Interview with Andre Agassi and Gil Reyes, BILT by Agassi & Reyes

Interview with Andre Agassi and Gil Reyes, BILT by Agassi & Reyes

CLUB INDUSTRY: Why right now? Why introduce this equipment, this company after so many years of training with it?

ANDRE AGASSI: Quite honestly, the equipment was built for me and our objectives and goals. We didn’t want anybody else to have it that might use it as an asset in their training against me. It was our primary goal to address my career in the most effective way possible. The byproduct of it after so many years is the reality of what it is we created. Now the timing in my life is such that I can focus and we can focus on taking this journey that we’ve lived, this life that we’ve loved, this symbol of our commitment and love for one another and turn that over to the world. It’s the right time as far as we’re concerned. It gives us an opportunity to spend 20 more years together.

CI: So you needed it just as an excuse to hang out together some more.

AA: A bit like my book (“Open” was published in 2009 and was No. 1 on The New York Times nonfiction best-sellers list). I wrote my book and then decided, is this really going to be a gift to somebody? Will somebody benefit? Will they experience this as a gift in their lives for one reason or another? The answer is yes. I really think this [book] is going to apply to a lot of people. Then the alternative is unconscionable. So that’s why I wrote my book. When it comes to this equipment, the question I have is, what’s it going to mean to somebody’s life? If the answer is so clear, it almost begs you to do it.

CI: Since the book came out and up till now, what’s the reaction been like? Has it changed, in your view, people’s perception? Did you hesitate at all to make another public launch or splash like this like you did with the book?

AA: I have no regrets with what I did, absolutely, to get to the core of your question. It was something I’m very proud of. I took three years, I took a magnifying glass to myself and I was able to put my life into a literary focus and believe that it has relevance in a lot of people’s lives for a lot of different reasons. And I think that process also helped lead to what we’re doing now because you start to put your life in context. You start to realize what certain people and certain experiences meant to you. We all have these experiences in our lives, but do we really know how they form us? How they impact us? How they change our next decision we make? And what trajectory have all these decisions sort of put us on? And when I looked at my life that way, one of the things that was so clear has been Gil’s role in my life, and one of the many examples of his role in my life was the love and care he took in creating these machines that gave me the chance for my dreams and hopes and gave me the chance to raise my children. So that reality, everything pointed towards us and what we’ve lived and what’s been the result of what we’ve lived, which are these machines. We hang our hat on what these machines are. The story of what we’ve created is arguably just as impressive.

CI: So the three years right after you retired…

AA: That’s when I started with my book. I actually started before I retired. I reached out to who I ended up collaborating with (Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist J.R. Moehringer) to come share the last tournament with me. Because I knew something he didn’t, which was we were going to work together.

CI: What’s different about this equipment? We were just nearby at the IHRSA show and saw a bunch of equipment—surrounded by equipment. What’s different about what you have that we can’t find on the show floor? What makes it special and unique?

GIL REYES: On several pieces of our equipment, it is indeed that—due to patent protection, they’re not out there. Thanks to Steve Miller and the administrative side of the company, the ideas and the designs have been protected. The bench press has been a bench press for decades. As far back as 70 years, it’s been a bench press, and that’s what it is, that’s all that it is. People have changed the colors. People have changed the shapes of the tubing. They’ve put spotter’s platforms on it. They’ve put “trees” on the side on which you can store weights and load it up. But it’s still a bench press, and you still have to reach back. We’re not here to exterminate, we’re not here to in any way condemn what has been. We’re here to communicate to the user the next level of user-friendly designer consideration. But that wasn’t the incentive or the inspiration for the design. The inspiration for the design is sitting to my left. It’s just my love for Andre, my respect for Andre as an elite athlete who was not an accomplished weightlifter when I met him. He was just a very, very talented athlete.

GR (continued): The biggest problem with the bench press is getting to the bench press. You lie on your back, you have to reach back to take the bar—most of the Olympic bars are 7 feet wide—with weights on either side. You have to reach back behind you, but you have to reach far back so that it will clear the cups or the cradles where the bar sits. So you have to clear yourself and then reach back and bring it out to you. Before you even started the bench press itself, you’re in trouble, because you have to reach back and get it. Most people enlist the services of a spotter or a lifter, and say, “Could you give me a lift?” That person becomes almost as important to you as you are to the lift because he has to know what he’s doing. And he has to reach it and lift it and be able to lift it and hand it to you and set it to you on what’s called the sweet spot, the right spot. We have heard of many, many problems that result from that. Our bench press, once again, it was designed only for Andre. Period. I had no intention of anyone ever using it but Andre. It was inspired by him, built for him so that literally, he could just reach back and with one finger, with two fingers, pull the bar down over on his sweet spot, the sternum, the solar plexus, loaded with weights.

CI: So why don’t you think anyone thought of making this change to the bench press before?

AA: Some of the best ideas in the world, when they’re designed, when they’re invented, you always look back and say, “It’s so simple, it’s stupid.”

CI: So why is it that you didn’t want to do the bench press that way, that you wanted it your way?

AA: It was Gil’s direction of me, that being an inexperienced lifter when we started together and then even more so as I got experienced, weights got heavier, that I was more and more at risk of danger. Taking the bar off was a liability. Gil handing it to me was a liability. If Gil could design a system where the bar would actually lay across where my strongest and safest point is, and I could take it off at my own timing under my own control, then I would be able to do this particular exercise considerably safer. Again, that’s just one piece of equipment. What we hang our hat on is not the story that goes behind this. What we hang our hat on is what the story led to; it led to this equipment. When you talk about what this equipment really does, every muscle group it targets to get stronger, it does it without compromising or sacrificing anything that you call ligaments, tendons, joints.

AA (continued): You’re talking about, for example, the curl machine. I’ve never been—and I’m not going to say it doesn’t exist in this industry, and I’ll never go so far as to suggest that this industry is starved on innovation—I’m just going to simply say I’ve never been in a gym anywhere in the world where I’ve ever gotten on a curl machine and ever felt like I could warm up to a one-off max. Because if my bicep could handle the weight, I damn sure guarantee you, a lot of other things that are engaging cannot handle the weight. Our quads can handle a lot more than our knees can. So how do we target muscle groups truly without compromising or subjecting other parts of your body to that sort of risk or danger, especially when you’re talking about a career that’s so short? We’ve designed that with the bench press, we’ve designed that with what normally would be regarded as squats, a great lower-body exercise, a horrible body exercise. Our COD (change of direction) machine allows us to engage in that same activity, add more ranges of motion to it and do it completely without subjecting yourself to risk. In every one of our pieces of equipment, we can get your muscles stronger in a much safer, much more efficient way than anything I’ve seen out there, anything we’ve worked on. Every time we’ve gotten in a gym, it’s been a head-scratcher. “What are we going to do to get through this workout?” Because we’re not at home.”

CI: Your spinal condition that really bothered you toward the end of your career (Agassi was born with spondylolisthesis, where one vertebra splits forward or backward from the next vertebra, leaving less room for the nerves in the spinal column), was that a consideration in designing the equipment?

GR: Always an awareness, yes. Always an awareness from the first day. When he communicated his goals to me, I needed to [keep that in mind] very, very much in order to justify the faith and the confidence at that point that he was day by day beginning to demonstrate in my direction. It was incumbent upon me to really "learn" him. Of course, once I learned of the spondylolisthesis, and his condition in his back, that went into everything we did and didn’t do.

AA: Here’s adding to what Gil is being very modest about: If you have a physical concern—whether it’s a back, whether you’ve injured something, whether you’ve had surgery on something—if any of those conditions exist, it highlights like a magnifying glass the importance of making sure you’re not doing anything that’s stupid. It doesn’t change the fact that you shouldn’t do anything stupid even if you’re healthy. My concern with my lower back was this magnifying glass that Gil had to work around. And in working around it, it became so clear that why shouldn’t everybody take care of their back? You only get one of them. So it applies across the board but [it was] specifically designed originally for me.

CI: BILT, B-I-L-T, does that stand for anything? What’s the origin of it?

AA: It stands for the fact that this equipment built my career, built Gil’s career, built our lives. It’s going to build other people’s lives, other people’s dreams, other people’s hopes. We just felt BILT had such a comprehensive suggestion to it. And it was so reflective, such a symbol of what role it’s played in our lives. Nothing more than just we liked it. It reflects so much.

CI: Did you know you left out the “u”? There’s still time to go back.

STEVE MILLER: There’s a bakery in Chicago called Mom’s, and they misspelled it on purpose. They put M-O-N-S on it. And everybody that drives by says, “You know you misspelled it.” They say, “Yes, we do.” Everybody knows it’s misspelled, and everybody pays attention. And everybody remembers. So it’s all relative. And besides, we’re not that smart. We thought we actually spelled it right.

CI: Universities, high schools are going to be a big part initially of where this line of equipment is targeted. Certainly clubs as well. And then the BILT University (training facility) next year is in the planning stages. Can you tell me more about the process for introduction of the equipment?

GR: We’re hoping that the knowledge, the awareness, the familiarity grows and increases. I have a professional relationship right now with professional tennis players and athletes. They come to Las Vegas to train physically with me and to be taught, coached and inspired by Andre. And literally from around the world. We’ll have them come in from Romania, from Bulgaria, from Germany, from Spain to train and prepare for the upcoming Grand Slams and major tournaments. So we have a really exciting opportunity that we hope expands and grows in its scope, featuring our equipment, of course. And then maybe with every possible expansion to that idea. That’s a natural.

AA: Ultimately, the market will demand it. Listen, if we’re wrong, then we’re wrong. It still hasn’t changed what it’s meant in my life and what we believe it is. But we have the highest of expectations that the last 25 years haven’t been for naught.

CI: You had an affiliation and still do with your name on 24 Hour Fitness clubs. How does that play into this new venture?

AA: We hope they’re a client of ours. We hope that they recognize what it is I’ve lived on and trained on can benefit everybody they take care of, everybody they service. I envision that relationship being strong and healthy as much as I do with other facilities. What we’re doing is about getting this in the hands of millions of people, and we’re going to use 24 Hour, Equinox, anybody that wants to be part of this team to get this out in people’s lives. This is our dream, that it’s out there. And it’s out there across the board. And it’s out there in a wide spectrum of athletes, from top-tier athletes to people who work out twice a week to people who are just learning, who get into strength training and think it’s a horrible experience, and they get injured, and they give up on it. So as they get older, their body isn’t prepared for the aging process as well. We have high expectations for this.

CI: Are there more products on the way, like the famous Gil Water? You’ve got the before, during and after (water mixes). Is it still a secret?

GR: The actual formula is, yes. The actual recipe is. There are still actually several ideas, which Steve Miller would ultimately be the person to decide when and where and what. Even equipment-wise, there’s a few others already ready and usable. The good thing about it is the idea is in really, really good hands. I’m a pretty safe individual sitting next to Andre and under the leadership of Steve Miller. We just feel very, very excited about this.

CI: There was a tournament long ago where you were in a changeover and you were changing shirts, and Jimmy Connors, who was doing the broadcast, said, “Andre’s filling out nicely.”

AA: Jimmy Connors has never said something nice about me. (Agassi then shares a laugh and a fist bump with Reyes.)

CI: Years before, during Wimbledon coverage, it was [John] McEnroe and [Mats] Wilander—talk about fitness—and I think they had a shot of them playing their guitars (without their shirts on) at some bar or whatever the night before during that tournament, and they were skinny guys. Tennis players weren’t as athletic, [but] strength training is now part of it, as certainly you’ve shown.

AA: It was definitely ahead of its time. Gil, as a result of our relationship, I think we were ahead of our time. It happened in baseball. While you can question the means in which [baseball players] accomplished certain objectives, what you cannot question is what their objective was, and their objective was to get stronger. Because they realized that the stronger I am, the more capable I am. And it’s no different in every other sport. It’s a question of when you learn that, and Gil taught that to me really early.

AA (continued): Now you’re starting to see in tennis a whole different set of circumstances take place. You’re looking at a guy like Rafa Nadal, who you could envision as a running back. I could see him on ESPN as a forward in soccer doing a scissor kick scoring the winning goal. The guy is an absolute stud who relies on his strength to not only push guys around but to be out there for six hours in a ballistic, urgent manner. So the sport of tennis has evolved and is evolving to its rightful place as it relates to what’s actually demanded of the athlete. I think [tennis] has always been viewed historically as a sport that is kind of a country club deal. It’s now being recognized as a sport that requires all of you mentally and physically in order to do it at the highest level. And that’s the rightful place for it to be. Gil taught that to me at an early age, and I believe gave me the advantage that honestly probably rose above what my abilities were as an athlete. I could get away with a lot because of the fact that I was stronger than the guys I was playing against, physically.

CI: Star power. Your name attached to it. How important will that be in this project, in this venture? I know you put, as you’ve mentioned, your heart and soul in every project during your career and post-tennis career.

AA: I’ll tell you exactly what [my name] means: nothing, if the product doesn’t stand on its own. The product has to stand on its own. If it doesn’t stand on its own, it doesn’t matter. You can only sell something that’s garbage one time. And what we’re hanging our hat on is not my name, not Gil’s reputation. What we’re hanging our hat on is what we’ve created over 20 years, and what it’s going to mean in people’s lives on ground level. That’s what we’ve bet on.

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