Club helps people train like pros athletes

Conditioning coaches, drawn from ranks of the elite, help members shape up

Health & Fitness

October 03, 2004|By Tom Dunkel | By Tom Dunkel,Sun Staff

Being that she's 43 years old and has a desk job in the dean's office at the Johns Hopkins University, Helen Montag would be considered a long-shot pro football prospect.

But a Friday morning finds her inside a sports gym doing strength, balance and agility drills under the eye of Jon Crosby, a man who has pushed some of the NFL's best players into oxygen debt.

A conditioning coach by trade, Crosby has trained running back Eddie George of the Dallas Cowboys, former Raven Shannon Sharpe and current Ravens Kordell Stewart, Ovie Mughelli and Aubrayo Franklin, as well as the U.S. Olympic bobsled team.

Fortunately for Montag, Crosby made a sharp career turn last year, moving from Atlanta to join the staff of Velocity Sports Performance in Baltimore.

Velocity is a franchise operation (32 locations nationwide and counting) whose mission is to bring elite-athlete training techniques to the general public. It's a decidedly egalitarian business strategy, the fitness-industry equivalent of McDonald's adding Happy Meal caviar to the menu.

Montag is going through an hourlong workout with Aubree Billick, a college student whose father, Brian, happens to be head coach of the Ravens. Swaddled in 20-pound resistance vests, they knock off some body squats, then do step-ups on a foot-high wooden box.

"Stay up tall on the balls of your feet," says Crosby as the two women complete a round of sliding jumping jacks. "Now, take your vests off and say, 'Hallelujah!' "

There isn't much time for rejoicing, though. Crosby still has to lead them through a series of pushups, overhead dumbbell presses done standing on one leg, and medicine ball exercises.

"Sometimes it feels a little like high school gym class," Montag admits after the session ends and her heart resumes normal beating.

Why subject yourself to that kind of retro punishment?

"Because, like everybody else," Montag explains, "I'm lazy."

Indeed, part of what Velocity offers is inspirational camaraderie. Members usually work out in the same group of two to six people, usually with the same coach. That concept has motivational payoffs. Nothing's quite as effective as peer pressure when it comes to squeezing one more sprint out of wobbly legs, especially when that sprint involves putting on a chest harness and dragging a weighted sled.

Velocity's other big selling point is the staff itself; most of them have masters' degrees in exercise physiology or kinesiology, and most come from some type of professional- or intercollegiate-sport background.

Jeff Durkee, a 45-year-old Legg Mason executive, has a gym in his home, but felt he'd fallen into a workout rut. He joined Velocity out of curiosity, figuring he'd last about six weeks. A year later, he's still showing up three mornings a week and has eight pounds of new muscle to show for it.

"I'd exercised [before], but I'd never seen anything with this scope and scale," says Durkee. "I was most impressed by the quality of the instructors."

Becky Henry, a 45-year-old housewife from Stevenson, lifted weights with a personal trainer and sweated buckets in many an aerobic class.

"This is a melding of the two," she says of Velocity. Henry has become so gung-ho she lugged a medicine ball along on vacation this summer.

Velocity Sports Performance was co-founded in 1999 by Loren Seagrave, who designed most of the training protocols. Seagrave won four NCAA track and field championships while coaching at Louisiana State University and later worked with a number of world-class sprinters, including Donovan Bailey and Gwen Torrence.

"Joint positioning dictates muscle recruitment," says Jon Crosby, summarizing a key Seagrave principle. In other words, life is biomechanics.

The Velocity system employs all the latest weight equipment and fitness toys, but emphasizes the importance of basic body movement and running form.

In fact, VSP guarantees that, in just eight weeks, it can shave two-tenths of a second off anybody's 40-yard sprint time. (As impressive as that pledge sounds, keep in mind that the average person is not exactly a well-oiled running machine. In most cases, there's room for big improvement.)

The company's target audience is primarily school-age athletes eager to take their game or their sport to another level. But Jamie McDonald, owner of Velocity's Baltimore franchise, opted to go in a different marketing direction based on personal experience.

"I felt adults needed an alternative to a gym. I know I did," says McDonald, who for 16 years was an investment banker at Deutsche Banc Alex. Brown.

While McDonald's club attracts its share of young people (including a handful of beefy high school football players that she calls "the grunting, groaning group"), 30 percent of her customers are adults, the majority of them women. The response has been so good, she says, that she plans to open a second Velocity in Howard County this winter.

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