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New Lee County training center redefines the term ‘workout’

Athletic Republic trainer Zach Hood demonstrates one of the facility’s many plyometric routines.

Athletic Republic trainer Zach Hood demonstrates one of the facility’s many plyometric routines.

LEESBURG — Not-a-gym.

That’s the way they say it, and they say it all the time — not-a-gym.

It takes a minute to sink in but the staff and owner of Athletic Republic, a new athletic center that specializes in agility, speed and explosiveness, is simply NOT A GYM.

“It’s not a gym,’’ said Ben Saxon, the head trainer who manages the facility that opened just north of the Lee County/Dougherty County line on Highway 19 back in April. “We’re asked all the time what it is. People have called here wanting to know if it’s a gym, and someone called to ask if it was a clothing store.’’

It’s neither.

It’s a nationally renowned facility that specializes in sports-specific drills with equipment and protocols that are used to enhance agility, speed and explosiveness through intense workouts in plyometrics and training on machines. And it’s a work out that won’t be found in any gym.

“It’s not a weight-lifting regimen and it’s not a body building regimen,’’ Saxon said. “But it’s meant to complement those programs.’’

The plyometrics regimen is a series of drills on an elevated wooden floor, based on patterns on the floor in which the athletes move their feet from one designated mark to another — like nuclear hop-scotch. There are many regimens within the workouts and some were designed by NFL players such as Hall of Famer Anthony Munoz.

The Athletic Republic in Leesburg — which is one of 170 worldwide but the first to be opened in Georgia — doesn’t have a regular leg press, but a power plyopress machine that enhances the athlete’s ability to burst and explode. The super treadmill isn’t for those wanting to shed a few pounds or walk for long periods. Instead, it is an intense machine that revs up to 28 mph and can be placed on a 40-degree incline. Workouts on the treadmill last a matter of seconds as the athlete runs as fast and as hard as he or she can.

All the machines are designed for intense short workouts that add up to a six-to-eight week program.

“This isn’t a place for you to come in and pump weights and get your beach muscles,’’ said Thomas Nichols, a former Herald Player of the Year in baseball who starred at Lee County High and Georgia Tech and was drafted by the Los Angeles Angels. Nichols worked as one of the trainers this summer at Athletic Republic and now swears by the place.

“It’s an athletic training facility, and it’s specific to your sport,’’ Nichols said. “It’s a training facility for athletes, not a place to come and shed weight. It’s sports-specific. Everyone knows this is a very baseball-minded community and how big baseball is in (Lee County). Everyone wants their kid to grow up and be the next Buster Posey. There are agility drills and protocols we do here to help you be a better baseball player. It’s the same with basketball, football and other sports. The (regimen) will make you a better athlete.’’

Baseball players can even hit in a batting cage at the facility, which includes an artificial surface for simulated outdoor drills on the turf.

Many area Little League players and high school baseball players have used the facility in the opening months, and many football players and basketball players have also tried the new approach. Westwood’s entire football team went through a six-week program to get ready for the upcoming season.

“Going into August, I think we’re going to be in the best shape we’ve ever been in, and we’ve been in good shape before,’’ said Westwood coach Ross Worsham, whose program has won back-to-back state titles. “I thought it was tremendous. We went three days a week, 90 minutes a day, for six weeks. We didn’t use it to replace our weight training program. We still did that. We used this along with it. I feel we got better because of it.’’

Worsham knew that facilities like this one existed and was glad one is now in Southwest Georgia.

“I had an idea about it,’’ Worsham said. “It’s a sports-enhancement program that has been successful in other states. It met all my expectations and exceeded them. I feel like once everyone sees what it does, they will want it to be a part of their football program.’’

The programs are charted and all your individual results are put online, so that way the athlete can simply log on and see their progress.

“We do pre-testing and post-testing so we can show you exactly how far you have come. All the scores go online and you have a login, so you can check them any time,’’ Saxon said. “If you go through the eight-week program, you will see anywhere from a three- to six-inch improvement in your vertical and drop two to four seconds in your 40-yard dash.’’

There are 170 Athletic Republics in four different countries, and in bigger markets in the U.S., pro baseball and pro football players are part of the clientele.

Which begs the question: Of all the places to open an Athletic Republic, why here?

“It works here because it works everywhere,’’ said Dr. Tripp Morgan, the owner who brought the state-of-the-art idea and equipment to Leesburg. Morgan is a vascular surgeon who grew up in Camilla and decided two years ago to own the first Athletic Republic franchise in Georgia.

Morgan never liked the idea that a knee injury in high school cost him a football scholarship, and when he became more familiar with medicine he started looking at alternate ideas and discovered Athletic Republic, which had a different name then.

John Frappier started the new-age idea in training more than 20 years ago after traveling with the 1986 U.S. gymnastic team to the Goodwill Games in the Soviet Union. Frappier realized other countries were advanced in their training regimens compared to the U.S. and came home with the idea to develop new and more advanced training techniques for Americans that included a super treadmill, the Plyopress and plyometric platforms for agility work.

Morgan now has four children and wanted his kids and others in this part of the state to have the advantages of this training.

“I was a strong guy in high school,’’ he said. “When I got into medicine, I started thinking that I didn’t do a lot of things I needed to do to transfer that strength to the football field. You would lift weights and run three or four miles to prepare for football, but what a linebacker really needs is that explosive speed.

“Most of sports is done in a six-second increments. It’s that burst of speed that makes the difference.’’

Morgan fell in love with the concept that this kind of training offers athletes.

“I had the mindset that when you’re training — no matter what you do — the training shouldn’t make you more likely to get injured while you’re training. There’s a two-part paradigm. The first concept is that this (training) is safer and you are less likely to get injured while you’re training. Part two of the paradigm is that because of this (regimen), you are less likely to get injured while you’re playing the game.’’

He first got wind of the idea from a friend of his, Michael Shiver, a physical therapist in Camilla. Two years ago Morgan went back to Shiver and told him he was interested in bringing a franchise to Southwest Georgia, but Shiver wasn’t interested, so Morgan went on his own and brought in Saxon.

“We were researching ideas for training, looking for things we could do here,’’ Morgan said. “Looking at gyms and looking at the training, none of it was sports-specific for athletes. That’s what drew us to it.

“I liked the overall concept because it is sports medicine based and sports-specific based.’’

Athletic Republic’s target clients are kids. That’s right, young athletes who are trying to get an edge in their sport.

“Our target audience is the athlete, from (ages) 10 to 18 to 25,’’ Morgan said. “It goes up to whatever year you are still playing sports.’’

Morgan said that even though the facility has only been open a few months, so far it’s taking off.

“The reaction has been more than I thought,’’ he said. “We were hoping to have 50-to-60 kids by the end of the summer, and we have more than double that — we’re up to 140. People are finding out it’s not a gym.’’