Feature Article - March 2006
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Command Performance

Sports performance training offers fitness facilities some room for improvement

By Margaret Ahrweiler

Tools of the Trade

Unlike traditional fitness centers, sports performance facilities don't require rows of expensive machines. At Velocity Sports Performance facilities, franchisees' biggest expense is not the equipment but the flooring: professional-level synthetic turf for football and soccer training, a 60-yard track for sprint and speed work, netted areas for baseball and softball batting and pitching, and multipurpose sport flooring for everything else.

Surfaces aside, most centers eschew treadmills and weight machines for an array of lower budget gadgets—medicine balls, agility ladders and a wide array of exercise bands. Many centers display signs spoofing routine cardio work. One gym's unofficial logo: "Don't train like a hamster. Train like an athlete."

The biggest tool is the athlete's own body, notes Britton Kelley, regional fitness director for Gold's Gym and president of Trainer's Performance in Smithtown, N.Y. He adds that his training area for most clients has been cut to about a five-foot-square area around the athlete.

However, the culture of high-level sports feeds off the ability to measure the most miniscule variations in performance, and the tools to do so are getting cooler every year. One popular—albeit pricey—piece of equipment looks like a hybrid combination of a plasma television, Golden Tee golf game and Dance Dance Revolution. In reality, this virtual reality-type mechanism runs athletes through games and drills to measure performance, function and movement.

Among the things it can analyze are reaction time—how quickly an athlete perceives, interprets and develops the muscle force; power—think blocking or checking ability; and speed—not only forward but left, right and backward. Kelley uses the system and praises its accuracy and wow factor and its ability to help athletes discover their weak points. For example, he discovered that one client was 80 percent less efficient on the left side than the right.

While it's not vital to own such a tool because of its expense, Kelley notes, but it can be a welcome addition to a facility that can afford it—one more weapon in the arsenal of training methods and information flow on performance.