The Science of Speed

By Nathan Baker

Dr. Michael Ross
Dr. Michael Ross and the author, photo by Laurence Kelly

Feel free to think of The Performance Lab and Velocity Sports as a store for athletes. Only this store doesn’t have shelves stocked with Ramen – and Batter Blaster. Instead, it sells strength, speed, agility, and endurance.

The unassuming, around-the-back entrance to The Performance Lab at Velocity Sports in Cherry Hill doesn’t give much indication to what goes on, and often who goes on, beyond its entrance. A step through the glass doors into the warehouse of a building reveals an athlete’s playground, complete with the latest tools designed to help athletes jump higher, run faster and be stronger.

Velocity Sports gives real-world athletes the opportunity to train with access to the equipment and facilities that were previously only available to professional athletes and Olympians. The near walls are lined with the most current training equipment, like Nike’s Sparq system, as well as the more traditional freeweights, heavy bags, and treadmills one would expect to find in a facility of this caliber. Along the far wall runs the six-lane, 65-yard, indoor track. A large section of floor is covered in artificial turf and marked with yard lines, much like an indoor NFL training facility.

Part gym, part field house, part coaching and physical therapy institution, Velocity Sports is designed to pick up where traditional gyms stop. Serious athletes come here to hone the parts of their game that can’t be addressed in a traditional setting, and there’s a full-time staff of coaches to ensure the work is being done properly.

Dr. Michael Ross
photo by Laurence Kelly

It is difficult to teach football without a background in football and the same can be said for any sport. The coaches at Velocity Sports all have a very solid athletic background, and many of them were successful athletes at the Division I level in college. Experience alone is often not enough, though, and the coaches on staff also all have degrees in fields ranging from Fitness Management and Strength and Conditioning to Exercise Science and Physical Therapy. Beyond college, the coaches on staff are also certified to coach through organizations like USA Weightlifting.

Endurance athletes, whose needs differ from ball-sport athletes, have The Performance Lab at Velocity Sports. The Lab offers everything from lactate threshold and VO2max testing to gait analysis for runners, bike fits and road rash cleaning for cyclists, and physical therapy for injured and recovering athletes.

As little as ten years ago, most endurance athletes assumed the secret to going faster was to run, bike, swim, or row more than anybody else out on the starting line. Today’s athlete knows that this is typically not the case. In fact, high mileage can often lead to overuse and overtraining injuries. The focus of The Performance Lab is to identify and eliminate the weaknesses in an athlete while developing overall fitness and performance, all while maintaining a workload that is reasonable and less likely to lead to injury.

The Performance Lab is headed by Dr. Michael Ross, a Sports Medicine Physician who is renowned for his work with endurance athletes. In addition to having served as the race doctor for the Philadelphia International Cycling Challenge, Dr. Ross has also been the team doctor for the Navigators, Jittery Joe’s, and Colavita professional cycling teams, and has written two books on the subject of maximizing performance and potential among endurance athletes. A graduate of New York’s Mount Sinai School of Medicine, Dr. Ross is an athlete himself, which helps him to understand many of the subtleties of the sports and athletes under his guidance.

Velocity Sports and The Performance Lab athletes compete in a variety of sports – football, basketball, lacrosse, and field hockey are just a few examples. While the mechanics of each sport are different, the core skills and necessities are all very similar, if not the same – and that’s the beauty of what Velocity Sports does. No matter what your sport, the qualified coaches can make you better at it. No matter what the injury, the staff of therapists can help you recover from it. Velocity Sports and The Performance Lab manage to be very sport-specific while not being sport-specific at all. A football player who wants to improve his chances of playing Division I can benefit from the same coaches, equipment, and techniques as an athlete who wants to improve his Quidditch game, just applied differently. A marathoner who wants to qualify for Boston will benefit from the same techniques and technology as a rower hoping to make her collegiate team. The sports are different, but the fundamental principles of training with science remain the same.

Michael Ross, MD Dr. Micheal Ross is a sports medicine physician who has been treating endurance athletes for over a decade. He has been a team physician for numerous professional cycling teams. He also runs the Rothman Institute Performance Lab, a medical and scientific exercise testing and training facility in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania. He has written two books on training and sports medicine for endurance athletes as well as multiple scientific papers. He has been an invited speaker at USA cycling and consulted for several bicycle companies to provide the optimum fit. He is an avid triathlete himself who has qualified for short course triathlon nationals several times. When he is not at work or spending time with his family he can be found on the trails and the roads around Philadelphia.