Getting Ripped at the Unbreakable Performance Center with Jay Glazer
Men's Fitness by Tyler Graham
There’s a secret at the Pink Taco in Los Angeles. No, it’s not the underground tunnel that burrows beneath its foundation and winds its way to celebrity haven Chateau Marmont down the block. It’s not the ingredients the taqueria puts in its sauce, either. It’s actually what’s happening above the restaurant, just beyond an unmarked third-floor entrance, where a who’s who of Hollywood boldface names gather for something far less decadent: a chance to sweat at one of the most technologically advanced and exclusive gyms ever conceived.
One afternoon last November, just past the floor-to-ceiling photo of former Chicago Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher and the mural featuring MMA legend Chuck Liddell, the room is teeming with a clientele that includes models, actors, musicians, and the sort of leggy Hollywood publicists who seem straight out of HBO’s Entourage.
In one corner there’s Armie Hammer, star of such movies as The Social Network and The Lone Ranger, sparring with his brother-in-law in a boxing ring. In another, the UFC’s Randy Couture works out with his girlfriend, model and actress Mindy Robinson. Shawne Merriman, the former NFL linebacker, is nearby doing speed drills. Oh, and speaking of Entourage—this is also where Jerry Ferrara, the actor who played the show’s formerly portly sidekick Turtle, is preparing for his upcoming role as the lean Italian pugilist Arturo Gatti in Mark Wahlberg’s forthcoming boxing project.
At Unbreakable Performance Center, the word-of-mouth facility that officially opened its doors last year (not that just anybody can waltz in—an unlimited membership costs $2,000 a month), there’s a palpable energy and star wattage that makes sense only when you see its founder and impresario—the man responsible for luring everyone here in the first place—explode through the pink doorway and start working the room.
Stout and muscular in a T-shirt and workout pants, Jay Glazer— Fox NFL analyst, tireless networker, and friend to NFL Hall of Famer Michael Strahan—clearly knows everyone and seems to have no concept of the idea of “personal space.” One moment he slips on a Muay Thai pad on his arm and blocks kicks from Armie Hammer, the next he runs over and tackles Mindy Robinson and puts her in a wrestling hold, which she doesn’t seem to mind. (Perhaps more important, neither does Couture.) “You’ll never get bored here,” Glazer later tells me, for the fourth time.
But if repetition and predictability are indeed the roots of boredom, Glazer has a point. As I scan the room, I’m surprised to discover no one’s lifting huge weights. No one is maxing out his or her deadlift or bench press. Equally surprising is that there are no Smith machines, treadmills, ellipticals, or stationary bikes—or really anything else your regular Equinox-goer might recognize. You’d sooner find a pair of four-figure stiletto heels on the premises than you would a standard Cybex machine.
Instead, everyone is on his or her feet doing something active, either swinging around a sandbag, knocking out dynamic lunges with a twist, or sparring on the mat. Couture doesn’t seem to be lifting anything heavier than 15 pounds. Robinson is doing the same workout, matching move for move. Ten paces from them, world-class classical pianist Chloe Flower (who recently lent her musical stylings to Nas’ “A Queen’s Story”) is sprinting while the song “You’re the Best” by Joe Esposito— otherwise known as the montage rocker from The Karate Kid—blares at ear-splitting decibels. That’s when it hits me: What’s most unique about Unbreakable Performance isn’t even the crazy clientele. It’s the fact that everyone’s basically doing the same workout.
Then I walk around and study equipment, most of which I’ve never seen before. Just off the main floor, there’s a cryotherapy chamber that’s used in place of a traditional 30-minute ice bath. Instead of sitting in a 33° icy soup, Unbreakable members stand in a gaseous bath of liquid nitrogen at minus-270°F for two minutes. (Granted, that sounds a lot more painful than it actually is, but a device capable of creating temperatures experienced in outer space is still pretty sweet.) Farther down the hall is a hyperbaric chamber used to increase oxygen flow to boost recovery from workouts, which raises air pressure to three times normal and pumps out 100% oxygen (compared with the 20% in regular air), both of which increase the body’s red blood cell count, stimulate human growth hormone, and energize the immune system. Across the room is the ReACT eccentric trainer, which mimics the act of surfing. Gymgoers stand on a platform and bend their knees, and the machine takes them through the range of motion of the squat but without the need to load up the spine with heavy weights.
Then I see the gym’s most popular machine. Called the Sproing Trainer, it looks like a traditional treadmill but is much smarter. (Think iPod Classic vs. iPhone 6.) The machine has a harness that lets you lean forward to re-create the natural motion of running—that is, running on the balls of your feet rather than heel striking—and a very soft surface that makes it feel like you’re running on sand. Both these features take the load off your joints and let you train harder with much less effort. The uneven grounding coupled with the support of the harness means you can knock out a session of sprints, lunges, and squats that can pass for a full leg workout in five minutes flat.
I give Glazer a curious look, and he smiles.
“How’s that for an upgrade to leg day?” he says.
Though never a professional athlete, Jay Glazer always kept himself in fit, fighting shape—usually for good reason. Born in Asbury Park, NJ, Glazer spent many of his post-college years in Manhattan, bartending, bouncing at nightclubs, and doing other odd jobs to make ends meet. He once manned the front door of a club owned by the mob. “I’d find razor blades when searching someone for weapons and cut my hand,” he says. “I was like, ‘This job sucks!’”
At the same time, he was trying to make it in the elite world of sports journalism. For the not-so-princely sum of $450 a year, he took a gig at local TV station NY1 to report on the NFL whenever they’d give him airtime. “I’d take on any kind of stringer-type work I could find,” he says. He later became a columnist for The New York Post, where he earned another $9,000 a year. “Everything else was odd jobs to make a living.”
Glazer didn’t make much cash for more than a decade—but he made a lot of friends. He became best pals with Strahan, the Giants defensive end, with whom Glazer would hitch a ride from the stadium to save money after covering the game as a reporter. “Michael would be getting a treatment, and I’d be like, ‘I need a ride, let’s go!’” Glazer says. “And Michael would always be like, ‘Why do I put up with this shit?!’” Eventually, Glazer parlayed all his tidbits of media work and insider contacts into a gig with an “adult size” paycheck with CBS at NFL Today. “I think I owe Strahan about $25,000 in Lincoln Tunnel toll fees,” he adds. Glazer then landed a job at NFL on Fox in 2004 as “the NFL Insider,” a role in which you’ve likely seen his goateed mug 1,000 times.
“He’s just a great guy to be around,” says Liddell, one of Glazer’s pals and a training partner at the gym, about Glazer’s undeniable appeal. “You can trust him. He’s dependable, with a great reputation. And these guys coming to the gym, particularly the pro athletes, just love to be around him because they’re learning new skills to improve themselves on the field. And it’s fun. He’s magnetic. He’s just got a certain energy that people like. He’s goofy and always fun to be around.”
Glazer’s metamorphosis from struggling journalist-bouncer to workout czar-guru didn’t just happen overnight. About 10 years ago, he was drawn to the up-and-coming sport of mixed martial arts when he began helping a friend prepare for an underground MMA fight in Brooklyn. Glazer, who already had a background in wrestling, became so obsessed with martial arts that he went on to train under Renzo Gracie of the famous Brazilian jiu-jitsu dynasty and even won an amateur grappling tournament, the NAGA Submission Championship—which just happened to take place the day before his debut appearance at Fox. Not surprisingly, his face got busted up in the process.
“David Hill, who’s the boss, sees me and says, ‘What the fuck happened to you?’” Glazer says. “I told him I’d just won a world submission championship down in Atlantic City! He says, ‘I don’t know what the fuck that is, but you’ll never fucking do it again!’” When Fox relocated Glazer to Phoenix, he became pals with Jared Allen, the NFL All-Pro defensive end who was playing for the Kansas City Chiefs. Allen adopted Glazer’s makeshift MMA workouts, suddenly dropped 30 pounds—and had the best year of his career, with 15 sacks.
“That was the start,” Glazer says. “Then Clay Matthews [of the Green Bay Packers] called, and he’s like, ‘I want you to do for me what you did for Jared.’” So Glazer—an amateur MMA buff with no training degree or nutrition background to speak of—started working out with NFL Pro Bowlers, teaching them the improvised workout he’d cobbled together from his experience with martial artists.
And his clientele grew. Last year, when Glazer was training NFL brothers Kyle and Chris Long at various MMA gyms around L.A., fellow Fox host Brian Urlacher approached him about starting a gym together. “He’d been one of my best friends for, like, 12 or 14 years,” Glazer says. “In Chicago, I was the only guy he’d give interviews to, and after he started the training and saw what nomads we were, he was like, ‘Jay, we gotta open up our place.’ And that was it.”
So what does Glazer’s form of MMA training offer an NFL athlete? According to him, it’s all about the arms and hands. “If we’re on the field and you’ve got the ball, it’s stupid for me to try and slap it out of your hands,” he says. “You’ve got a bunch of sensitive nerves in your forearms and muscles that are going to wear out.” Instead, Glazer forms a fist and punches my forearm. “I do that enough times, and you’re going to think, ‘I’m fucking sick of this guy covering me,’ and by the fourth quarter you’re going to have trouble hanging on to the ball.” It’s this kind of fight that doesn’t exist in guys who simply train by lifting barbells, Glazer says. “We’re creating players who are more flexible. They can get lower to the ground and better utilize leverage. They better understand the dynamics of body-to-body contact.”
What Glazer lacks in formal experience, he says, he makes up for with boundless energy. “Look, I don’t have a lot of talent. I’m a 5'7" Jewish kid from New Jersey, and I’m not good at much except for my sheer force of will,” he says. “A lot of people say quitting is hard, but it’s not. Quitting is the easiest thing you can do. But to keep going when everyone tells you you can’t do it and keeps shutting doors in your face—that’s difficult.”
It’s this go-go nature, charisma, and deep Rolodex that’s made Unbreakable Performance a reality. In addition to Urlacher, Olympic volleyball star Lindsey Berg and prominent restaurant owner Tony LaPenna are partners. So is Craig Ley, the owner of three restaurants that Glazer is also an investor in, just shouting distance down the Strip. One is an Irish pub called Rock & Reilly’s, which is opening a Manhattan outpost across from Madison Square Garden and recently launched its own eponymous whiskey with ginger that the group hopes will become the next Fireball, the popular cinnamon-flavored spirit. The partners also own Yellowtail, a high-end sushi joint, and Pearl’s, a craft cocktail spot serving American food. Business is booming—and the New Jerseyite is more than enjoying his new life in L.A.
“The football players especially all love to come out here in the off-season because it’s where the clubs and the girls are,” says Jamal Liggin, one of Glazer’s head trainers. “We get 25 guys in for the combine. They’ll come in here running the 40 in 4.6 seconds, and we get them down to 4.3—it’s all about little tricks here and there.” Under Glazer’s direction, the guys split their days between speed work and strength, all the while taking care not to overtrain so they can maximize each day of the 12-week combine training program. In the afternoons, they also work with Glazer to prep for dealing with the media and glean advice from guys already in the NFL.
“Agents learn about the program because they see the results guys are getting, so they pay for their prospects to come here,” Liggin says.
The principles of the Unbreakable workout, which is built around the notion that you should never overdo it, are applicable to everyone, Glazer explains. MMA guys used to train with heavy weights in the morning, he says, and by the time sparring practice rolled around in the afternoon, they’d be too worn out to reap the maximum benefit of the technical work needed to be successful in their sport.
And so it goes for every other athlete, whether it’s a pro linebacker, a weekend warrior, or an actor looking to land his first soap opera role: Overtraining is a terrible idea. “We don’t want to break you,” Glazer says. “We want to take you to a place that’s going to change your body but not tire you out for the rest of the day. My goal is to keep moving people’s breaking point further and further.”
Unbreakable trainers separate workouts into “clusters” that include three sets of three different exercises to hit the whole body. The typical workout is three clusters—nine exercises total—done in about 25 minutes. Essentially, it’s the gym’s take on high-intensity interval training, or HIIT. The slower you are through the movement—whether you’re using free weights or Unbreakable’s expensive machines—the lighter the load. The faster you are through the movement, the greater the load. In an Unbreakable class, you’ll see three guys doing standing shoulder presses with a twist using different size dumbbells.
One machine Glazer himself uses to maximize his dynamic low-impact workout is the Surge 360, essentially a platform with two upright barbells that move in various directions, with resistance provided by hydraulics. So the harder you push, the harder the exercise becomes. This means that Liddell and a swimsuit model can stand side by side and do the same series of chest presses or flyes and each get the right amount of resistance for their body type.
But you can get a similar effect at home with barbells. The key—and it’s an important one—is to engage your whole body. When clients use the Surge 360, they’re standing up and firing their abs, neck, back, legs, etc.—exactly the opposite of what happens when you sit or lie down to do traditional presses or flyes. Boiled down, it means you engage more muscle and don’t need to spend as much time at the gym. And, because you’re not going heavy, you’re much less likely to injure yourself.
One of the most popular attractions at Unbreakable these days is the Bulgarian Bag, invented by Olympic Greco-Roman wrestler Ivan Ivanov. It’s a sandbag in the shape of a crescent moon, which can be swung around the body more easily than a traditional duffel-style sandbag. Holding one end of the bag in each hand creates an accelerating and decelerating motion on opposite sides of the body, adding up to a more dynamic workout. Again, it’s all about re-creating real-life scenarios. When you get in an MMA fight—or, say, have to block a linebacker—each load is variable just as it is when you toss around a Bulgarian Bag.
Bottom line, Glazer based Unbreakable Performance on the idea that everything is a fight, whether you’re simply pushing yourself at the gym before a day at the office, racing for the tape in your local 5K, or clawing through an offensive lineman. “As a fighter you have to think, ‘I’m getting that motherfucker, and him and him and him,’” he says. “I want everyone thinking, ‘I’m getting that motherfucker.’” It’s a lesson he knows all too well. After all, his entire career, it’s been one fight after another. “No one ever said I’d become a journalist. But I busted my ass and eventually got myself into Giants Stadium. No one said I’d be a grappling champion. And no one would have ever imagined I’d be training NFL players.” He pauses a moment and scans the room. “And we see how that worked out.”