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North Hills Monthly

Not Your Average Athlete: How Specialized Performance Training Supports Success

Jan 31, 2018 02:01PM ● By Jennifer Monahan

Coach Alex Arnold training an athlete

Not every athlete can be Le’Veon Bell or Simone Biles, but even high school athletes and weekend warriors want to compete at their best. Super Bowl rings and Olympic gold medals aside, athletes of all ability levels in a variety of sports are turning toward specialized training centers to enhance their performance and maximize their potential.

Connected Health + Athletic Republic opened its Wexford facility three years ago. Whether working with a 10-year-old hockey player, a lineman on the college football team or a 45-year-old marathon runner, the staff at Connected Health has one goal, explained athletic performance coach Alex Arnold: to help athletes get better at what they do.

Arnold said that two of the best things about Connected Health + Athletic Republic are its staff and its facility. The staff includes a physician, health and nutrition coach, and personal trainers and athletic coaches who work together to meet the needs of each client. The organization also has a physical therapist on staff—for athletes recovering from injury, that team provides a bridge between completing the basic post-injury physical therapy and getting the individual back into competitive form. 

The facility offers cardio and strength equipment, a plyometric floor, and super treadmill and hockey treadmills equipped with video technology. These amenities allow trainers to help athletes improve stride length, focus on speed and explosiveness and perfect their forms.

All clients start with a baseline analysis to measure the person’s current abilities. From there, athletes select a session package to fit their needs. Athletes typically attend two to three sessions per week, Arnold explained. They undergo a post-test after 12 sessions to assess progress.

“We have seen huge improvements,” Arnold said, adding that parents and athletes alike appreciate being able to see concrete, measurable outcomes.

UPMC Sports Performance at the UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex opened in Cranberry in 2015. Its founding director, Lorne Goldenberg, spent 30 years in the sports performance field including 25 years with the National Hockey League as a strength and conditioning coach, as well as stints in the Canadian Football League and Canadian Olympic team.

Typical UPMC Sports Performance clients tend to be competitive athletes and individuals on the cusp of making that jump to a more competitive level, Goldenberg explained. Their staff sees many high school hockey and football players but works with athletes in any sport that requires strength, speed or agility training.

Housed within the Sports Medicine Program at UPMC, Goldenberg said the organization tends to be more science-based than comparable operations. He explained that a one-size-fits-all approach will not work for elite athletes. The UPMC Sports Performance program begins with an individual evaluation to identify weaknesses and then provides the client with targeted exercises to address those issues.

The staff works with a broader population than elite athletes, Goldenberg explained, although its philosophy is the same for all clients whether they are preteens or adults, amateurs or professionals. “We treat every athlete like an elite athlete because we want to get them to where they want to be,” Goldenberg said.

UPMC Sports Performance staff members have an arsenal of technology at their disposal. Goldenberg explained that they use technology to look at speed/power movements and have devices that assist in measuring joint range-of-motion and other metrics—but that sometimes a trainer needs to put hands on an athlete to evaluate joint strength or range of motion.

Because fitness is an unregulated field, Goldenberg said, athletes and parents should look into the educational backgrounds of the people who are developing sports performance programs. While many trainers say they are certified, clients should make sure that the trainers hold bachelor’s degrees in exercise science or physical education and that their certifications are from either the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NCSA) or the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM).

Marianne Watkins, hockey skating director and player development coach at Robert Morris University’s Island Sports Center, has similar advice about checking credentials. She explained that the center’s team includes performance professionals who were recruited because they were already leaders in their respective fields; Watkins herself has worked with five NHL teams and the staff boasts two former Olympians. 

The Island Sports Center caters to amateurs and professionals as well as high school and college athletes. The facility is a multisport training complex, though it focuses primarily on hockey, figure skating, golf and in-line hockey. 

Like Arnold and Goldenberg, Watkins said that quality programs begin with an individual assessment, followed by the creation of a specific plan designed for that athlete. In addition to personalized performance improvement, the Island Sports Center has a variety of programs that can take athletes all the way from playing a sport for the first time through elite training as they prepare for Division I or AAA competition. 

While the Island Sports Center has helpful tools like a rapid shot range to assess a hockey player’s speed and accuracy, a skating treadmill and an off-ice goalie training center, Watkins is particularly excited about a new initiative to assist hockey players in overcoming what she called “a universal restriction on ability” related to players’ hips. The initiative will incorporate chiropractic, physical therapy and yoga and is designed to relieve hip restrictions and prevent injuries.

On the golf side, golf professionals assist players year-round in the indoor facility. They can utilize video technology to analyze a player’s golf swing and help players improve their form and skill, Watkins said. She explained that regardless of the sport, the staff consistently demonstrates care for each athlete and is focused on results and improvement.

With so many options available, athletes hoping to improve their skills have a host of resources to help maximize their potential. To find out more about these facilities, check out and