By Club Solutions on February 3, 2009

A Fitness Revolution

Once in a great while, an invention comes along that offers a solution for a widespread problem or demand—just think of the microwave or the Internet, or any one of the many other marvels of modern society. In bioDensity Isometric Strength Technology, we have just such an invention—one that has the potential to help health clubs reach new audiences and measure progress in a whole new way. Text: Kirsten E. Silven

What is biodensity isometric technology?

The bioDensity system was created by Paul Jaquish, chairman of Performance Health Systems, and his son John, who is the chief technology officer of the company. About ten years ago, John Jaquish was researching bio-mechanics and cellular mechanics with a focus on adaptive response (the body’s ability to change and adapt to a stimulus in the environment). As his research progressed, he realized he had developed a theory that could be put into practice by building a machine. Jaquish knew he could design the software, but he enlisted the help of his father to build the machine itself. Paul Jaquish is a mechanical engineer who has worked for GM Research, NASA, and TRW; he also has a strong business background, including a graduate degree from Harvard University’s Business Administration Executive Program.

The creation of the bioDensity system truly represents a scientific breakthrough in physical conditioning. It is centered around the age-old idea of isometric exercise, but it incorporates new technology to maximize the user’s central nervous system involvement, measure results, and track progress. This might sound simple enough, but here’s the part some people have a hard time with at first: users only perform four different exercises once a week for a total of five minutes or less. I know, I know—it sounds impossible, right? Wrong.

How it works

According to John Jaquish, “The logic and studies that led to the development of the bioDensity system relate first to the mechanics of a single muscle cell, then to the application of this understanding to exercise.” This led to a way that an individual could impose an incredibly powerful stimulus on a muscle, which prompts large and consistent gains in muscle growth. In other words, the bioDensity system uses a much more powerful stimulus than conventional weight training, so the time spent exercising is shorter, and the calculated timing of recovery is more important. Also, with traditional weight training, multiple reps are typically required to reach exhaustion. Conventional training tells us, as fitness icon Arnold Schwarzenegger once said, “It’s the last three or four reps that divide the champion from someone who is not a champion.” While true, one limitation of traditional strength training is that the load is put directly on the user’s body, which increases the risk of injury. The bioDensity system, however, has little or no risk of injury because it is the user who creates the load. Jaquish likens it to the idea that a person can’t squeeze a fist so hard that it breaks his or her own hand—the brain simply won’t allow it to happen.

The bioDensity system takes users to the point of momentary muscular failure that Schwarzenegger was referring to in only a few seconds per exercise—think of it as doing the last rep first. So, in a very short amount of time, they reach the point of having fully fatigued the working muscles. In addition, it uses state-of-the-art load cell sensors to accurately measure the user’s force output, and records precise session tracking data to a central processing unit. It tells participants via a take-home printout how much of a load they created and also calculates the percentage increase in strength from one session to another. This information is stored on a central server at Performance Health Systems, which allows for accurate data management and uniformity in usage throughout all bioDensity system locations.

Who can it benefit?

After the development phase, Performance Health Systems opened a test clinic in Napa California in 2005. Since then, the company has produced over 35,000 sets of data from 500 participants who have an average age of 52. “Getting this amount of data took three years, and it really allowed us to perfect the system,” says Lee Guthrie, president of Performance Health Systems. Guthrie met John and Paul Jaquish around seven years ago in Napa while they were evolving and developing the prototype. It was the start of a working relationship that led to his coming on as company president two years ago.

In fact, Guthrie has extensive experience with the development of successful marketing and sales strategies for revolutionary new fitness products—he managed commercial health club sales for Nautilus Sports Medical Industries during the early years of the company, and later co-launched Lifecycle while also serving as the company’s vice president of sales and marketing. Currently, Guthrie is focused on putting together a management team at Performance Health Systems while continuing international market development and establishing working relationships with strategic partners. “The bioDensity system requires an abstract way of thinking and people sometimes find it hard to believe at first, but we are confident we can get through that with the right support,” he says. And so far, the support they’ve received has been pretty impressive. Mark Mastrov, founder of 24 Hour Fitness, is on their board of directors; Lee Hillman, former CEO of Bally Total Fitness, is now the CEO of the company; and Ed Trainor, vice president of fitness services and product development for Town Sports International, sits on their advisory board.

As the data rolled in from the test clinic, it became clear that participants were experiencing positive results. From 2005 to 2008, participants in the Napa study had an average strength gain of 123%. During 2008 the clinic experienced a 96% retention rate—a fact Guthrie attributes to what the program is doing for the participants and their quality of life. “The system has a huge benefit for the aging and de-conditioned population because it is intense but also very safe,” he says. In addition, participants can be in and out in five minutes or less, and they can wear whatever they want to the appointment—a fact that makes it increasingly difficult for people to say they ‘can’t find the time.’ Because of the ease of use and the time it takes to do, bioDensity training could help health clubs reach a significant part of the 85% of the population they are currently not able to attract.

The system isn’t just for the aging and de-conditioned population, however. According to Dr. Micheal Clark, DPT and the CEO of the National Academy of Sports Medicine, it potentially has positive implications for the sports performance world. He first learned about the bioDensity system through Mark Mastrov, who asked him to look at it from a scientific perspective. Dr. Clark says the first phase of his work will consist of research to make sure the equipment is reliable and valid and that it improves overall function of the users when it comes to balance, strength, flexibility, etc. The goal is to also build educational programs for health and fitness professionals, while developing direct to consumer programs that will incorporate the bioDensity system into fitness, sports performance, and reconditioning programs. Dr. Clark is also the team physical therapist for the NBA’s Phoenix Suns, and says strength can drop quickly in athletes during periods of intense practice on the court. He is excited that the bio Density system may provide a way to measure, maintain and increase strength in athletes at all competitive levels. “bioDensity testing and training brings a sense of objectivity to the approach of fitness, sports performance and reconditioning. It is a quick way to test strength and to bring a sense of accountability to the process. It could also finally provide a direct connection between the medical community and health clubs—as doctors could send patients to clubs for bioDensity testing and training,” says Dr. Clark.

Standstrong Clinics While Paul and John Jaquish were busy conducting clinical trials on the west coast, Roger Ralph and Bob Carpenter were busy building Delaware’s Hockessin Athletic Club (HAC)—a beautiful, 110,000 square foot, state-of-the-art facility—on the East Coast. Roger Ralph had semi-retired after selling the Bel Air Athletic Club to Wellbridge in 2000, and he was ready for a new challenge. Bob Carpenter wanted to expand on the success he had experienced owning and operating Delaware’s Pike Creek Fitness Club since 1988, so the two joined forces and, using the Bel Air Athletic Club as their model, broke ground on HAC in January of 2006.

Ralph and Carpenter chose industry veteran Greg Maurer, a major contributor to the club’s development, as general manager. Maurer happened to have an interest in fall prevention in the elderly population, and was already working with Greg Ellis, Ph.D., from the Temple University School of Medicine’s Department of Physiology, to develop programs for fitness clubs that would increase stability in seniors, when Ralph learned about the bioDensity system from Trainor. “Ed has tremendous integrity and he is always ahead of the curve. When he first tried to explain the product, I found it hard to believe because it was just a few minutes of exercise each week, but coming from Ed I knew there had to be something to it,” says Ralph.

He and Carpenter decided to send Maurer to Napa to “kick the tires” on the bioDensity system in May of 2008, and he came back very excited by what he had seen and the possibilities it presented. Maurer felt it was a very significant invention that could tie into the fall prevention program he had been working on with Dr. Ellis. “We had been toying around with the idea of a fall prevention program that incorporated vibration technology with other forms of exercise,” says Carpenter. So, after a subsequent visit to the Napa clinic by Ralph, and some independent research by Dr. Ellis, they decided to go ahead with the program, dubbed StandStrong—Strength, Balance, Independence by Ralph’s wife Elaine, and the first machines were delivered in October of 2008.

The Standstrong Program

Maurer was so excited by the prospect of the clinic that he stepped away from his position at HAC to become president of StandStrong Clinics. “Our goal is to create a packaged program that helps prevent falls in seniors that can be marketed,” he says. 600 square feet of HAC space was dedicated to the clinic, which has an exterior entrance as well as an entrance to the main club, and StandStrong partnered with SCIFIT, the company that manufactures the bioDensity system. All 12,000 members of HAC received an e-mail announcing a free eight-week study, and they chose 75 participants, most of whom were age 55 and up, charging everyone a good faith deposit of $100 that was refundable upon completion of the study requirements. Next, they asked Laura Lathem, a top massage therapist at HAC, to fulfill the role of clinic manager, due to her excellent sales and customer service skills.

The StandStrong program has three key components, the bioDensity system, the Vibration Platform by Power Plate, and a CAPS EQ balance test by Vestibular Technologies. The balance test uses four computer-based tests to measure postural sway and calculate a stability score. This helps determine an individual’s risk for falling, and based on the test results, clients are given balance-training exercises to do at home. Height, weight, blood pressure and body composition are also recorded at the first visit, then checked periodically to measure changes throughout participation in the program. “We saw a natural link between the bioDensity system and the Vibration Platform, and felt that the benefits of combining them in a clinical setting could be great,” says Ralph.

StandStrong is quiet—classical music sets the tone and there are typically only a few people in the clinic at one time. This appeals to seniors, who are often intimidated by the noise and activity level in a traditional club environment. Clients come in for 15-minute sessions twice weekly to use the Vibration Platform, which stimulates the nervous system and is used as a safe way to reduce the effects of aging on musculoskeletal structures, to improve circulation in skin and muscle tissue, and to help increase balance and bone strength—all without the use of drugs. At the first weekly meeting, clients also perform four bioDensity exercises, and at the second meeting they do the Vibration Platform for the entire 15-minute visit. The clinic has the ability to track and compare strength and strength gain, to measure balance capabilities, and to see what happens when bioDensity is used in conjunction with vibration technology.

So far, what’s happening seems to be pretty remarkable. The StandStrong program has changed the overall quality of life for many participants, many of whom have doubled their strength and dramatically improved their functional capacity. Everyday tasks like playing with grandchildren, getting out of a chair, climbing stairs and opening jars have become easier to perform, and while the final results aren’t in, the first 21 people had an average age of 67 and experienced a 97% average strength gain over the course of the eight-week study. These same participants also experienced a measurable and significant decrease in postural sway—an indication that the program is producing measurable and significant improvement in balance and stability.

StandStrong plans to demonstrate that it can increase the number of members doing strength training, be part of a new economic model for clubs, and increase retention. To do this, StandStrong allowed study participants to use their $100 deposits to purchase four more months of membership to the clinic, the clinic has also started external marketing and is signing up new members at $35 per month via EFT. For this price point to work, Maurer says only clients using the bioDensity system will have a dedicated staff member, while those using the Vibration Platform will be required to learn to use it independently. The “hands-on” nature of bioDensity is another aspect of its appeal—clients get one-on-one attention at a fraction of the cost of traditional personal training. “I really think this is scalable, but time will tell. We want to do this with the long term in mind and develop a program that introduces a lot of new people to exercise,” says Carpenter.

What’s Next?

The bioDensity system is also offered on the club floor at HAC, and all members get two free sessions. This allows everyone to have the experience, lets them see measured progress and puts them in touch with one of the trainers the club has dedicated to working with the bioDensity system. Interested members can sign up for the club’s new Express Training program that incorporates bioDensity training into a program that costs $30 each week for two 15-minute training sessions. In addition, there are plans to work with the military and the University of Delaware, as well as ideas for a reimbursement program for clients through the U.S. government and health insurance companies. The bioDensity system will be at IHRSA this March, and interested parties are welcome to contact the company and set up a time to check out the system at the show or to visit one of the clinics. More clinics are scheduled to open in 2009. “In five years we hope to see the system being used by more people, including health clubs, stand-alone clinics, corporate wellness programs, physical therapy centers, senior living communities and sports programs—basically everywhere strength and measurement capabilities are needed,” says Ralph.

A video on the bioDensity website shows the equipment in use and contains powerful testimonials from study participants.

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