Athletes seeking edge turn to sports performance experts

October 15, 2017


Participants in an adult high performance class at the St. Vincent Center in Indianapolis do a dynamic piriformis stretch, designed to prepare the body for additional movement and prevent injury.
Photo courtesy of St. Vincent Sports Performance

Peak athletic performance is fueled by raw talent, strong coaching, and plenty of practice and tenacity in competition. Increasingly, amateur and professional athletes striving to reach their personal best are turning to sports performance centers for data on their fitness levels, medical insight on maximizing their play, and training to improve their abilities and avoid and recover from injury.

At the St. Vincent Center in Indianapolis, participants in a high-performance class use slide boards to enhance circuit exercises. Those who are standing perform a lateral lunge variation, to strengthen the lower body. Two on the ground do a plank variation to improve core strength.
Photo courtesy of St. Vincent Sports Performance

Responding to that demand, the St. Vincent Center opened in late August providing a training venue for the NBA's Indiana Pacers, other elite athletes and the public in downtown Indianapolis. The privately financed center is owned by Pacers' Sports and Entertainment. Ascension's St. Vincent health system leases space and provides sports performance services and health care there. It's located across the street from Bankers Life Fieldhouse, where the team plays home games.

The five-story, 130,000-square-foot center includes two basketball courts, and weight and training rooms. The basketball team and St. Vincent physicians have office space there. St. Vincent provides some of the team's medical care and leases two floors of the space at the center. Its primary care, cardiology and sports performance services at the center are used by premier athletes, including the Pacers and Olympians, and by members of the public.

"We wanted to make the services, the technology, the expertise (once) limited to the elite athlete available to the public," said Ralph Reiff, executive director of St. Vincent Sports Performance, a division of St. Vincent health system that traces its roots to 1987. "Anybody can walk through our doors, and we always say as long as you are physically active and have a goal, we can help you," he said.

Reiff said about 75 percent of services St. Vincent offers to the public at the center are paid for out-of-pocket, the other 25 percent through insurance.

Niche market
Reiff said medically based sports performance programs began to emerge about a decade ago. Amateur and professional athletes pursuing a competitive edge through targeted conditioning drove the success of the niche market to the point where health providers expanded their services, facilities and staffs to accommodate rising demand. Reiff said sports medicine, which helps athletes prevent or recover from injury, is an integral component of the sports performance program.

Sports performance services — with offerings from Bon Secours Virginia Health System and Providence St. Joseph Health among other ministry examples — are used by teen athletes working to qualify for next-level competition, college and club teams seeking better performance, individuals with personal athletic goals, and premier athletes competing at the highest levels. Charges vary widely depending on whether a person opts for a one-time fitness assessment or ongoing training at the sports performance centers.

Science of sports
With the opening of the new center, St. Vincent Sports Performance has five locations and 105 employees, including seven physicians trained through sports medicine fellowships, 14 strength and conditioning coaches, 55 athletic trainers, two sports psychologists, two sports nutritionists, physical therapists and imaging and administrative employees.

Current and former Bon Secours employees demonstrate equipment at the Bon Secours Washington Redskins Training Center in Richmond, Va., in these marketing photos. Above, Erin Barlow practices box jumps which improve skills like vertical leap ability. Below left, Justin Ferrell runs on a treadmill as equipment measures his maximum oxygen intake, a fitness indicator. Nick Shedd, a former Bon Secours employee, is in the background.
Photo courtesy of Bon Secours

St. Vincent Sports Performance dietitians teach athletes about optimal diet and hydration to fuel them during their sport and to aid in their recovery. Trainers help individuals enhance performance with measurements and workouts to make a healthy heart work at maximum efficiency.

The floor being installed in a sports science laboratory has 92 force plates that will measure the force generated when an athlete walks, jumps or pivots — information that Reiff said will be used to adjust body mechanics to improve performance or prevent injury.

Center staff offer advice about how technical clothing and shoes aid an athlete during competition and about postexercise recovery, including helping an athlete recover more quickly from lactic acid buildup after exertion.

Elite athletes, weekend warriors
Bon Secours Virginia Health System's sports performance program has had a location inside the Bon Secours Washington Redskins Training Center in Richmond, Va., for about four years. That facility is owned by the city, said Jamie Gordon, Bon Secours Virginia Health System's Director of Sports Medicine.

Bon Secours does not train the Redskins and physical therapy and sports performance staff do not use the lower level of the center for about two months when the football team is prepping for and taking part in training camp. Many clients temporarily transfer to other Bon Secours facilities when the NFL team uses more space during that time. Bon Secours Medical Group offices upstairs remain open.

Bon Secours' clients include law enforcement professionals gearing up for work-related fitness tests, amateur sports teams and elite athletes, including teenagers and adults.

Brandon Johnson, Bon Secours' sports performance coordinator at the training center, said people come in for an individual sports performance assessment, for one-on-one training sessions with him, and for additional on-site services, such as consults with a dietitian who specializes in working with athletes, or a session with a massage therapist, who can help an athlete working to build greater flexibility or to recover from muscle exertion.

Class participant Anna Hubley works on a TRX row machine at the St. Vincent Center. It is designed to strengthen upper back musculature while also challenging grip, shoulders and core.
Photo courtesy of St. Vincent Sports Performance

The services include a $125 VO2 max test, which measures a person's maximum rate of oxygen consumption, a fitness indicator. Some clients spend about $365 a month for a service bundle that includes multiple training sessions to improve their overall fitness or target a particular aspect of their performance, nutrition consultations and massage.

Entire club, high school, college and professional sports teams have contracts with Bon Secours Virginia for sports performance services that focus on conditioning, strength and speed. A staff of 16 trainers works with teams, mostly off-site, Gordon said.

Bon Secours Medical Group has a handful of providers and support staff with offices at the center; and, in addition to Johnson, about five physical therapists, physical therapy assistants, a dietitian and massage therapist work at the center, Johnson said.

The training center can be part of an injured athlete's care continuum. For instance, an individual who undergoes surgery to repair a sports injury can get a functional movement screening at the training center and work with a trainer and/or therapist on exercises to "return the athlete to full 'go' play," Johnson said.

Easy access
St. Joseph Hoag Health, part of the Renton, Wash.-based Providence St. Joseph Health, recently opened the Wellness Corner inside the LA Fitness – Crossroads in Irvine, Calif. It is the sixth Wellness Corner, a small-footprint, retail wellness clinic helping people achieve optimal health, and its first such facility inside a gym, said Annette Buckel, vice president of wellness services for Providence St. Joseph Health. The LA Fitness location offers services for muscular, joint and spinal health, including chiropractic care, acupuncture, sports massage and physical therapy.

The 1,000-square-foot center is staffed by a chiropractor, a physical therapist, a physical therapist assistant, an acupuncturist and a receptionist. It's open to the public, including gym members, and draws dedicated athletes. Clients can pay out-of-pocket for services or use insurance for physical therapy.

Photo courtesy of Bon Secours

Clients can opt for an analysis that measures the percentage of water, fat and muscle in their bodies. Alternative therapies include cupping, a treatment where the acupuncturist uses specialized cups to briefly suction skin up and away from a client's muscles, to improve blood flow to the area and aid in recovery. The ancient practice has gained renewed attention in recent years in part because Olympic swimmer and 28-time medalist Michael Phelps had cupping marks on his shoulder at the 2016 Olympics. Phelps credits the practice with aiding in his post-race recovery.

Chiropractor Jan Carlo Zegarra has extensive experience with professional athletes through his private practice. He treats athletes of all performance levels at the Wellness Corner LA Fitness location, offering body mechanics analysis and treatments and exercises to improve mechanics and range of motion. "Nowadays, it's getting so competitive, athletes are looking for that extra edge," he said.



Copyright © 2017 by the Catholic Health Association of the United States
For reprint permission, contact Betty Crosby or call (314) 253-3490.

Copyright © 2017 by the Catholic Health Association of the United States

For reprint permission, contact Betty Crosby or call (314) 253-3490.