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With any professional athlete, getting the most out of their body is essential from both a competitive and performance standpoint. Now from an early age on, athletes are more aware of how to properly train while also focused on the importance of diet and nutrition to help them perform at the highest level.
One commonality throughout professional sports now, particularly amongst the star and elite players, is having their own personal trainers available on demand and year-round. Whether it’s squeezing in a lifting session in between a cover shoot, or waking up at sunrise to work on agility drills, having a top trainer on-call throughout a demanding schedule is now a necessary expense for many of today’s top athletes. With big money contracts and professional careers at stake, more and more players are now hiring these specialized athletic trainers to help keep them on top of their game.
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Travelle Gaines is one of the most renowned and premier sports performance trainers in America. Gaines star clientele includes top NBA, NFL and MLB players such as Antonio Brown, Jimmy Butler, Draymond Green, Andrew Luck, Dexter Fowler, Lesean McCoy among many others. Retired stars like Marshawn Lynch and Brandon Roy also leaned on Gaines during their careers. His personal training sessions have even extended to the entertainment field, as he also trains music mogul Sean “Diddy” Combs.
In the very competitive, lucrative, but often unstable industry of professional sports, Gaines humility and keen focus on getting the best out of each of his clients has led to his players remaining loyal to his personalized, 1 on 1, elite level training services. Not just a trainer, Gaines routinely checks in on each player, to not only see if they’re eating right and following the detailed program he creates for them, but also as a friend and confidant. He makes himself available to his players 24/7 and states he is always just a call, text or flight away.
“He knows guys bodies and pushes them,” says Chicago Bulls’ power forward Taj Gibson, who is currently enjoying the best statistical season of his eight-year career. Gibson sought Gaines’ guidance last summer after seeing the progress made by his teammate Butler after the All-Star forward began working with Gaines in the summer of 2015. Gibson wanted to focus on strengthening his core body and focused on injury prevention type training methods.
“It’s the work he does that helps you remain in this league for a very long time,” says new Dallas Mavericks forward Harrison Barnes, who has worked with Gaines since the trainer was hired by the Golden State Warriors during the 2014 season as a training consultant. “He’s all about the work. There’s not any extra stuff with him. I think that’s what makes guys want to keep going back to him.”
Aside from ensuring that his clients are maintaining the unique plan he designs for each of them, Gaines also runs and operates Athletic Gaines, a multi-city, state of the art training facility which is a training hotbed for pro-athletes during the off-season. This includes soon-to-be rookies training for the NFL and NBA Combines and Pre-Draft. Gaines is also set to launch his new site, Daily Gaines, a unique training hub that will offer elite fitness instruction, nutritional tips and specialized workout plans through first-hand guidance and input from some of the best athletes in pro-sports.
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We recently caught up with Gaines before he was set to begin a scheduled training session at the Chicago Bulls’ practice facility with his Bulls clients. We discuss why it makes sense for the NBA’s best players to have their own personal trainers and his insight and experiences from working closely with some of sports’ biggest stars.
As with many of your clients, it would appear that most players would hire a trainer for wanting to improve their performance. How true is that assessment?
TG: It all depends on what time of the year it is. In the offseason, what I do is I meet with every single athlete that I train and I look back and reflect to see what they did good or bad that year, and see what needs to be improved on for the following season. Some guys may want to focus on injury prevention. Some may want to focus on explosiveness, endurance, cutting weight or gaining weight.
I had Shabazz Muhammad of the Timberwolves last summer who lost 32 pounds. He felt he was playing heavy last year and wanted to lose weight. You get a variety of things. So in the offseason, I build the guys’ plans to give them the base they need and during the season, since things are so hectic, the goal is to just maintain what we built upon during the offseason. Obviously with me being in Chicago and having a lot of those guys in the offseason, I’m able to continue to make sure their strength, endurance and corrective exercises that we’ve worked on in the offseason are still intact. The offseason is about putting them at a high level that they’ll want to be at and during the season; then it’s about maintaining that level.
It seems that we’re seeing more and more guys with their own personal trainers now. Are we in a time where if a player doesn’t have their own training guy, that they’re putting themselves at a disadvantage from a competitive standpoint?
TG: I think what happens is with the NBA season being so rigorous and long sometimes you might play four games in five nights. Or you might play one or two games that week, so it’s almost impossible to stick to a set schedule. So the reason why a lot of players have started getting their own personal guys is obvious; if you’re a superstar player like LeBron James or a Jimmy Butler, your offseason travel schedule is just ridiculous. You’re going to China with sneaker companies. You’ve got USA Basketball. You’re flying cross-country doing photo shoots. There’s so much stuff going on that it’s impossible to be at a team facility all the time. Whether it’s a trainer from the team or your own personal guy; you just need someone with you.
That’s why a lot of the big name players – once they get that second contract – they typically go out and get their own guy who can travel with them and be at their call. I don’t know that it’s necessarily needed for a lower-tier guy from a financial standpoint. They don’t necessarily have the financial means to really afford a guy that’s going to be around them year round. A lot of time, those young guys are asked to stay around the team city in order to get better and workout with the team. I highly recommend it for a guy like James Harden, Russell Westbrook or a Damian Lillard, guys with a lot of commitments and obligations, so they always have a guy with them to make sure they’re on top of their game from a conditioning, nutrition and court-work standpoint. If you’re a lower tier guy, I don’t think it’s really needed.
What NBA players are you currently working with specifically?
TG: Right now, the three guys that I’m working with daily in Chicago are Jimmy Butler, Taj Gibson and Michael Carter-Williams. For me, it’s easy to deal with those guys because I’m in Chicago. It’s been an adjustment for me being in Chicago as my first year with the NBA I was working with players from the Golden State Warriors and always in the Bay Area around those guys. I’m from Louisiana, so the adjustment to Chicago’s cold winters also has been tough.
Being around these guys is a blessing because I really don’t need the money because I have my own sports training business ‘Athletic Gaines’ that does very well. So I’m now able to attract and get a certain type of player that really wants my help and really wants to train with me. Having Jimmy, Taj and MCW, they’ll literally text me randomly like “What time can we work out at?” or “What am I eating today?” So, it’s pretty easy to work with guys that understand the process, who want to get better, and also see the value in the work. A lot of times with the teams –maybe it’s a personality thing, or guys want to do their own things – but sometimes it’s tougher for some players to really connect with the team trainers for whatever reason, but it’s easy and natural for me.
Along with your NBA clientele, your client list also features several top NFL players. Those are two different sports with different requirements. What’s the difference from a training component between the two sports?
TG: I actually have a funny story about that. Last year, the Bulls are playing the Sacramento Kings and me and Jimmy are at dinner and he started talking about how fast he is and how he could play wide receiver in the NFL. Obviously, one of my guys that I train is Steelers Antonio Brown. It was two o’clock in the morning where Antonio was during the time, so we face-timed him and Antonio picked up. AB and Jimmy got into this funny argument about how much faster Jimmy thought he was and how he could do this and that on the football field. That sparked a bond and they ended up becoming really good friends. So then I told Jimmy that Antonio is going to be in LA training this summer. So one day Jimmy went out there and trained with Antonio and Russell Wilson on the field and he quickly found out that it’s a totally different ball game from a speed, quickness and change-of-direction standpoint (Laughs).
Every athlete that I train wants to be faster, explosive and leaner, no matter what sport or position they play. With NBA guys, you’re doing a lot of stuff where its fast twitch, explosive type exercises and building stamina. Jimmy runs almost 3 miles per game. Now imagine that with adding cutting and jumping. The pace of the NBA game is just different. With the NFL, I structure those workouts to be more high tempo because you’ll get a quick burst on a 10 second play and then you have 45 seconds to rest because of the play clock. That’s the difference between training the two.
With all of the athletes that you’ve worked with, has there been a guy that has wowed you in terms of their physical ability?
TG: There have been a lot of guys, but you know who really impressed me and he’s still kind of under the radar? Jerami Grant of the Oklahoma City Thunder. He has amazing bounce. I’m surprised he hasn’t been in the Slam Dunk Contest yet. I have a video where he’s doing five reps of 55-inch box jumps and this was after doing a full leg workout. He’s incredibly bouncy, explosive and very well put together. Shabazz Muhammad also has very good vertical leaping ability. Jimmy is unbelievably strong and Rajon Rondo is another guy that is very strong for his size.
In an industry where there’s always constant moving around, guys getting traded, signing with new teams etc. your clients seem to remain loyal to you. In your opinion, what’s the main reason why players stay loyal and committed to you?
TG: I think the reason why I’m able to get guys and they stick with me for so long is because I really stay out of the way. I also try to make the player’s goals my goals, and I just don’t do too much else. I just want to be their trainer. I’m not trying to be in your entourage. I’m not trying to hang out, be all up in the videos (laughs). I actually trained Puff [Diddy] for like three years and that’s my man. I just literally stay out of the way and I think that really helps me with the players.
In terms of development and progress once you begin working with a new client, who has been a player that has really impressed you?
TG: I think from a growth standpoint and it’s still early in his career, but [Boston Celtics rookie] Jaylen Brown. He was training with me during the pre-draft process out in LA. To see where he was from then till the time he left for Summer League it was just amazing. He put on a little bit of weight, but he got leaner, more explosive; everything you can think of. He’s a guy that I think is going to be unbelievably special once it’s all said and done because he has something special in him.
Guys like Jimmy Butler, Kawhi Leonard and Russell Westbrook; there is just something in them that drives them to want to be better than everyone else. Jaylen’s a kid who just made ridiculous leaps and will only get better as a player.
For the most part, the guys you work with are all physical specimens in some form. Aside from genetics and physical attributes, how important is the mind-set in terms of getting the best results?
TG: That’s a great question. I don’t think I’ve made any athlete. I think it all comes down to guys and their will power and all I try to do is provide a system to help them out. Now a lot of it is luck (laughs). You get a guy like Jimmy or Antonio Brown and it’s like, “O.K., lets just not mess them up.” I’ve trained retired stars like Terrell Owens and Brandon Roy, all special talents. When you know and have trained so many great high-level athletes, you tend to understand what makes them tick. I think the biggest thing for me is finding out what really motivates each guy and focus on that. Then from there I constantly remind them of that and we set out to reach their goals.
Perfect example, I always look back to the offseason a few years ago when Draymond Green was a third-string small forward making $800K hoping to make the roster. He lost a lot of weight that summer and now he’s the starting PF and the rest is history. Draymond was just motivated to get into the rotation and now he’s got a near max contract, is an All-Star and an Olympic Gold Medalist. Harrison Barnes is also another kid who was coming off the bench when Andre Iguodala took his spot and he wanted his job back. He worked his butt off, stayed in the gym, got better and now he’s got a new max contract with Dallas.
It’s just whatever motivates that athlete specifically and then constantly reminding them of the goals. If it’s six o’clock in the morning between games or in the offseason, it’s about the sacrifices needed to help get them to achieve what they want.
What was Jimmy Butler’s motivation when he started training with you?
TG: I think the big thing with Jimmy is he just wants to prove everyone wrong and he just wants to be the very best. He just wanted to have a guy that could be with him year-round and someone that understood his body. We met and immediately connected. We have similar backgrounds. We’re both from the South, had tough upbringings and we’re both country as hell. He quickly found out that I didn’t have an agenda, so I wasn’t someone who needed him because I had other things going on. He saw the results from working with me and decided to bring me on and we’ve been rocking ever since. I’ll train Jimmy for hopefully the next 15 years, or for however long he wants to play. He’s been great.
It wasn’t like he wanted to focus on anything specific. It was more “I want to be the best.” “I want to have the best resources around me, no matter what it costs or takes.” That’s been Jimmy’s focus since the day I met him. The crazy thing is that he hasn’t changed. He’s an All-Star for the third straight year and just voted a starter. He’s averaging 25ppg and he’s still in the gym, working his butt off. I don’t think he understands how high his profile is, how far he’s come and where he’s at because he still works like he’s the 12th guy on the bench.
Being in NBA locker rooms I’ve seen various instances where a team will provide a not so healthy postgame meal that isn’t conducive for high-level athletes. What should athletes be putting into their bodies right after a game?
TG: Postgame meals are something that should be taken very seriously. A lot of times teams will offer some not so good choices and you’ll see a guy with a box of pizza after a game or fried chicken. Athletes should be looking to intake lean protein, like a chicken breast or some type of fish. They should also be getting as many greens as they can like fresh salads, grilled or steamed vegetables and that’s what they should have right after a game. Once again, I’m really blessed to have players that get it and understand, so I know my guys after games are eating the right stuff.
From a pure athletic standpoint, it seems this generation of NBA players are in the best shape in the history of the game. Aside from the evolution of genetics, what do you attribute this to?
TG: You always hear the analysts and former players discuss how guys now wouldn’t be able to play in their era. It’s the evolution of the body. Kids now have strength and conditioning coaches in the eighth grade. They’re getting exposed to how to eat better and there’s so much information on the Internet, so as a result, kids are now bigger, stronger and faster than ever. They’re also eating organic foods now and putting better quality things into their body. Genetically, that extends across all sports.
In football, players are now bigger and faster and that’s why there are so many concussions. You have lineman now running 4.4 40’s. In the NBA, you have guys like Jimmy, Westbrook, LeBron; guys that are just genetically built, fit, fast and more explosive. No disrespect to Larry Bird, but he couldn’t have guarded any of these guys now. Now his shooting and skillset, you can’t take that away from him– he was great. But with the way the guys move now, I just don’t know if certain guys from those past eras could matchup with this current era.
I remember seeing where someone said LeBron would have just been an average player in their era. No the hell he wouldn’t (laughs). Just like he’s the most athletic guy now, back then, he would have been the most athletic guy times 30. Several years ago, players thought that if they lifted weights, it would affect their shot. That just shows you the mentality of where people were. Players are just bigger, faster and more explosive than ever now. There are a lot of resources to help players improve and that’s why athletes are so dominant now from a physical standpoint.
What advice would you give a college player entering the NBA Draft as he prepares for the combine and getting himself ready for his first training camp?
TG: The biggest thing would be to spend some time around a veteran or a player that they aspire to be like because I don’t think they necessarily understand the work ethic or the demand it takes at the NBA level. Just learn from someone who has been in the league and understand how they work and apply it and go from there. You’re not in college anymore. You’re now about to be paid to play a sport. Your walkthroughs and shootarounds are only 45 minutes to an hour, so you have the remainder of the day to get better and you have to spend that time wisely. You can’t get caught up with trying to go out and be cool. You have to put the work in so you can get that next contract and establish yourself in the league. It’s a job now.