Amateur athletes work with specialists to train like pros

02/24/2014 3:39 PM

02/24/2014 3:54 PM

The type of athletic training once available only to pro athletes is finding a new audience: recreation league athletes and hard-core runners and triathletes driven to stay in the game even when there is no multimillion-dollar contract on the line.

“We operate an athletic training room for the public,” says Yusuf Boyd, who started BioMechaniks in south Charlotte after five years as an assistant athletic trainer with the NBA’s Memphis Grizzlies. He also has a location in Memphis. “Our goal is to keep you in the game.”

It’s a trend that’s driving an employment boom among personal trainers. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of personal trainers in the United States grew by 44 percent from 2001 to 2011. Further, the subset of that group dealing with more specific training and rehab issues – athletic trainers and exercise physiologists – is expected to see job growth of 19 percent by 2022.

There are a variety of certifications and degrees out there. To check a trainer’s credentials, ask for his or her certifications and education, then spend some time on the Internet to learn what exactly they require.

Boyd, who has about 80 clients, says his program “starts with a conversation.”

“Someone will come in, for instance, and say, ‘I’ve been running with knee pain for five years,’ ” says Boyd. “We’ll do a movement efficiency screening to see where their movement may be lacking.”

With runners, he says, the problem often doesn’t start where the pain is. An ankle issue, for instance, may cause movement issues and pain on up the line, in the knee or hip.

The demand for his services is driven by people like Mtu Pugh of Charlotte. He played football and basketball in high school and went on to play a year of basketball at Yale University. Competitive by nature, Pugh got into running, eventually doing the Chicago and New York marathons – and racking up a torn ACL and meniscus in the process.

Though Pugh says running marathons isn’t an obsession, the health and stress-release benefits derived from running are. Last summer, after tearing the meniscus in his right knee, he sought help rehabbing from Boyd.

“I learned a couple things,” Pugh, 42, says of his visit to BioMechaniks. “One was something I’d known in the back of my mind: stretching is really helpful and necessary. And I also learned that I have specific areas where I am not very flexible, specifically my ankles and hips.”

Today, Pugh devotes up to a half hour to a prescribed warm-up routine before he runs. It’s cut into the time allotted for his run – as a vice president with Matthews-based Family Dollar and with two kids ages 7 and 9, his free time is limited – but he’s running injury free.

‘I love the game’

In Raleigh, “We see a lot of people whose interest in performance spills over from their professional life,” says Greg Saxton, general manager with Athletic Performance Center at Raleigh Orthopaedics.

Saxton says their involvement with patients and clients – patients have injuries, clients are there to improve performance – begins with a standard 60- to 90-minute evaluation that includes a session on a high-tech treadmill. Results are analyzed and a customized program is designed for each athlete. The evaluation session costs $189; follow-up sessions vary in cost depending on what’s required.

Clients include people like Ryan Barnum of Raleigh, who lives to play hockey. “It’s my first passion,” says Barnum of Raleigh. “I love the game.”

Barnum, 35, has a herniated disc and bad hips, but he continues to play as a goalie. It’s a passion that drives him through grueling workouts four days at week at the Athletic Performance Center.

As far as Barnum is concerned, the Carolina Hurricanes’ Cam Ward needn’t be looking over his shoulder pads. He might like to move up from his current B/C league to B-level competition, but his goal is simply to stay in the crease.

“My nephew asked me how long I plan to keep playing hockey,” Barnum says. “I told him I’m going to play until my body tells me I can’t play anymore. If that doesn’t happen until I’m 60, I’ll play till I’m 60.”

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