It’s a special vibe floating in Vegas during the World Series of Poker in September. Well, there’s a special vibe in Vegas all the time, but the excitement surrounding the tournament is palpable, especially with all the high-rollers flocking the city.
They are the movie stars of gambling, and they tend to make everybody feel special for just breathing the same air. When WSOP is happening, Vegas becomes like Cannes during the festival; everybody’s busy, everybody’s glam, and anything can occur. It wasn’t easy finding a place to stay, and we wanted to get close to the person we are supposed to meet. Even the Vegas hotels with thousands of rooms get fully-booked, so dealing with the crowd can get overwhelming.
But it’s very peaceful at the top-floor gym in Nobu where Fedor Holz, a bit of a poker prodigy, is getting ready for the main event. It feels like meeting a super successful athlete as everything is set for a private training session. However, the famous poker-players are a crossover between A-list Hollywood royalty and sports superstars, so the settings seem strangely appropriate.
The idea is to explore how someone on that level prepares for the demanding task of playing a tournament. Besides the mental preparation and the focus which are expected, what strikes us the most is the physical aspect of the game. It’s the long hours in a sitting position that takes their toll on the resolve and the performance, to a much larger extent than you would expect.
Fedor Holz is one of those players who take the getting ready part very seriously because he thinks that it helps immensely in being the best in the game. Smart thinking, but we wouldn’t expect anything else from Holz, who broke a lot of taboos that were inherent to the world of gambling.
Table of Contents
The stuffy rooms and the ominous faces one usually associates with poker are more or less a thing of the past. The new scene is polished, relaxed, and above all, it brings individuality to the forefront. You don’t have to look the part to play it. Now, we see a lot of diversity, not just in terms of gender and color, but also in the way the players conduct themselves.
Fedor Holz conquered the world of professional poker by storm, winning pretty much everything that can be won in the last couple of years. Of course, he came from the online community, which isn’t strange since he is only 26. As a quintessential millennial, he feels at ease on the World Wide Web, where he discovered the game, and more importantly, how good he really was.
Needless to say, the kid from Germany wanted to expand his horizons and show the world what he was capable of. He was ranked as the best MTT online player by Pocketfive in 2014 and 2015. Holz started visiting the prominent tournaments in 2012, and in July 2016, he won his first bracelet in the WSOP and took home $4,981,775. Earlier that year, he finished as a runner-up in High Roller for One Drop, winning $3,500,000. His biggest prize is a staggering $6,000,000 in No-Limit Hold’em- The Big One for One Drop. Pretty awesome for a nerdy guy who looks like a well-behaved schoolboy!
Stay Healthy, Dudes!
Back at the gym, Holz appears to be in high spirits. Fresh-faced and smiling, he doesn’t look like a poker player at all. The prejudices surrounding the community are huge, but he still differs from his peers, both in appearance and attitude. Meeting him for a workout may be the way to learn more about his process, and the routine behind the success of one of the world’s most successful poker professionals.
Of course, a small entourage is there to add to the atmosphere, but everybody is cool and laid-back, so it doesn’t feel formal at all.
“We always try to stay in the places that have a gym we can use privately because it’s crucial to sustain continuity,” says Simon Welsch, Holz’s personal trainer. Another millennial, passionate about his work, who gives out an aura of tranquility and openness, a bit different from Holz’s somewhat shy demeanor.
They have been working together for a year, and the famous poker player introduces Welsch as a sports scientist, which somehow fits his persona perfectly. “We are trying to develop a routine that is fit for traveling, as Fedor is always on the road. Again, continuity is the key. The workouts don’t have to be intense, but we have to be consistent, especially when he is playing poker. Long hours in a sitting position are terrible for your body, and your mind, so maintaining a balance is crucial,” Welsch says.
It’s the whole deal as top nutritionist Mike Naylor joined the team to help Fedor eat healthy. Being fit is not just about the looks; it is about the well-being of the mind and body that allow the player to stay focused on the game. Also, it is about unwinding after the game. It is challenging to stay grounded in the world of gambling, especially if you are winning.
Holz seems to be doing well in that regard, as he is calm and down-to-earth in the best sense of the word. Being high on adrenaline is part of the job, and the long exposure to the hormone can be damaging to your health. It is commonly connected with mood and emotional well-being. However, the best way to release it is through physical activity. Some say that it is the only way.
Fedor realized the benefits of the proper training and diet early on and sticks to it religiously. He admits to going astray every once in a while, but discipline is his strong side, and those periods are more like little holidays. His routine is his reality.
Welsch earned Holz’s trust, and he is creating the exercises that are fit for the player, and that keep his spine, joints, and muscles active and healthy. It’s not just the tournaments. Long flights and the lack of familiar surroundings are also potentially damaging, so workouts serve as a vent for any kind of stress. And it’s a stressful and competitive world out there.
Let’s Get Physical!
Going through the motions as often as possible does wonders, so it’s vital to try to work out on a regular basis, according to Welsch. Their focus is on contouring those parts that get affected the most by Holz’s lifestyle and release the tension that can cause pain and general discomfort.
The training is divided into five parts and covers warming up, strength, and stretching. Of course, it’s a bit more complex, but the idea is pretty much the same. Mind you, this is not about lifting weights and getting massive. The equipment is a means to an end, although looking fit is a nice side-effect.
So there is mobility, core strength, glute activation, back and shoulders, and the cardio segment to cover, and we will get an insight into the exercises and the reasons why and how they work.
They kick off with the mobility training, which is not the same as stretching. Though some of the exercises may seem similar, mobility is more active and improves the range of motion. It is essential for keeping the muscles and joints flexible.
The first exercise is a lounge during which Holz stands on one leg, while he pulls the other to his chest. Then he makes a big lounge forward, opening his chest and pointing to the ceiling with one of his hands. Welsch keeping your back as straight as possible.
The next exercise starts with kneeling on one of our knees while keeping your back straight. You lift the opposite arm and lean to the side, stretching your spine. It seems fairly easy, but it is very beneficial for the hip flexors that get stiff after sitting for a long time.
The last one focuses on the upper back. Holz is on all fours, moving his arm under his chest to the opposite side, and then he opens up by pointing to the ceiling. It’s a wide-range movement that helps keep the upper spine and shoulders flexible, not to mention the stretch in the packs.
Welsch advises that it’s not merely about activating the glutes, which is very important because they help us keep the spine in the proper position. It is also about hip stabilization because weakness in that part of the body causes a lot of problems with balance and stability.
Single-leg deadlift seems a bit advanced, as you have to keep your back extended while you lean forward with a dumbbell in one of your hands. The opposite leg should be straight and in about 90 degrees with the floor while you maintain the position for at least 20 seconds. Welsch says that you shouldn’t move your hips around, but try to keep them locked.
A Small Break
At this point, one of Holz’s best friends drops by to join the training. A gorgeous blond Joelle Parenteau is also in town to play the Main Event in WSOP, and she and Fedor have been dying to catch up. With the busy schedules, the gym is where they can have some private time as Joelle is also a bit of a fitness fanatic herself.
One cannot help but be smitten with her lovely presence, and she is obviously familiar with everybody in the crew. Joelle exercises regularly and says it helps her keep the energy levels high. As a successful player and a businesswoman, she needs to be at the top of the game.
“She just started Wolf Down, which is the best kebab restaurant in Ottawa,” Holz says. “But she needs all the exercise she can get, with all that donners she eats every day.”
Parenteau has already warmed up, so the trio goes back to action in no time.
Glute Activation Part Two
Welsch throws in the ball. And it’s a big pilates ball that they are going to use for the next exercise. Holz lies on his back, puts his feet on the ball, and tries to pull it closer to his body by lifting up his hips. It’s one of the most effective ways to activate the glutes and the hamstrings, and Parenteau seems to enjoy it.
“It’s a love/hate relationship with this one for me,” Fedor jokes.
Then they move to a basic plank with elbows on the pilates ball, which makes the exercise much more difficult, but also really effective. As the body struggles to keep the balance, the core is really activated.
The last one in this section seems hard as you should sit on the floor, lean backward, and lift your legs a bit while keeping the knees bent. You should hold the dumbbell with both hands and move it from one side of the body to another.
Back and Shoulders
Holz does not focus too much on the shoulders in terms of building or shaping them. Welsch thinks that opening your chest and keeping the shoulders flexible is enough to stay healthy. Also, opening the shoulders allows a person to breathe better, and it is the best way to keep the focus and stay calm during those high-stake games.
Holz performs a classic dumbbell row. He puts his knee on a bench and leaves his other leg on the ground. He takes a dumbbell in one hand and steadies himself against the bench with the other. He lifts the weight by pushing the elbow up while trying to keep the arm as close to the body as possible.
This one does wonders for the shoulders, as well as keeping your back activated but safe. With numerous muscles participating, it’s basically the only one Fedor needs to do today.
There are various ways to get your heart-rate up, but cycling is one of the best. If you don’t have the time to hit the road and really feel the joy of biking through nature, which Holz doesn’t, cycling at the gym is also effective.
“I’m gonna go for the high score,” Fedor jokes, but this may as well be his favorite part of the workout. It also gives him a chance to clear his mind and simply be. However, going for the high score is not easy, so Fedor is sweaty and tired, but satisfied.
“Did you make it?” Welsch asks.
“I don’t know, don’t think so. I’m never biking for the high score again,” Fedor jokes. He adds he is determined to get that high score.
“That’s a poker player in me,” he laughs.
Relief and Stretching
Ok, this is probably everybody’s favorite part of the workout. Especially if there is a personal trainer to assist you and help you release all that tension. They focus on the lower back and spine, but also hamstrings that get a lot of tension if one spends hours in a sitting position.
Welsch thinks that Fedor had a good session and that he will feel balanced and focused on the upcoming Main Event. He is competitive and gets motivated when there is something to achieve, but it is helpful during cardio.
Holz praises the consistency and the benefits of consecutive sessions that give the best results. He likes to do yoga as well and says that being disciplined in your workouts will show the results after only six months.
Welsch advises that they do not go for maximum performance, rather shaping the body to boost energy and stay healthy. With a busy schedule of poker tournaments and a couple of projects Holz has going on in Vienna, where he currently resides, balance and focus are crucial.
Even if you expect a player to be more naughty, you cannot deny how contagious Holz’s energy is. Maybe gambling is getting a bit too corporate, but in a way, it seems more relaxed and safe with players like Fedor Holz taking over the scene.