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Men's Fitness

From Men's Fitness Magazine

21st Century Fix Coming Soon:
A High-Tech Machine that takes Sports Performance Training to a Whole New Level

By Bobby Lee

Men's FitnessWouldn't it be great if there was a workout system that could cut your training time in half, make you measurably more powerful after only three sessions, lessen muscle soreness and make you a better athlete? There is, and it's called VERT, short for Velocity Enhanced Resistance Training. While it is currently available only at the VERT Sports Performance Center in Santa Monica, Calif., it may well represent the future of resistance training, a future made possible by the availability of high-tech computers at low cost.

Using a state-of-the-art Pentium processor that digitally controls a hydraulic system, the VERT machines for chest press/row, leg extension/flexion, overhead press/pull-down, decline press/bent-over row and squat- constantly monitor the exerciser's movement and continuously adjust the resistance throughout the range of motion, something not possible with traditional resistance training. Classic sports *Until now, resistance training, whether with machines or free weights, placed a heavy emphasis on developing stronger and bigger muscles by isolating them and working them to failure, thereby causing them to tear themselves down and rebuild bigger and stronger as an adaptation response to the stress.

That's fine if your goal is simply to develop muscles that look good. But if you also want to develop a body that works well, claim the people at VERT, this approach goes only so far. "People used to work by isolating muscles for training, but it's not effective for sports performance," says Sean Harrington, founder of VERT and a former strength and conditioning coach for the NBA's Los Angeles Lakers and the NHL's Los Angeles Kings.

For optimal sports performance, he stresses that you must train your muscles to work efficiently as a unit. "You have to deal with both agonist and antagonist muscles [opposing muscles, such as biceps and triceps or quadriceps and hamstrings], and the best type of exercise for this is closed-chain kinetic exerciseóOlympic movements [such as the clean and jerk] where the object is to explosively accelerate a heavy weight," explains Harrington. * But it's very easy to get hurt with these types of movements. When you lift a 145-pound barbell from the floor to overhead, you use all the muscles as a unit, but you're also generating speed and momentum to overcome inertia and creating force in excess of the 145 pounds, which could cause injury.

For Harrington, the technology behind VERT opens up a whole new way of training with greater efficiency and safety. The VERT machines allow anybody to explosively train both the agonist and antagonist muscles safely as a unit by providing hydraulically controlled resistance in both the eccentric and concentric (negative and positive) phases of the movement, eliminating gravity and momentum as factors. Back to the future VERT traces its roots to the early 1970s and the creation of the isokinetic exercise machine, one of the first resistance training devices. Those machines were able to restrict the speed of movement of the exerciser to a constant, making it a safe, highly efficient form of training. It's been the preferred method for muscle rehab for more than a quarter of a century, but the machines were prohibitively costly, thus keeping them out of the reach of the recreational athlete. Until recently.
With high-speed computers now costing less than a good television set,

Advanced Fitness Technologies updated the original concept by building new machines and integrating them with computers running sophisticated software to allow almost limitless control over both resistance and speed. Harrington took Advanced Fitness Technologies' gear and coined the name VERT. Here's how it works: Each VERT machine is outfitted with an onboard computer that measures your initial force output (strength) throughout the range of motion for that particular exercise and then put it in graph form. This information is next stored in the computer and becomes the baseline against which you train. The computer identifies the weak spots in your range of motion, which allows the trainer to program the computer to make you work harder at these points.

The system is a computerized interactive "closed-loop biofeedback system" that senses how much force you're exerting at any given moment and then automatically adjusts an orifice that controls the flow of hydraulic fluid being pushed by a piston, adjusting the resistance as often as 16,000 times a second. What this means is that there are no "sticking" points, as there are with traditional weight training, that must be overcome before a weight suddenly becomes easier to move. Because the machine constantly monitors and adjusts the resistance, your muscles are required to exert a constant force throughout the range of motion, making the movement almost 100 percent efficient.

VERT training is done explosively and rapidly. According to Walter Theis, M.D., a former emergency room physician and medical advisor for VERT, moving resistance at high velocities trains the body to recruit and use more fast-twitch muscle fibers. It's these fast-twitch fibers, Theis says, that are responsible for the explosive movements so necessary for top sports performance, whether in football, volleyball, basketball, martial arts or other areas. Another benefit of the high-speed VERT training regimen is anaerobic conditioning, which is essential for explosive movements in the first few seconds of athletic performance, often the most important part, as when a football center snaps the ball and the linemen square off for a few short seconds. "VERT teaches the body to become more efficient, better at repeated short bursts of activity," says Theis.

Because VERT machines offer resistance in both directions, workouts not only take half the time of more traditional methods but also lessen the severity of post-workout muscle soreness by eliminating the eccentric, or negative, half of the movement. Studies have shown that it is the negative part of the movement that causes the majority of damage to muscle fibers.

While a VERT workout can be as hard, or harder, than a traditional workout, those looking for body builder-type results may want to look elsewhere. "VERT definitely builds moving resistance at muscle," Theis says, "but not like free weights.

Coming soon
With interest from fitness facilities around the country, Harrington plans to license the equipment and franchise the VERT concept. The machines could also be made available in the not-to -distant future for home use, with Internet hookups to access the programs and store your personal profile online. So keep an eye out for VERT. The future of sports performance may be right around your corner.

Bobby Lee is fitness editor of Men's Fitness. Chris Rubin also contributed to this story.

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