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A different approach to fitness

New gym owner stresses balance, injury prevention
by: Jim Clark Christopher Cramer, owner of River City Sports Performance, is a strength and conditioning coach, with an emphasis on movement to prevent injury in athletics or every day life.

Working out at a gym generally involves moving from one piece of equipment to another to hone muscles and increase strength.

At River City Sports Performance in Gresham, most workouts are done on the floor.

'The first thing people say when they walk in is, 'There aren't a lot of weights,' ' said Christopher Cramer, general manager and head trainer for the facility. 'That's on purpose. This isn't bodybuilding. We train for movement, not muscles.'

River City Sports Performance, which opened in June, is little more than 1,800 square feet of artificial turf and rubber flooring. A lone bench press platform rests in the corner, but Cramer's basic training premise is designed to assist clients - both athletes and non-athletes - in achieving a fully-conditioned body through movement.

And education.

Cramer knows of what he speaks. The 26-year-old Gresham resident graduated from Western Oregon University in June 2010, with a bachelor's degree in exercise science and a minor in sports leadership. A former high school football player, Cramer developed a passion for soccer in college as a player for Western Oregon's soccer team. He was continually searching for ways to improve his own performance on the field and began incorporating what he learned in the classroom into his own workouts.

The next step

But in early 2010, Cramer was asked to take on a part-time temporary coaching position for the women's soccer team. Injured players were making a slow return to the lineup, so Cramer added movement into player warm-ups that not only improved their endurance on the field, but also made them less prone to injury.

'My focus was strength and conditioning and injury prevention,' Cramer said. 'They were stretching on the sidelines in their warm-ups, but they weren't properly prepared for the demands of the game. We changed their warm-up from a traditional short jog and stretching to more multi-directional movement. We were able to reduce the team's injury rate by 30 percent that first year.'

Strength and muscle development comes from exercising all those muscles you didn't know you had, Cramer said, adding that bigger doesn't always mean better.

'Sometimes, a strong person can lack mobility and a flexible person can lack strength,' he said. 'Bigger muscles can actually hinder performance. Having strength and mobility are a complementary thing. If you have too much of one and not the other, that can be a problem. The way we train, the muscles that need to get bigger, will.'

Step-by-step approach

Cramer takes a three-step approach to training. Each new client goes through a 'functional movement screening,' that identifies individual body needs from a physical standpoint. For example, do the joints have a full range of motion for a specific task?

From there, Cramer develops a program of exercises designed for muscle activation and strength. The end result, Cramer says, is a training ritual that improves the client's quality of life or athletic endeavor.

'I believe every movement and exercise has a purpose in someone's life or sport,' he said. 'If you ask me why we're doing one particular movement, and I can't answer you, then we're not doing it anymore.'

Cramer expressed concern at the increase in serious injury among young athletes. As coach for the boys varsity soccer team at Columbia High School in his hometown of White Salmon, Wash., Cramer sees youngsters with drive and determination in their sport aren't properly trained to remain injury-free. It's not the fault of the student athlete or part-time coach, he said, but more a lack of available resources.

'The information hasn't gotten around yet to help educate coaches to work with the players to prevent injury,' Cramer said. 'And there aren't enough hours in a day for a parent volunteer to learn these things. I can teach coaches how to incorporate injury prevention techniques into their warm-ups.'

Unlike traditional athletic clubs or gyms, River City Sports Performance advocates a group-training method. Cramer has found that the group mentality inspires commitment to a personal workout routine and that camaraderie breeds success. People are more prone to keeping a regular workout routine if they know others are there to cheer them on.

'With group training, you'll find motivation by your peers, and you'll be accountable to more than just yourself,' he said. 'Motivation, accountability and consistency are huge factors in getting results.'

Athletic training

WHAT: River City Sports Performance

WHERE: 2206 N.W. Birdsdale Ave., Suite No. 1, Gresham

CALL: 971-217-7273

HOURS: By appointment only

SERVICES: Individual and group strength and conditioning training for sports performance or non-athletic movement; cost is flexible, based on how many sessions attended each week and length of program; no membership fees, but a signed agreement is required.