kilogram of body weight per minute, but to reach the 75th percentile I need to bump that ratio to 37. My body fat is also average at about 23 percent, but they want me down to 17, which means I need to lose nine pounds of fat and gain nine pounds of muscle.

Steve Gray, my trainer, explains how I'm going to accomplish this as I sweat away on the treadmill. A serene yet energized man with a goatee, Gray tells me to spike my 30-minute aerobic workouts with three nasty 20-second sprinting intervals and follow them with six merciless free-weight drills called drop sets (see "Let's Get Physical," page 76). I'm to keep this up three or four times a week, with variations he'll suggest along the way, and limit my food intake to 2,200 calories a day (a 50-30-20 carbo-protein-fat split so I can build muscle). Some of the proposed lifestyle changes seem pretty funky: eating five small meals a day to keep my blood-sugar level constant; getting up at the same time every day to stay alert; taking 15-minute "recovery" breaks every two hours to recharge my batteries. No matter. After three full days of workouts, consultations, healthy lunches at the posh Lake Nona Country Club, and constant cheering from my brainy trainers, I'm fired up. With such world-class coaching, how can I fail?

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