SIOUX CITY -- After running four miles on a hot and humid Wednesday morning, Hope Dowson headed to the North High School weight room for a strength and conditioning session led by CNOS sports performance coach Dave Nelson.
Dowson, a junior track and cross country runner, said she has gained muscle, speed and stamina through Move Strong, a training program for high school athletes aimed at improving performance and preventing injuries. From early June to mid-August, about 800 student-athletes are participating in summer Move Strong Performance camps at East, North and West high schools in Sioux City and Dakota Valley High School in North Sioux City.
"When I'm working out and I get tired, I know to keep going," said Dowson, who spends more than an hour, four days a week lifting weights, sprinting and doing drills and pool workouts through the program, a partnership between the CNOS Foundation and area schools.
When Nelson started working with student-athletes at North back in February, he noted that for a 4A high school they weren't where they needed to be in terms of muscular size, strength or speed.
"Everyone needs to increase their lean muscle mass, that's going to increase their vertical leap, quickness and overall strength. Once they reach where I think they need to be, I will start assigning sport-specific programs," Nelson explained, while members of the girls cross country and soccer teams began to sporadically file into the weight room. While Nelson talked, the student-athletes loosened up their muscles with warm-up drills before heading over to the weight racks for reps.
Suzi Gausman, executive director of CNOS Foundation, said the program's roots date back to about 2009 with a lone sports performance coach at a high school. Then, in 2011, she said CNOS purchased a franchise from Velocity Sports Performance.
"We were a unique distributorship for them, because they are typically in one big massive center, where parents pay about $150 a month to have their kid train one on one. We did a demographic study for our region and thought, 'That's probably not going to work for us. We need to get it to the masses. It needs to be more cost-effective than that.'"
Gausman said CNOS decided to take the training program directly to the schools. Since then, she said some of the sports performance coaches have been hired by the schools. This year, Gausman said CNOS realized it no longer needed the Velocity franchise.
"We were getting coaches that came out either with their master's or with extensive certifications in strength and conditioning and performance coaching," she said. "Now, we've got guys that are solely responsible for writing their own program. We no longer need the accountability of the Velocity name, so we came up with our own brand that is incorporated into our physical therapy department."
Move Strong is the strength and conditioning piece of CNOS' Move 365 program, which also includes Move Again -- physical therapy -- and Move Smart -- athletic training. Gausman said CNOS assumes about 70 percent of the cost of the summer Move Strong Performance camps. While about 60 percent of students pay $75 for 10 weeks of training, Gausman said the other 40 percent receive scholarships to attend the camps.
Justin Craighead, a junior basketball and football player at North, said he thinks the change is going to be "really positive" for North's upcoming seasons.
"Everyone's working hard, so that should bring some good results," he said. "Attendance is a lot better, a lot stronger. There's a lot more kids coming out, which has been a problem in the past."
Maeve Coughlin, a senior volleyball player, said she was a little intimidated when she first started training under Nelson, because of the intensity of his program, which includes exercises, such as medicine ball throws and weighted box jumps. Now, Coughlin said she likes the environment that Nelson has developed.
"I feel like what I'm doing is actually helping me," she said. "I definitely have seen improvements, it's not just me. I see it in my teammates, too."
Nelson said he runs the program at North like a college program. Every day is "intense" and pool workouts, which he said are the easiest, have to be earned. After loosening up their muscles, student-athletes grab their workout sheets and get down to business. Nelson walks around, teaching, coaching and encouraging the athletes to push themselves.
"I'm not a like a drill sergeant. We make it fun," said Nelson, who regularly asks student-athletes, "How does everybody feel? What's your schedule like for the week?" and adjusts their workouts accordingly.
Nowadays, Nelson said it's commonplace for student-athletes to participate in multiple sports and compete year-round.
"They are so much more active now," he said. "Back in the old days, if you played baseball in the summer, you did the lifting program if (the school) had one. You played one sport at a time. Now, they'll come in here and workout. They'll play two hours of volleyball and then go play basketball that night."
Shawn Miller, head basketball coach and assistant football coach at North, said today's student-athletes have more opportunities than ever before to improve their athletic performance. He said he's also seen a dramatic shift in the energy level in the school's weight room since Nelson took the reigns.
"Hopefully the competitive fire that starts here translates to the field, the court, the diamond," he said. "We don't just want to be the best in the hallways, we want to be the best in the city, the best in the county, the best in Iowa, so on and so forth."