Building a Better Athlete Through Sports-Specific Training
By Gavin Menu
Mike Delalio cringes as he recalls strength training sessions during his sporting days at Southampton High School. More often than not, he and his teammates were directed to the school’s tiny weight room, and, more often than not, the bench press would come calling.
“There was no explanation of what to do when you got there,” said Delalio, who today spends his days training athletes young and old at MuvStrong, Inc., the East Hampton training facility he owns with partner Gordon Trotter. “You learned by doing, you learned by watching. I was strong as an ox, but I couldn’t do anything with it.”
How times have changed.
Today’s young athletes, especially those at the elite level, are calling upon trainers like Delalio and Trotter, along with many others on the East End’s burgeoning fitness circuit, to develop training programs specific to their individual sports.
“A lot of the college kids coming back are recognizing that they should have spent a lot more time in high school working on this,” Delalio said one recent morning at MuvStrong as a whirlwind of activity swirled around him. “I’m seeing that it’s growing and it’s gaining in merit.”
Delalio works with athletes from a variety of sports and says many of their goals are the same. “All athletes have specific demands for their sport that are unique to that sport,” he said. “But all athletes in some form or another need to develop power in one direction or another. For volleyball the focus is on vertical power. For lacrosse it’s linear speed and for baseball it’s rotation power development.”
Delalio lights up when he talks about baseball, in particular, because aside from golf, it’s the only sport where asymmetrical training is required, especially for pitchers.
“The cool thing about baseball is you can get away with programming for baseball and using it on other sports,” he said. “But if I were to program for football, you couldn’t use it on baseball.”
Hunter Fromm, 17, is a junior at East Hampton High School and an aspiring collegiate pitcher whose fastball has reached the upper 80s, thanks, in large part, to his increased training at MuvStrong. Baseball is classified as a “rotational sport,” and while most humans have 90 degrees of external rotation and 90 degrees of internal rotation in their arms, pitchers may have 120 degrees of external rotation, meaning the entire spectrum gets shifted.
“If someone is a right-handed pitcher, there is a huge amount of external rotation on that side, limited internal rotation, and then limited internal rotation in the opposite hip as well, because that’s the hip they’re landing on and compressing,” Delalio said. “If you look at Tommy John surgery, most of the time they’re losing control of their shoulder blade when they throw; the shoulder is popping forward, and now you have biceps issues and labral tears.”
A few minutes of listening to these trainers talk about their programming and it becomes clear this is no longer your grandfather’s training regimen.
“We have two eleven-year-olds that train together two nights a week for their sports,” says Andrew Reilly, who owns Integrated Exercise Therapy in Bridgehampton. “Honestly these kids are as dedicated as any we’ve ever had. These kids are at practice, skating, pitching or lifting seven days a week. They will be so injury resilient and powerful by 17.”
Reilly has trained some of the top athletes to come out of Sag Harbor in recent years, including Kasey Gilbride, a Division I field hockey player at the University of Richmond, and Allura Leggard, an aspiring collegiate sprinter who is in her senior year at Pierson High School. “Given most sports require speed, power, athleticism and some type of endurance, there are many similarities that we strive for with all our athletes,” Reilly said.
So what principles differ from athlete to athlete, and sport to sport? In terms of individuals, injuries always come into play. And with regard to programming for specific sports, trainers today are more adept at structuring routines in conjunction with college and high school coaches that allow athletes to improve their specific skill sets.
“The first improvement I told them I wanted to see was in my flexibility and footwork,” said Amanda Seekamp, a graduate of East Hampton High School who plays Division I lacrosse at Hofstra and trains at MuvStrong. “In my sport of lacrosse there’s a lot of running and quick movements, so for me it’s important to keep my body loose, healthy and quick.”
Katie Brierley, a sophomore volleyball player at Marist who often trains alongside Seekamp, had two concerns when she first joined MuvStrong. For starters, she had a nagging shoulder injury and, as she explained, “no coach wants a girl coming in with an injury their freshman year.” Brierley also never had a true weight lifting program and knew there would be increased testing at the collegiate level.
“When I came to Marist my freshman year, I was very nervous.,” said Brierley, who also graduated from East Hampton. “The first week we had a lift test and I ended up doing really well. Everything that was on our lift test was something I had been working on that summer. If I hadn’t done that, I would have been lost.”
Reilly’s goals when training athletes are relatively simple. He designs a program that makes them more resistant to injury while also striving to achieve what he calls “better movement quality,” which leads to less injuries. At that point, he creates a foundation of strength that can be expanded to improve the relevant qualities for each individual pursuit.
“It’s really helped me with my upper body strength,” said Leggard, a sprinter who learned at IET the importance of full-body training. “Because they never had a sprinter like me, they did the extra research to help with my body and my mechanics, which is going above and beyond.”
For Matthew Banks, who attended elementary and middle school in Sag Harbor before going off to boarding school in Massachusetts, injury recovery and prevention have been key during his ice hockey career. Currently a freshman forward for the men’s hockey team at New York University, Banks separated his shoulder in January and retreated to IET to help his recovery. His comeback was quick and efficient, and he will be on the ice as NYU makes a run in the Division II playoffs later this month.
Brierley, who plays volleyball year-round at Marist, had a similar story to tell.
“My shoulder is never 100 percent better,” she said. “Over winter break, I went and worked out at MuvStrong three days a week. I really focused on strengthening myself and when I came back to school I felt so much better. My body was ready.”
Once you breakthrough all the technical speak about training programs and injury prevention, it’s clear these athletes love what they do, and simply want to be as successful as possible. It’s the love of the game, after all, that drives them.
“My advice for younger athletes would be to start training at a young age and have someone who constantly pushes you to become a better player and a better person,” Seekamp said. “But most importantly, have fun! There’s so much pressure and stress now in athletics at a young age. It’s important to work hard and just enjoy the sport you love to play.”