Mark Verstegen, the founder and president of EXOS, has been pioneering human performance since the early 1990s when he first spotted a gap in professional sports: If an athlete got hurt, the coach would say, “Tomorrow you’re OK and you go play.” This meant that the athletes would soon get injured again. Reconditioning was a term no one used back then.

Determined to create an industry that didn’t exist, Verstegen and his colleagues have defined the entire category of performance training for sport. Their approach is built on four elements: mindset, nutrition, movement, and recovery.

Today, EXOS is 4,000 people in over 400 facilities globally. In addition to professional athletes in sports, including the NFL, Major League Baseball, and football, they help corporate workers perform at optimal levels.

No matter whom he’s working with, Verstegen always relies on the same philosophy: he first wants to find the person living inside the body and what’s important to them. Only then can progress happen.

Verstegen is passionate about finding the person living inside the body.
He practices what he preaches, day in, day out.
“I’m here to understand and upgrade lives.”
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EXOS is all about improvement. How do you motivate your team to not only improve themselves, but also fulfil that brand promise?

I practice what I preach all the time, so I definitely lead by example.

I’m also clear on what my ‘it’ is: I’m here to understand and upgrade lives. This is what I communicate throughout our organization, and it’s a passion our team shares. Helping others achieve their best is what makes me happy and what I’ve enjoyed doing since I was a kid.

And how do you coach yourself to follow through?

First of all, I’ve always surrounded myself with amazing people who know their space better than I ever could. In addition to my executive role, I have personal demands on my time, always having to be on, so it’s essential that I have a sustainable game plan. I work out my strategy for the day from the first thought that goes through my head in the morning to the very last one at night. Mindset, nutrition, movement, and recovery – I live that forwards and backwards. This helps me carry out the responsibility to both our team and our clients.

Let’s dig in to those four pillars. What do you talk about when you discuss mindset with clients?

It all starts in your mind. The most important thing for me is to understand what your ‘it’ is. Why do you do what you do? When you wake up in the morning and say, “This is why I’m here. This is what I’m passionate about.” It can be a chapter in your life, your relationship, your family, sport, or a combination of these things. After defining your ‘it’, you need to have a growth mindset that propels you to be better tomorrow than you are today.

"Why do you wake up in the morning? Answer this question and go do you better."
All work and no play makes anyone a dull person, Verstegen knows.
“The analogy of grit is helpful when you strive to be truly world class.”
The EXOS brand has been built on a responsibility to athletes, and ultimately to all clients.
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If we’re so focused on achieving peak performance all the time, isn’t there a major risk of a burnout?

Absolutely, and that’s why the recovery pillar is everything. It’s simple math: work plus rest equals performance. If work is too high and rest too little, performance can go down. If work and rest are in a good balance, performance will go up. However, we need to be consistent with this formula. Even in our EXOS training facilities, we have a work site and a rest site. That’s how we communicate our concept through design as well.

So the starting point is that people have an intrinsic motivation to improve.

Exactly right. 90% of our daily actions run in our non-conscious, like software working in the background. If that software has bugs, it’s working against you. But you know what’s interesting? Even some high performers haven’t quite defined their ‘it’ yet. Part of their drive comes from discovering that.

©Getty Images/Lars Baron Bongarts

One thing to remember is that you’re already a professional in your own domain. No different from Philipp Lahm. He takes his job seriously; you take your job seriously. He takes care of himself; you take care of yourself. I want to make sure I understand what’s working well for you now, and then look for areas to upgrade.

It sounds like you’re encouraging people to build new healthy habits.

True. When I talk about mindset, I’m passionate about neuroscience. Some would say behavioral change, but I don’t like that term. That’s like, “Hi, pleasure to meet you, I’d like to change you.” I’m all about meeting the person living inside the body. Behavioral upgrading. My interest lies in finding out what’s important to them, and then drafting a plan to upgrade behaviors to get them towards their desired goal – and doing that in a fun, engaging way. That’s the good part.

What are the biggest obstacles between people and their goals?

Depends on who the population is, but most likely it’s a mindset piece. Not defining your ‘it’ or not having a great game plan. Some people will not get the formula right: work plus rest equals performance. But it doesn’t apply to just sport. Who you are as a person continues to represent throughout your lifespan. This is why you don’t always have to focus on winning the game. The game will take care of itself. You should win every day – your game day.

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by Stephen Koch 24.08.2016
I agree completely with the importance of finding passion. When we do it creates the ability to flow. Learning from our falls is important but even more important is that we are taking the risks to fall, moving beyond our self imposed limitations. This is how we learn to be our best. Risk, fall, get up, learn, grow, repeat, love.
by Maria Nokkonen Stephen Koch 24.08.2016
Wise words, Stephen. Internal motivation indeed stems from knowing your 'Why?'. And the only way to uncover your best self is through stepping out of your comfort zone and taking risks.
by Daniel 20.10.2017
Great article