About 30 miles south of U.S. Bank Stadium, the Vikings’ leading receiver works out alongside a local mixed martial arts fighter, two NFL journeymen and a handful of amateur athletes — in his own gym.
Many of them look up to Adam Thielen, sometimes literally as a floor-to-ceiling image of him greets those walking through the front door of the Lakeville gym. This Englebert Training Systems location, in which Thielen holds a 49 percent share as part-owner with founder and trainer Ryan Englebert, has kept many dreams afloat since last summer’s opening.
On a Thursday morning, Thielen follows Englebert’s lead as he issues individual orders to each athlete depending on the strength and conditioning program designed precisely for them. Many eyes also follow Thielen, who is the only example needed for these NFL hopefuls to continue despite lofty odds.
“Why I’m still chasing the dream is him,” said Eric Poggenburg, a former St. Cloud State defensive back who played against Thielen in college.
The workout begins at 8 a.m., but Thielen showed up — as usual — at least 30 minutes earlier to talk shop with Englebert. The two are only about eight months into their gym partnership and already are working on plans to potentially expand with other locations across the Twin Cities.
“We’re talking business,” Thielen said. “What we can do, how we can expand and make it better.”
Nestled in the middle of a nondescript Lakeville business park is ETS Thielen South Metro, which started as an idea kicked around for two years during pre- and post-workout chats with Englebert.
Thielen’s route to part-owner really began four years ago when he sought out Englebert to prepare him for the lofty leap from Division II football in Mankato to the NFL. Thielen had a backup plan — an internship at Patterson Dental — in case he fell short.
Even after a breakout campaign in his fourth NFL season, he sees this gym partnership as another backup plan, given the harsh reality that football can be taken away in one snap.
“I’m the kind of person who always has a Plan B,” Thielen said. “I don’t want to go into anything without another option. That’s what this kind of was, too. Now I can just go play football, do what I love, do it as long as I can and know if that doesn’t work out or when I’m done playing, I can do this.”
At 26, Thielen’s playing career is also just getting started. But business has long interested him and his intrigue now includes picking his agent’s brain about NFL contract negotiations as the restricted free agent seeks a long-term deal to stay in Minnesota.
Thielen understands that football isn’t just a game, but a business — just like his new venture off the field.
His involvement, beyond training, at the Lakeville gym is primarily development — brainstorming with Englebert about ways to recruit athletes and further grow across the metro area.
“I always wanted to expand,” said Englebert, who started ETS in Woodbury in 2010. “As much as I’ll push him ... we’re really good friends. To me it was a no-brainer. Both wives were All-American standout soccer players in college, a lot of synergy there. It was a perfect marriage.”
Setting an example
Vikings safety Cedric Thompson didn’t need to be recruited.
“No, I asked [Thielen],” Thompson said. “I asked what did you do? I want to follow you.”
Thompson is one of two former Gophers, including Dolphins tight end MarQueis Gray, to train with Thielen at ETS. But Thompson didn’t find his new spot in the Twin Cities until he joined the Vikings.
Being on his third NFL team in two seasons, Thompson gravitated to Thielen because of his road from undrafted and unwanted to starting receiver. The bond extends beyond free weights and football; Thompson will also be a new father, with a baby due in August. Thielen and his wife had a son last fall.
“He’s already been giving me advice about the third trimester and what to get ready for,” Thompson said. “I can talk to him about anything. I can relate to him in so many ways.”
Thompson bought in because Thielen’s results speak for themselves. His best NFL season included 69 catches for a Vikings-leading 969 yards last fall, lending credence to “the system” Englebert crafts to fit each of his patrons. Two-hour sessions in the gym are only part of the training method between nutrition plans and sleep recommendations.
Thielen has helped draw other current and former Vikings to his ETS gym for offseason training, including fullback Zach Line, receiver Isaac Fruechte, defensive tackle Zach Moore and tight end Brian Leonhardt. However, most of ETS’ clients are younger athletes, ages 8 to 18.
“It’s just nice to have a place I know is ours and somewhere for kids to train,” Thielen said. “Every month we have a session with the parents and all the kids. We talk to them, get in front of them and explain why we do things and why we think we’re different than other places.”
Just as when Thielen began his unlikely path to the NFL with Englebert, the two carry unbridled ambition into their next venture.
“I’m very thankful to be in business with him,” Englebert said. “We’re going to keep this baby going and impact a lot of communities together. We’re just getting started.”
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