Dec. 21, 2009
Play better, stronger, faster
By Andy Greder
When the Duluth Denfeld boys hockey team peeled off their sweaty
jerseys and unlaced their skates after practice Thursday, their
workout was not finished.
The Hunters left the Duluth Sports Heritage Center
rink for conditioning training next door at Athletic Republic, a
new sports training center in the remodeled Clyde Iron Works complex
in Duluth’s Lincoln Park/West End.
Twice a week during the high school hockey season,
the Hunters will shed their gear, throw on shorts and T-shirts and
go through a 45-minute conditioning workout to try to remain strong
and healthy for a playoff push in late February. The Denfeld boys
will use the added training to “unlevel the playing field,”
as Athletic Republic’s slogan says.
“The season is long, and there are a lot
of practices, but this conditioning will help us through,”
said defenseman Andrew Doig, a senior captain. “We do this
to get stronger and faster. When you do it, you play better and
you get more endurance. It’s also good for team building.”
Athletic Republic, a 20-year-old company with
160 training centers in North America, opened one of 17 new locations
this year in Duluth on Nov. 25. The company also owns five other
centers in Minnesota under the name Acceleration.
Athletic Republic has about 5,000 square feet
split into four areas to improve athletic performance: a netted
field turf area to work on throwing and kicking; a 40-yard running
track; a weight training area with machines to improve strength
in athletic movements; and, most importantly, two “super treadmills.”
As athletes do the movements, trainers teach them technique and
chart their results against the more than 600,000 athletes in the
Athletic Republic database.
While Denfeld paid for the sessions with fundraising
money, Athletic Republic CEO Charlie Graves said even during the
recession, parents are still spending on their children’s
“People will sacrifice their spring vacation
to make sure that their children have the best education or the
best tutoring or the best coaching,” Graves said.
“I put this in the same bucket. It’s
a family investment, not necessarily discretionary spending.”
Athletic Republic says their “science-based
approach” is validated by $315 million in college scholarships
that its athletes have earned in the past five years. But, overall,
the chances of obtaining an athletic scholarship are miniscule.
For every Toby Gerhart, a Heisman Trophy runner-up
who trains at an Athletic Republic in California, there are hundreds
of fellow athletes who never see the field in college.
In the U.S., about 32,000 boys play high school
hockey, while only 4 percent, or about 1,400, are playing NCAA Division
I hockey, according to figures from the NCAA and the National Federation
of State High School Associations from earlier this decade. In football,
the percentage of those earning Division I or Division II scholarships
is about 2.7 percent, and in women’s volleyball it’s
“It’s a goal of the parent and a dream
of the child. How do you tell anybody that they can’t do something?”
Graves said. “You can be proven wrong all the time. What we
try to do is give them a sense of reality that this type of training
is going to give them the opportunity to be better. Pending the
hard work and dedication and great coaching and exposure, and keeping
them injury free, then maybe — just maybe — they have
that chance to play at that D-I level.”
About 70 percent of its customers are young athletes
ages 11 to 17 looking to improve their athletic performance, with
more modest goals of making the varsity squad or earning more playing
time, Graves said from corporate headquarters in Park City, Utah.
Typically, the parents of a young athlete will
pay about $600 for 20 or more one-hour sessions to improve the child’s
agility, strength and speed in a variety of exercises.
“Our philosophy is test, teach and train,”
said Graves, whose company employs about 1,000 trainers. “Unlike
a coach, our teaching is about the movement skills they need to
be better at their position.”
For a football linebacker, Athletic Republic will
train the player to move quicker from side to side and straight
ahead to stop other teams from running the ball or to move quicker
in a backpedal to deny passes, Graves said.
The top selling point for Athletic Republic is
its “super treadmills” for both running and skating.
Hockey players can skate on a plastic, 6-by-6-foot sheet at speeds
up to 17 mph and a 20 percent incline. Trainers can videotape players
skating and provide immediate verbal and visual feedback on their
“The trainer can show things like not getting
your knees high enough or your stance being too high,” said
Kirk Bustrom, the Duluth franchise owner, who partners with Chris
Bell of Impact Sports Training. “It’s a big draw for
In Duluth, more than 70 percent of the athletes
at the center will be hockey players, Bustrom said, including current
routine visits from the Denfeld boys, the Duluth Central boys team
and the Duluth girls team. Bustrom, a former business consultant,
said he needs 90 athletes to break even.
“This has really made a difference in their
progress as players,” said Kevin Smalley, Denfeld’s
coach for the past seven years. “We have to work at maintaining
their strength to endure the wear and tear they go through.
“The goal is to be the strongest for the
playoffs in February and March,” Smalley said. “If you
don’t do something, then you lose the strength that you’ve
built in the summer.”