A holistic approach to well-being has Simon and Eagle starting the season hot
March 15, 2018 by Alex Williamson in Interview, Profile with 0 comments
If you imagined an off-season training program for two of disc golf’s most prominent and skilled players, it might include them hitting the weights, refining their putting strokes, and improving their techniques on a variety of shots.
It’s less likely that you’d envision them attending therapeutic mental coaching sessions, completing homework and presentations about nutrition and exercise theory, and barely touching discs. However, these activities—along with varied exercise routines and regimented diets—are exactly what Andreas and Irene Gertsch, the founders and coaches of the Switzerland-based fitness and wellness organization G-Balance, had in store for Simon Lizotte and Eagle McMahon over the winter.
Such training regimens are all part of what the Gertsches refer to as “Disc Golf 2.0.” The concept is based on holistic principles of what it means to be fit and the idea that, in their words, “being a talented player and throwing a few discs on some course somewhere in the world will no longer be enough” to be successful at the sport’s highest tier. It will instead take elite levels of mental and physical fortitude.
With both Lizotte and McMahon citing their five weeks in Switzerland as key to their early-season successes, there are indications that the Gertsches may be on to something. This success also has many in the disc golf community asking about what exactly went on during that offseason training. After communicating with the Gertsches via e-mail and chatting with Lizotte and McMahon, it seems that the “disc golf boot camp” connected far less directly with disc golf than many would have believed and yet still managed to be an experience that has made two of the sport’s stars feel more confident in their abilities than ever before.
The G-Balance Philosophy
Driving northwest from Bern, the Swiss capital, it would take you about 45 minutes to reach Twann, the place Andreas (also known as “Andy”) and Irene Gertsch call home. It’s a small Swiss village on the sloping, vineyard-covered banks of the Bielersee (Biel Lake) and has a population of around 1,000. This is also where they work with their G-Balance clients, and they see their remote location as an advantage.
“It is very quiet here,” they said. “We can enjoy a beautiful view, and the lake and the woods are right in front of our house. [It’s] a good place to work undisturbed and to relax.”
However, the Gertsches offer much more to their clients than just an idyllic setting. Over their combined “20 years of professional experience in advising, mentoring, and supporting athletes and companies,” the couple has come to believe that people often “avoid the question of how to become sustainably happy, flexible, efficient and healthy” due to the amount of work it takes to answer it.
The focus of G-Balance is to help its clients bear the load of answering that question, find “joy in leading a healthy lifestyle,” and to work with them to develop individualized plans and goals organized into “doable bits” aimed at increasing feelings of success and motivation.
The couple said that Lizotte and McMahon arrived in Twann with “the goal [of]…wanting to be healthier, fitter and stronger after five weeks.” It is telling of the Gertsches’ holistic views that they also added, “But what good is it to be healthier, fitter and stronger if I am unhappy if I have to deal with the same problems every day that eat me up if I get annoyed about mistakes and so on?”
Such beliefs are why both Lizotte and McMahon—along with completing daily exercises and adhering to strict diets and schedules—had weekly, hour-long sessions where they talked about both personal and professional problems with Andreas.
The Gertsches also believed that their two athletes should have achieved a firmer understanding of why the training1 and diet regimens they were doing would benefit them. To this end, both Lizotte and McMahon had weekly homework and “every Sunday the results of the homework were presented by the two athletes and discussed and reflected on together with G-Balance.”
McMahon noted that the homework was about “pretty basic stuff, but it helped us understand why we were there.”
Lizotte said, “Eagle was really good at doing his homework, and I was like, ‘Guys, give me a break, I’m old.’”
Origins of the Boot Camp Idea
Last offseason wasn’t Lizotte’s first time working with G-Balance.
The Gertsches commented that “after his knee surgery in November 2016, Simon…spent five weeks with us in rehab,” which gave him his “first positive experiences” with G-Balance’s methods.
McMahon said that after Lizotte’s successful return in 2017 “it was always in the back of [his] head” that training with G-Balance was a promising possibility.
“Then, I think it was in November that [Discmania CEO] Jussi [Meresmaa] messaged me and proposed the idea [of the boot camp] to see if I’d be interested or not,” McMahon explained. “Obviously if someone presents you the opportunity to go to Switzerland for five weeks, you’re going to say, ‘yes.’ Over the winter we got everything planned out and it seemed like the right thing to do. It was no money out of my pocket, so it seemed like a no-brainer.”
While Lizotte admitted to being reluctant to make the commitment to the type of work and lifestyle he knew would be in store based on his previous G-Balance experience, McMahon posited a theory about why his Discmania teammate decided to join him.
“I think he didn’t want me to be getting all in shape while he was sitting in Germany doing nothing,” McMahon said.
Because they are friends and both have the capability to achieve astounding distance, many people think of Lizotte and McMahon as very similar people and players. However, there were huge differences in their needs and experiences during their time in Twann.
“When I got there, my metabolic age was 38,” said the 25-year-old Lizotte. “That’s caused by junk food, beer, and not taking care of your body. I just like doing whatever I feel like doing, and I don’t think about being healthier.”
As a result of those preferences, Lizotte stated bluntly that his time of healthy eating and regimented days during the boot camp was “torture.”
Lizotte noted that McMahon’s notably healthier choices meant that he came to Twann in much better physical shape.
“Eagle’s already healthy,” Lizotte said. “He’s mentally fit. He’s vegan. He has almost no bad things running through his body. His metabolic age was 13—it’s pretty much impossible to be younger than that.”
It is perhaps due to these differences that McMahon—in direct contrast to Lizotte—said, “I liked everything I was doing at training,” though he did qualify that statement by adding, “not because it was easy or fun at the time, but [because] everything I did felt like it benefitted me.”
The variance in the teammates’ physical conditions resulted in them needing to make almost comically different diet changes. While Lizotte was forced to go from “McDonald’s and bars to only eating salad and very light food,” McMahon actually had to increase his calorie intake to “three or four thousand calories a day,” which he noted “is not an easy task when you’re eating healthy food.”
The players also had very different physical prowess. McMahon had superior endurance and speed. Lizotte admitted that because of McMahon’s comparative ease with adjusting to other aspects of their time at G-Balance, he most enjoyed coordination and some strength activities because they were the only things he was “a lot better at than Eagle.”
Despite the player’s very different physical needs, it seems the individualization that is a cornerstone of G-Balance’s philosophy resulted in both players seeing notable positive results from their offseason training.
“I dropped my metabolic age 16 years, which was pretty incredible,” Lizotte said, “and my blood pressure went from very terrible to pretty much perfect. I lost 15 pounds in five weeks, and everything feels better.” He also says that on the course this year he’s been more “awake” and that “everything just feels easier.”
McMahon said, “It felt good, I felt stronger. I gained weight when I was there.” He also remarked that “going into the tournaments, I’m not fatigued or anything because I have better endurance and stamina…usually, I start[ed] my round hot and then fizzle[d] out. This year it seems like I’m starting my rounds steady if not slow and ending incredibly strong.”
McMahon also credits the speed, explosiveness, and coordination training during the boot camp with another advancement in his game: “My forehand has never felt this powerful before. It’s crazy for not throwing discs at all.”
Along with varying physical conditions, both players came to Switzerland with very different mental states.
McMahon, citing a disappointing 2017 season, sought mainly to build and maintain confidence. Additionally, he wanted to become a more “fun person to be around”—be a little less “selfish” on the course and increase his ability to “be excited when other people have success.” He said that Andreas supported him in these areas by always offering encouragement and teaching him “little tricks” that could help him reach his goals.
Lizotte, on the other hand, was generally pleased with his 2017 performance but said that “I just had so many other worries that, for me, focusing on playing disc golf was really, really hard.” He described his mental coaching sessions with Andreas as “like an hour with a psychologist every week.”
Lizotte commented further, saying, “I was really good at walking away from problems, just putting them behind me and trying to not worry about them, but then they build up and get worse. With Andy, I was working through the problems I was struggling to deal with myself.”
On Not Playing Disc Golf for Five Weeks
When talking about how he felt about training for the disc golf season without actually playing disc golf, McMahon said, “it was actually kind of scary…it just seems like you’re not supposed to do that with tournaments coming up.”
However, both McMahon and Lizotte noted that they have generally mastered movements related to disc golf through many years of practice.
“Throwing 500 feet is not hard for us,” Lizotte explained. “It’s like walking for other people; it’s natural…we throw so many thousands of shots throughout the season that taking a break for five weeks is not really a bad idea.”
By the end of the training, McMahon concurred with this opinion: “We trusted what Andy said, and I basically think it’s great [now]. I think I’ll try to not touch discs more in the offseason.”
The Present and Future
Though Lizotte and McMahon have left Twann behind, the teachings and support of the Gertsches are still firmly with them. They send frequent messages to both players during tournaments. Lizotte explained that they even took the time to write “a full-on body analysis of [McMahon’s] performance” after his disappointing final round of the 2018 Wintertime Open to help him understand “what went wrong, where it went wrong, why it went wrong.”
The effectiveness of the Gertsches’ training techniques, their depth of understanding about what it takes to compete at the highest levels of sport, and the amount of support they give their clients prompted high praise from Lizotte. He recommended that “every disc golfer in the world should work with Andy and Irene.”
Both players have also continued to practice many aspects of their training regimen as the season has begun.
Lizotte has given up “one of [his] favorite things to do in the world”—going to a bar and having a beer—entirely during tournament weeks. He credits refraining from alcohol consumption with helping him “feel so much better and in the moment” during his first two tournaments.
McMahon said, “I’m going to try and do the workouts I did in Switzerland throughout the course of the season. Eating healthy is the number one priority and keeping loose/stretching is the other, but whatever I can, I’m going to do. Go to the gym, try to train coordination—things like that.”
Though both Lizotte and McMahon feel they have reaped benefits from their time in Switzerland, their opinion is split on whether it should become their regular offseason training of choice.
Eagle said, “It’s not a definite plan yet, but I think it’s a strong possibility.”
“Being more or less locked in an apartment in the middle of nowhere in Switzerland and hungry every day and running, sprinting, working out every single day with no off days or social life—it’s just too much for me,” he said. “It was so hard. I cannot see myself doing another five weeks. Maybe two, maybe three.”
As for the Gertsches, they plan “to continue developing the Disc Golf 2.0 concept with interested disc golf companies,” and if the ‘Crush Boys’ continue to crush not only their drives but the competition this season, it shouldn’t surprise them if interest goes through the roof.