Stronger, Faster, Smarter

Building better athletes at any age.

We’ve all heard the familiar lament that Americans are a bunch of sedentary couch potatoes, splayed inert like so many beached leviathans before our 80-inch television screens. That’s not the only story, though. For as many of us that are sitting too much and moving too little, there are a growing number of Americans of all ages who are getting up and seriously going.

From 6-year-old recreational soccer players to 90-year-old Masters swimmers, CrossFit enthusiasts to 5K charity-fundraiser runners, paddleboarding aficionados to college club mountain bikers—not to mention elite and professional athletes—an unprecedented number of us, tens of millions, are participating in a dizzying variety of fitness programs and recreational and competitive sports.

Some are trying to get faster and stronger, or improve their technique. Some are trying to get more active without being sidelined by injuries. Some are trying to push their performance to an improved level, or to lose weight, to make healthier lifestyle choices, qualify for an Ironman, get ready for a team season, run their first 5K. In short, millions of people, millions of individual goals—and millions of questions about how to achieve them.

That’s where Bon Secours Sports Performance comes in. With an already well-established program for physical therapy and rehabilitation, Bon Secours has expanded its reach to meet the needs and support the goals of its athletes and fitness clients.

“Our vision is to become the go-to in the Richmond and Hampton Roads areas for sports performance, human performance, and our wide range of related services, from weight loss and fitness to tactical training for police and fire departments,” says Justin Ferrell, business development coordinator for Bon Secours In Motion Physical Therapy and Sports Performance.

At its locations in Virginia Beach, Chesapeake, Suffolk, Hampton and Richmond, Bon Secours Sports Performance offers assessment and analysis, injury prevention, fitness and wellness, training and performance services under the guidance of professionally trained and certified staff.

If these services represent a natural evolution for the health system, they also reflect a savvy step to tap into the lucrative and growing sports and fitness market. More than 50 million Americans hold health-club memberships. More than 20 million kids are participating in non-school youth sports as year-round club and travel teams grow in popularity and competitiveness. More than 19 million people completed more than 28,000 running events in 2013. And nearly a half-million students participate in NCAA collegiate sports, with several million more estimated to play for intercollegiate club teams.

So what exactly does “sports performance” mean for these many different people? The answer, according to sports performance coordinator Ryan Neal of Bon Secours, depends on the client, who could be anyone from club, team, youth and elite athletes to “people who want to just improve their health and lifestyle habits”—whoever walks in the door, says Ryan. “We work on a person’s full health, not just exercise and training, but also diet and lifestyle choices.”

For the youngest athletes, the focus might be on developing what Ryan refers to as “movement efficiencies” that will help set the pattern for best performance and injury prevention as the child grows. With older club, high school and college athletes, strength and power become increasingly important. A middle-aged triathlete might not only need help with power and endurance, but would also benefit from swim-stroke and running-gait analysis. And someone preparing for a first 5K might want a customized training and injury-prevention plan.

“We sit down with people and figure out what their individual goals are, and then we tailor the program we develop for them around those goals, and with reference to what our evaluations show in terms of fitness status,” says Ferrell, adding that what sets Bon Secours apart from other gyms and training programs is the expertise, the experience and the professional certifications of the staff. “All our performance specialists hold multiple certifications,” he says.

The approach is holistic and looks at all the factors that influence performance—everything from strength, flexibility and aerobic conditioning to nutrition and rest and recovery, with particular attention paid to stability and mobility. Says Neal, “Whenever one of those is not working, that is when you definitely see an increased risk of injury.”

That focus is important for anyone trying to stay physically fit and active, but even more so for competitive athletes, who make up a significant portion of the sports performance client base. Whether it’s the increasingly aggressive and physical play in many team sports, the ever-faster times being clocked on tracks and in pools, or the intensity of year-round training for peak performance, competitive sports today place enormous demands on their athletes.

For those clients, says Neal, “We make a more efficient, stronger athlete, someone who can sustain an entire season injury-free and in the best shape of their life.”

Samantha Phillips is one such client. A senior center midfielder for the soccer team at Longwood University, Phillips has been playing soccer since she was 5 years old. She competed with a club team as well as her high school team in Chesapeake, and realized even before entering high school that she wanted to pursue the game at the college level.

“But I have always been weaker than most of the girls that I play with,” says Phillips. “It was always something I was trying to focus on and work on. I did weightlifting, I would do the training packages that my college strength and conditioning coach would give me, but I was having a hard time building strength.”

Last summer, she worked with Neal to change that. “We did a lot of power exercises—which I had never done before. We did jerks and hang cleans—an Olympic lift that helps you generate power through your hips, which is essential in soccer and demands quick bursts of speed. And we worked a lot on my stability.”

Phillips says initial testing indicated that she needed to improve core strength and trunk mobility, so Neal added training to improve those areas as well.

When she returned to Longwood for the pre-season, she says the results were apparent. “I was beating people to the ball, and I was able to hold the ball off from other people, and I wasn’t getting pushed around like I used to. I am definitely faster and stronger. Compared to my freshman year, it’s like I’m a whole new person,” says Phillips.

Inspired by her own experience, Phillips, who is in the process of applying to physical therapy graduate programs, says she has become much more interested in pursuing a career in sports performance.

“It was so exciting to see the results,” she says. “I saw that if you stick to a program, it really does pay off.”

This article originally appeared in our April 2015 issue.

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