Feature Article - March 2006
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Command Performance

Sports performance training offers fitness facilities some room for improvement

By Margaret Ahrweiler

"As science improves and the fitness field evolves, we now have so many things at our fingertips we can do to help take us to the next level, be it obtaining college scholarships, professional contracts, making the high-school varsity team or taking their game to the next level, people are interested in maximizing their potential," he says.

So what's the difference between performance training and run-of-the-(tread)mill fitness work?

There are several key distinctions. First, performance training uses a scientific background—studies in exercise physiology or kinesiology—to identify the optimal functioning of the human body's muscular and skeletal systems and devise work to help people reach that optimal level. This is most commonly achieved through a series of rapid-fire exercises that depend more on the body and specific muscle placement and movements rather than machines and repetitive motions.

In a traditional fitness setting, people commonly might perform 30 to 40 minutes of work on cardio machines, augmented by 10 to 15 minutes of exercises or weight training, doing single-purpose movements with a vaguely defined goal of keeping fit or burning calories. With sports performance training, "it's about multitasking," Durkin says.

"You're training for movement coordination, increased core strength, balance and functionality," he says. "You're teaching people the best way to use their bodies."

Performance training focuses on multiple muscle movements rather than singling out one specific muscle.

"You have 700 different muscles in your body, and they're designed to work together, not one at a time," notes Britton Kelley, regional fitness director for Gold's Gym and president of Trainer's Performance in Smithtown, N.Y.

With that concept of functionality in mind, performance training also concentrates more on using body weight rather than free weights or circuit training machines to build strength.

And while much of performance training's emphasis falls on young athletes, adults are turning to this type of fitness work as well after burning out on traditional cardio/weight work.

"People are realizing, 'Wow, this has no purpose,' after they've gone nowhere on their treadmill for so long or counted to 15 reps forever," Kelley says. Instead, performance training focuses on the functional, he says, making your body move better no matter what you do.

Performance training also represents a dramatic shift in fitness philosophy when it comes to people's athletic abilities. Traditionally, people have labored under the notion that athleticism, and skill at a sport, was a natural, genetically ingrained ability. Now, performance trainers know otherwise. Research, data and study after study on athletic performance show that with proper training, athletes can improve important factors like speed, response time and jumping. Velocity's promotional materials state it succinctly: "Great athletes are made, not born."

Its program was created by co-founder Loren Seagrave, an internationally recognized speed coach whose clients have included sprinters such as Donovan Bailey, Gwen Torrance, and several National Football League teams including the Atlanta Falcons and the Jacksonville Jaguars. Seagrave broke ground in his philosophy that speed is a skill that can be taught and improved upon and that training—or often retraining—muscles and neural responses in certain ways will increase performance.

This doesn't necessarily mean that every boy has the potential to become Peyton Manning or every girl Jennie Finch, performance pros are quick to concur. There's an outer limit to what every person can accomplish, and that varies, say the pros. But they all possess the means to improve.