Photography by Brian Fitzsimmons
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Jake Saenz & Tod Moore
I close my eyes and exhale, buying a final moment of solitude before walking into the coach’s office at Atomic Athlete. I rehearse my talking points in my head, running through the preparation I’d done for an hour-plus of intense conversation on training techniques and mental strength. You’d be stalling, too, if you were about to spend time alone with the men behind the slogan “Stronger. Faster. Harder to kill.”
Tod Moore, one of Atomic’s co-founders and lead coaches, greets me at the door with a warm handshake and a big smile, slapping me on the back like we’re old friends. Bald-headed and red-bearded, Tod is wearing a black sweatshirt, black shorts, and flip-flops as he leans against his desk, a cool figure of relaxed authority—nothing like the austere, hulking guy I’d expected. Make no mistake about it, though: the guy could crush me in an instant.
Tod wasn’t your typical gym rat growing up. Sure, he liked to lift weights as a high schooler in La Porte, a small town in East Texas, but that was about it. “I was just a fat kid growing up, wasn’t very athletic,” he says. “I pretty much just liked to work out because I enjoyed the suffer component of it.”
All of that changed when he met Jake Saenz a few years later at a mutual friend’s surprise birthday party in Austin. “Jake showed up and I immediately thought to myself, ‘I like that guy!’” Moore smiles, his hearty laugh filling the room. They began working out and running together, and their friendship took off from there. Eventually, they moved into a house with a few other buddies and became virtually inseparable.
“We’d have these ‘man dates’ where we’d get up and ride our bikes down to our run group with Paul Carozza (formerly of RunTex), come back, do another workout, and then get back on our bikes,” he says. “We were nonstop.”
Seconds later, Jake bursts through the office door, smiling as if he’d been waiting for the perfect time to enter. A former Army Special Operations soldier, he’s clean-shaven and bald, and is wearing a red T-shirt and beige pants. Like Tod, he has an air of unassuming confidence and is quick to crack a joke. It’s obvious how at ease they are together—more brothers than friends.
Jake grabs a seat as he and Tod lead me through the progression of their personal and professional relationship. When they first met, they were in their mid-late 20’s and bartending to make a living. Both felt like there was something missing and wanted more concrete direction.
“That was the genesis of all this,” says Tod, gesturing around the room. “We were both looking to evolve out of juvenile life habits and were in an open-minded, pliable place in our lives.”
Jake laughs for a second and shakes his head, gathering his thoughts. “It’s so funny to look back 10 years ago—bartending, a bunch of dudes living in a house, training together,” he says reflectively. “So much has changed since then but we still carry the training habits and the relationships we’ve forged with us every day.”
I step back from our conversation for a moment, processing their contemplative statements. These guys aren’t meatheads, they’re pioneers—and Atomic Athlete’s staggering success speaks for it. Over the past eight years, Tod and Jake have grown their business from a ragtag outfit leading parkside workouts (well before the proliferation of Camp Gladiator’s outdoor workout model) to a close-knit community of athletes and competitors chasing one common, elusive goal: to sharpen and prepare their bodies and minds for anything that comes their way.
This may sound grandiose, but Tod and Jake aren’t selling gimmicks. They’re advancing science. By combining the methodologies behind strength training and endurance conditioning—two schools of thought that have been traditionally kept separate—Atomic has become a nationwide leader in online workout programming and evaluation. They also lead a variety of multi-week sessions and lecture-heavy seminars for Army Special Forces soldiers. Combined, these two efforts represent Atomic’s push to be as influential and scalable as possible.
If this sounds a bit dense or confusing, it is. “It’s like drinking out of a fire hose,” Tod admits. “Most people don’t understand until they’re several sessions in.”
Though their curriculum is intricate, there aren’t any hidden secrets to what they do. Their training model is based on a deliberate and calculated approach stemming from a simple question: Why? “So many gyms rationalize unnecessary and dangerous workouts by arguing that they’ll make you mentally tougher, which is ridiculous,” Jake says. “Everything we do is intentional. We don’t waste our athletes’ time or endanger them; we empower them to expand their aptitude in whatever field they’re in—whether they’re a collegiate athlete, a hunter, a soldier, or outdoorsman.”
Thanks to their expansion into the online realm, Tod and Jake haven’t felt the need to grow Atomic Athlete through marketing campaigns or opening multiple locations. As a result, they’ve been able to keep their membership to roughly 250 people a month, preserving Atomic’s casual environment. This consistency and predictability—a rarity in the gym business—has given them the freedom to explore areas of interest beyond the confines of traditional fitness regiments, like shooting, hunting, and jiu-jitsu. “This is really just the beginning,” Tod says.
As I walk into the parking lot, I can’t help but laugh at how drastically my perception of Jake and Tod changed from our brief time together. With one final look at the front door, I step into my car with Jake’s words still ringing in my ears: “This isn’t just about the gym—it’s about building a skillset focused around discipline, endurance, strength, and awareness. We’re helping people become greater assets to their companies, families, and communities.”