Tucked away in the Hollywood Hills — like a swanky nightclub — stands Athletic Gaines.
There is loud music, atmosphere and plenty of sweat. And no fun.
This is a workout wonderland. A spot athletes come to be honed and toned so they will be able to attain their goals.
“It’s the difference between being on the practice squad or the 53-man roster,” free agent safety Hamza Abdullah tells FOXSports.com following an intense workout. “Being on the 53-man roster and being a starter. Being a starter or being a Pro Bowler. Being a Pro Bowler to an All-Pro. Everyone is challenging themselves.”
Last July, Travelle Gaines and former wide receiver Hank Baskett developed the idea to open their own gym for elite athletes. They would use word of mouth as the only marketing. After building a strong network and clientele list, the gym’s popularity has exploded and it hosts All-Pro caliber players during the offseason.
“I look at it as the athletes’ livelihoods are in our hands,” Gaines says while multi-tasking on his cell phone. “And if we don’t do the right thing and push them and make them get the results they need, we’re doing a disservice to them and I can’t do that to anybody.”
Gaines gets started early. His energy, enthusiasm and work ethic are unparalleled. A 4 a.m. alarm wakes him up daily and after a quick meal, he gets to the gym.
“The only person I’ve ever seen work as hard as him is my mom,” Baskett says.
He spends an hour or so prepping the day’s workout, while his staff files in. The staff includes four performance coaches, two massage therapists, a chiropractor, a physical therapist and a nutritionist.
Classes begin at 6:30 a.m. While the streets of West Hollywood come to life, Athletic Gaines is in the middle of a full blown, energy-sucking workout routine. There’s nothing fun about it, except the music.
Kanye West’s “Clique” blares and the gym rumbles from the bass as if there was a “Project X” type of house party going on inside.
A group of 20 players complete the cross-training style of workout while wearing weighted vests. Giants linebacker Keith Rivers walks off the indoor turf for a moment to catch his breath and chug a bottle of SmartWater.
The intensity gradually increases. From speed work to Olympic-style lifts and plyometrics, Gaines makes sure to keep the body guessing.
“He has a great program,” said Raiders defensive tackle Lamarr Houston, who has worked with Gaines for four years. “They’re difficult, but they really prepare you for the season and get your body right.”
Gaines barks out keywords and phrases to trigger each player, challenging them.
“Thirty carries a game, Ronnie Hillman!” Gaines yells at the Broncos’ second-year running back, who has added 20 pounds of muscle this offseason. “Montee Ball is coming for you. Hold that ball high.”
Then, he turns to me while looking down at his iPhone and says, “It was just my son’s birthday. I just got back from New York this morning. I got him a skateboard and I had Lil Wayne sign it.”
Who is this guy? How does he know Lil Wayne?
“C’mon, man. I know everyone. We’re from the same city.”
Life as an NFL trainer is being a master motivator. While Gaines won’t take credit for it, he has built an environment that fosters competition and challenges players to get the most out of every repetition.
“It’s awesome,” Seahawks cornerback Brandon Browner said. “He has a bunch of All-Pro guys around.
We’re in here getting good work and competing against each other. You can’t get better work out here in the LA area.”
As the 90-minute workout comes to a close, trainers gather in the kitchen to blend a nutrient-based drink loaded with 100 percent whey protein and other ingredients that break down lactic acid after strenuous workouts.
“It’s important that they come back tomorrow,” Gaines said. “They all drink it. It’s from my supplement line.”
The supplement line, which are pre and post-workout drinks, is a business venture inspired from a friend and client of Gaines: Sean Combs.
Combs, better known as P. Diddy, has been working out with Gaines for the last year and plays a huge role in the way he goes about being a businessman, friend and family man.
“He has taught me so much,” Gaines recalls. “I think that’s what led to me doing my own supplement line. I was just tired of players always asking me about different supplements. There aren’t many supplements out there where pro athletes actually take them. There are paid endorsement deals, but there are none that actually take them.”
It’s a dream come true, but it wasn’t always this way.
Today, while he owns and operates a profitable athletic training facility, Gaines can’t forget his humble beginnings.
After playing football at San Jose State University, Gaines wanted to pursue a career that would eventually lead him to become a school principal in a low-income neighborhood. Earning a degree while majoring in political science, sociology and history, Gaines wanted to take his knowledge from college and contribute in the inner-city setting.
“I didn’t really want to do anything with sports,” Gaines said. “I always felt that inner-city kids didn’t get the resources and the chance to be successful in life because inner-city schools’ budgets are based off taxes and the lower-development housing you have, the less resources you have.”
But when a former coach offered him a job to be an assistant strength coach at University of Louisiana-Monroe, Gaines jumped at the opportunity to be close to his hometown of New Orleans.
“I was really homesick. I had just spent my college years away from my family and I never got a chance to go home with my family. It gave me a chance to be close to them so I took the job.”
During the next few years, Gaines trained collegiate players. He spent time with strength coaches Tommy Moffitt and Gale Hatch and still says that those two are the ‘most influential’ coaches in his life.
Gaines idolized Moffitt, who is LSU’s strength and conditioning coach, because of the way he controlled the tempo of a workout. Moffitt instructed Gaines to meet Hatch, where he would learn the art of explosive lifting and plyometrics.
“I would drive across town and stay at his gym until midnight. I was addicted to being around him and trying to learn. There were times that I would fall asleep at the gym and he would wake me up and tell me to go home.”
In a flash, Gaines was at a crossroads. He battled between going back to the community that raised him in New Orleans or stay on the path of training athletes. One conversation with friend and young NFL agent at the time, CJ LaBoy, would resonate and motivate him to keep on track.
“He told me, ‘Don’t quit. You’re a great trainer and everybody loves you. Just keep going,’” Gaines remembered.
While doubts lingered, LaBoy contacted Gaines and told him that he had a job waiting for him in Seattle, working out some NFL players in the offseason.
Gaines was asked to train Seahawks cornerback Marcus Trufant, Broncos cornerback Hamza Abdullah and Jets safety Erik Coleman. It didn’t take long for him to make his decision and move to Seattle.
“I literally drove my car from New Orleans to Seattle and rented a gym and started training these three guys,” Gaines chuckles.
While two of the three were out of town, Gaines met with Abdullah to share some of his thoughts and workout philosophies.
“We met at Catfish Corner — a small, hole in the wall, mom-and-pop seafood place and we sat there and talked,” Abdullah said. “He talked about what he wanted to do and I could see his vision. His vision was different than anything I’ve ever seen before.
“The things he talked about. It wasn’t just the He-Man-type of workouts. It was about the explosiveness. He talked about going to another place and being as mentally strong as physically strong. In football, they talk about the game is 90 percent mental and 10 percent physical, but we spend 90 percent of the time doing physical training. Travelle switched that around.”
The three were sold and spent mornings working out with Gaines at a Velocity Sports Center. Gaines would spend his nights working out high school kids as a private trainer. It wasn’t glamorous, but it helped him get by.
Around the same time, Gaines was introduced to a local basketball player, who was looking to make a name.
“Someone introduced me to Brandon Roy,” Gaines struggles to remember. “He was looking for a trainer. I didn’t know who the hell he was; I just knew that he played basketball.”
Gaines started to build a roster of athletes who would go on to have immediate success. Roy, who starred for the Portland Trail Blazers, won the Rookie of the Year award in 2007, Trufant made a Pro Bowl and Abdullah, who battled to land a starting gig for some time, finally won and kept a starting job.
Things were finally coming together, but problems remained: The job was seasonal and players didn’t want to train in Seattle during the offseason.
“It rained every day there. Every freakin’ day. And what happened was players started to say, ‘Travelle, I love training with you, but it rains too much.’ It started to hinder my business.”
Two agencies noticed the job that Gaines was doing. He was asked if he had thought about doing NFL Combine training in Los Angeles. It’s hadn’t occurred to him before, but he realized the opportunity that was awaiting him.
Gaines was convinced to move and take his business to another level.
On New Year’s Day of 2008, Gaines spent everything he had on a plane ticket to California and a month’s rent at an Extended Stay in Westlake Village.
“I would walk about a mile from the hotel to the gym. I literally had one dime.
“I knew I was going to get paid in a month, though. I had a deal with Muscle Milk, so I would drink that for breakfast, lunch and dinner unless someone wanted to take me to lunch.”
Gaines didn’t get along well with the pretentious side of the city. It was a long ways from home and considered moving back on several occasions, but he was here for a reason. He spent most of his time training athletes at a gym in Westlake Village.
“We just clicked,” said Tampa Bay Buccaneers safety Dashon Goldson, who has worked out with Gaines for the last seven years. “He was a cool dude and he feeds off players. He [creates] a good environment and sets the tone.”
Gaines persevered and it finally paid off, landing a job with a major training facility, Athlete’s Performance Institute.
“I just wanted to train and didn’t want to do all of the other business stuff that went along with it. API allowed me to do all of those things.”
Gaines reached the pinnacle. He was working out future first-round draft picks and high-profile athletes including Reggie Bush, which had a huge effect on his career.
There, he also met Baskett. Gaines saw some qualities in Baskett that he possesses. They both agree that they’re a little country, a bit naive and each saw the good in everyone. The bond has grown stronger.
Success was rampant. During Gaines’ time at API, the gym pumped out 16 first-round draft picks two years in a row.
“I met him at API,” Broncos left tackle Ryan Clady said. “That’s where I originally trained coming out and I thought he was cool and I liked his workouts.”
His department grossed the most amount of money in its history, but the goals were starting to become unrealistic. Gaines wasn’t afraid of the challenge and was more than happy with where he was at.
“I literally planned on retiring from Athletes Performance. I loved it. But something I realized was people didn’t like me there. People didn’t like me anywhere that I’ve worked with because I work my f***ing ass off and make everyone else look stupid.
“I’m the first guy there and the last guy to leave. I’m there on Saturdays. I’m there on Sundays. I’ll do whatever you ask me to do. If I tell somebody to do something and they don’t do it fast enough then I’ll do it myself. I’m not gonna kiss ass, but the boss is going to naturally like me. No matter where I’ve been, I’ve finally figured it out like, ‘Why don’t people like me?’ Well, I don’t work 9-5. I work from 5-9 or 10 or 11 or until the job gets done and it rubs people the wrong way.”
Gaines was rapidly rising up the company after training Andrew Luck, who ended up being selected No. 1 overall by the Indianapolis Colts in 2012.
“Luck took my career to another level,” Gaines said. “I think I was always known as the trainer who trained problem kids, which translates into African American kids, but I think Andrew put me on a different level.
“Andrew is arguably the greatest pro prospect ever other than John Elway, and he decided to train with me. That was huge. That was a big moment for me.”
API took note of how quickly Gaines ascended, but they still didn’t see eye to eye on how important he was to the company and finally they each decided to part ways. It devastated Gaines.
“I was in Phoenix, Arizona. I flew to Arizona ‘cause I thought I was going to move there. I was looking at houses. And I planned on being there for two days because I thought we were going to talk about the future of the company for two days.
“By 12 p.m., we decided to part ways. I remember the boss said, ‘Let’s get a break for lunch.’ And I was driving around Arizona thinking, ‘What am I going to do with my life?’”
Four months later, Gaines would band together with Baskett and start up their own gym: Athletic Gaines.
“I’ve sacrificed everything for my job: Vacations, weekends, family time, time with my son, time for myself and it’s tough because people never really understand that. I just really care about the people that I train. We literally opened up, got the keys on Friday, put the stuff down ourselves and opened up on a Monday.”
In the past year, the gym has worked out hundreds of athletes and has been profitable since the day it opened.
“After bouncing around with some trainers, I came here,” Tampa Bay Buccaneers left tackle Donald Penn says. “I can say I’m pretty much set for the rest of my career with offseason training.”
Penn isn’t alone. Gaines gives each player the individual attention they deserve while they each work together.
“He’s undoubtedly the best trainer in the NFL,” Abdullah says. From what I’ve heard from people around the league that have gone to other gyms is, they look at Travelle as the standard.”