Feature Article - March 2006
Find a printable version here

Command Performance

Sports performance training offers fitness facilities some room for improvement

By Margaret Ahrweiler

Education is key

The ability to teach injury prevention effectively stems from another strong selling point of performance training—the education levels of its practitioners. Most performance facility operators, and many of its coaches, hold advanced degrees in sports science fields. (Durkin, for example, holds a master's degree in exercise and nutritional science with an emphasis in biomechanics and sports medicine from San Diego State University; Soika holds a master's degree in human performance from the University of Wisconsin-LaCrosse.)

In comparison, personal trainers run the gamut from a complete lack of certification to varying levels of accreditation from a confusing array of organizations. And while performance training proponents are quick to note the existence of effective, educated personal trainers, they say there's no replacement for a background in exercise sciences.

"In a health-club setting, it's still very common to have personal trainers who don't have college degrees," Soika says. "Here, on the other hand, to even be an intern you have to have a four-year degree."

Professionals with a greater understanding of body mechanics can tailor a performance program not just to one sport's goals but to each participant's body type and quirks as well. Trainers drive home the point repeatedly: Every body is different. Young athletes, in particular, may be progressing through puberty at different rates, so their limb lengths and body structures may vary dramatically.

When teaching proper movement, trainers must take body particulars into account: When teaching squats, for example, you can't tell a girl whose toes naturally point inward to turn them out.

"My toes may go one way, and your toes may go another, but you can't fight that," he says. "You work with it."

Similarly, he notes, a 5-foot, 10-inch, 160-pound outside hitter on a volleyball team may need "radically different" training methods and conditioning work than her 6-foot, 2-inch, 135-pound middle teammate.

"One size does not fit all," he cautions.