Why Superstar Athletes Spend Millions On Their Bodies (And Where The Money Goes)
Like half of Americans and 47 per cent of Brits, you probably hoped to improve your fitness in 2020. Will you actually do it in 2021? Spending the GDP of a small country could help you get there.
Just ask quarterback Mr Russell Wilson, who last year signed a $140m contract with the Seattle Seahawks. In October, he revealed on Mr Bill Simmons’ podcast that he spends $1m optimising his body every year. One. Million. Dollars. NBA superstar Mr LeBron James reportedly spends $1.5m on his. Even Mr Donald Trump spent $70,000 on hairstyling in 2016, according to The New York Times – almost 100 times what he was reported to pay in federal income tax that same year.
Most of that money isn’t simply going on shampoo and conditioner. No, a significant portion of Mr Wilson’s seven-figure sum is spent remunerating a full-time “performance team”, which includes a personal trainer, physiotherapist, massage therapist and two chefs. “It all adds up,” says Mr Gunnar Peterson, a trainer who’s coached everyone from the Kardashians to Mr Hugh Jackman and has been director of strength and endurance training for the Los Angeles Lakers basketball team since 2017. With 30 years’ professional experience under his belt, Mr Peterson can confirm that, for certain men, a veritable harem of conditioning coaches, osteopaths, physiotherapists, acupuncturists, chiropractors and meditation coaches is commonplace. “So I can definitely see where it adds up,” he says.
A fully equipped home gym is a prerequisite for a million-dollar body, but a personal trainer is the only sure-fire way to show you mean business and get results. For one, a PT keeps you accountable. A cheap gym membership won’t express disappointment when you miss a session. Having a trainer to guide you is less awkward than trying to navigate the lat machine in front of strangers at the gym. You’re paying for a programme that’s tailored to you, which yields a greater return than going it alone. According to Mr Peterson, many people are looking for an edge to take their fitness to the next level, and it could just be a trainer away. If you want first dibs on the best in the business, especially if you live in a city such as Los Angeles, it could cost up to $650 per session. Annually, that could total $169,000. You’re essentially locking down an exclusive on a trainer. “It’s less about taking the edge away from someone else, more about making sure the edge is always there for you,” says Mr Peterson.
Once you’ve been put through the ringer by your trainer, you’ll need a massage, so having a massage therapist on call makes sense. Recovery is as much a part of a fitness regimen as training and it takes many forms, such as yoga, foam-rolling or sleep. Mr Wilson sleeps on a bed by Molecule, a brand launched in 2018 to promote rest and recovery for people who lead active lifestyles. The Molecule 2 AirTEC mattress, which will set you back $1,599, is endorsed by Olympic swimmer Mr Michael Phelps and World Cup-winning footballer Ms Alex Morgan.
“All this may seem excessive, but for athletes, it’s their job to be fit. Investing in their bodies means they can play for decades”
Even personal trainers get some days off, so it’s wise to invest in smart contraptions, too. Two hyperbaric chambers should do. Mr Wilson uses his up to four times a week. Hyperbaric oxygen therapy involves inhaling pure oxygen in a pressurised environment and is thought to boost your immune system and encourage your body to repair itself. Mr James uses a cryotherapy chamber, an alternative to the rudimentary ice bath. Therapy boots to help with blood circulation (a pro pair from NormaTec costs £1,795) could also come in handy. Add a Theragun massager, or three, to the list – Mr Peterson’s clients buy several, to have “one at home, one in the gym bag and one at the beach house”. He says he’s also had clients purchase infrared saunas and, “One guy I know bought a float tank. Those expenses add up, but are not yearly expenses because you amortise them over time.”
All this may seem excessive, but for athletes, it’s their job to be fit. Investing in their bodies means they can play for decades in a league where the average career lasts less than five years (NBA) or three years (NFL). Seven-time Super Bowl champion Mr Tom Brady is still playing at 43. Mr Wilson, 32, would like to stay on the field until he’s 45. Mr James has won four NBA championships and shows no signs of slowing down, even in his 18th season.
It’s not all strictly about performance. What these athletes do in the gym makes what they do outside it just that little bit better. NBA players are fond of turning their entrances through the tunnel into personal runways to show off their game-day ’fits. Mr James went viral when he wore a Thom Browne short suit to a game. Mr Wilson’s stylist dresses him in Brioni suits and Berluti shoes.
Boxer Mr Anthony Joshua’s entourage includes his barber, who’s on hand to give him a fight-night shape-up. Mr Mark Maciver of Slidercuts in London has been flown to Scotland, Lithuania and Spain to give loyal clients fresh cuts. He had to let down Mr Joshua once when the boxer was due to fight in the US. The reason? His baby was due the same day. The haircut itself may not be too costly, but flying out a groomer means you’re responsible for all the related expenses, from flights to hotel rooms. “If I get flown to Australia, it’s the time that you’re paying for,” says Mr Maciver. What does he think of a million-dollar routine? “It’s an investment,” he says. “It sounds like a lot of money, but when it’s the thing that makes you money, then it’s a worthy investment. Being fit, being strong, performing well, eating right – it’s worth it.”
The training, coaches and gadgets can take athletes such as Mr Wilson only so far. As he told Mr Simmons on the podcast, “The biggest thing for me is the mental game”. The quarterback works with a mental conditioning expert, who helps him get in the right frame of mind before a game. A positive, healthy mindset is key to physical fitness. The late Mr Kobe Bryant had his Mamba Mentality mantra, which, although mostly about ultra-competitiveness and being the best, also relied on a great deal of self-belief and courage.
Making the most of what you have, whether it’s a million or a thousand bucks, is great. But that feeling you get when you look at yourself in the mirror and like the person you see? Priceless.
Illustration by Mr Thomas Pullin