Marshawn Lynch's trainer: 'No doubt' Beast Mode will be back

Since undergoing surgery to fix a core muscle issue, Seahawks star running back Marshawn Lynch has ducked away from view. No interviews, few public appearances. Where has he been?

He's been working on his return to football at a training facility called Empower Gym in San Francisco. That gym, by the way, locks its doors every year from Dec. 20 to Jan. 3 for the holidays. Except this year. Lynch wants to train through Christmas. So, the gym is open.

"This dude is all about, 'If I eat, everybody eats,' " Empower founder and head instructor Tareq Azim said on Christmas Day. "He's legit. That's why it's hard not to support him. So, no, I'm not going to stay closed."

After trying to battle through his injury much of the season, Lynch finally realized he would never be himself. He listened to his body, as Azim describes it, and had surgery on Nov. 25. The plan was for him to miss at least a month, and it's been more than that.

With the Seahawks already heading to the playoffs, Azim was posed the most important question: Will Lynch be on the field with them?

"At the pace he's going, if he keeps doing what he's doing, I have no doubts that he'll be leading the team and the organization when he needs to be there," Azim said.

Lynch is expected to return to the Seattle area sometime in the middle of this week, with the possibility of practicing for Week 17. He hasn't been ruled out for the regular-season finale yet. Still, only he knows his plans. But it's clear his rehabilitation is heading in the right direction.

"He's going through some very significant increases in performance and making tremendous strides," Azim said, noting that he provides regular updates on Lynch to Seahawks officials. "My responsibility is to get him to his ideal max state to take this team to the Super Bowl again, but more importantly, to bring him back to full health. That decision will be on him."

Lynch -- one of the most durable players in the NFL -- has never dealt with a major injury like this. The Seahawks know this reality: They can score all they want, but come playoff time, they need Lynch as their engine. And with his backup Thomas Rawls (leg) on injured reserve, the need is more dire.

At the beginning though, it was difficult for him to get in gear. He's used to being "Beast Mode" all the time, but this injury (similar to a sports hernia) didn't allow it. He had to fight through it.

"What I do is, I really target mental deficiency," said Azim, who also trains NFL players Aldon Smith, Marcus Peters and Justin Tuck. "What is preventing maximization of performance? I make that the internal opponent. His whole career, he's gone without any surgery or big injury, and a lot of this is a mental hurdle of him wanting to feel right again. To not feel right is very rare for him -- he's a guy who runs through people, not around people."

Azim is a six-time Mixed Martial Arts championship coach, but he said Lynch isn't doing MMA training. Instead, he said, his only goal is to have Lynch take incremental steps through physical and mental discomfort and "release the beast." I asked him how close Beast Mode is to being himself.

"Beast Mode is alive," Azim said. "We can all assume this or that, but it's all about how he feels. ... He was like, 'Oh man, I gotta get my legs back.' I'm like, 'Oh my God. You do have your legs back!' But around Marshawn, you can't be normal. You can't have normal be OK. When he does things that are not normal, then it's, 'OK, that's Beast Mode. That's Marshawn.'"

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