Tim Roske  /  AP
Jeff Taylor, 11, of Clifton Park, N.Y., drags tugboat chains as part of his workout at Cutting Edge Sport Sciences in Albany, N.Y., May 9. Against the wall are concrete stones used for weight lifting.
updated 5/19/2005 4:28:17 PM ET 2005-05-19T20:28:17

At this gym, there are no Cybex, Universal or Nautilus machines. The hundreds of weight plates piled around the place look like 1950s castoffs from the Soviet Bloc. There’s no carpeting, just a concrete floor and a few rubber mats.

This is fitness without frills.

Despite the non-cutting edge surroundings, the place is called Cutting Edge Sport Sciences. Owner Dyke Naughton says there’s no irony intended. He just believes his basic approach is a better way to train.

Instead of trendy elliptical trainers, there’s a 117-pound cement ball to lift. In place of indoor rowers, there are 68-pound tug boat chains to drag across the floor. And instead of Stairmasters, there’s a 200-pound truck tire to lift and push.

“We’re pretty anti-machine here,” said Naughton, 41, stopping to pet Sabrina, his German short-haired pointer, one of two dogs that scamper about the gym while he’s steering clients through their workouts.

Clients go through a series of basic, “multi-joint” exercises aimed at strengthening the entire body, not just a single muscle group.

Naughton, who holds a degree in physical education, came up with his regimen after internships at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo., and its Australian counterpart.

'Rocky-type atmosphere'
Many of the exercises were developed in the Eastern Bloc where athletes used them to great effect in almost every sport in international competition.

“Those countries were way ahead of their time doing training regimens,” said Patrick Borkowski, coordinator of strength and conditioning at the U.S. Olympic Training Center.

The workouts have caught on at several gyms across the country and many have been incorporated by professional and college sports teams, Borkowski said.

The exercises are designed to help football linemen push their opponents around, give tennis players a killer serve and help basketball players soar above the rim.

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“It’s sort of like a Rocky-type atmosphere,” said John Graham, 50, a chiropractor and competitive squash player from Round Lake, 20 miles north of Albany. Graham said the training he gets at Cutting Edge has helped him more than circuit training at a typical gym.

And don’t look for any Mr. Olympia wannabes preening before floor-to-ceiling mirrors here. The gym, set up in a converted warehouse in a still gritty industrial area of Albany, doesn’t go for looks.

“There are two types of training,” said Naughton, a 177-pound competitive power lifter who can bench press 441 pounds and squat

551. “One will make you look better and the other will make you stronger. If you just want to look good, this isn’t for you. We’re talking about functional strength.”

Enhanced performance
In one exercise, the lifter grabs two tugboat chains and pulls them about 70 feet while doing lunges. The same exercise is then repeated backward, working every muscle in the legs, the lower back, shoulders and arms.

In another move, a concrete ball is hoisted from the floor to the waist. Legs work to maintain balance and carry the brunt of the object. As the lifter straightens, abdominal muscles and the lower back are stressed. The ball is lifted to chest height and put on a platform, working arms, chest and shoulders. Then it’s back to the floor, hitting other muscles as the ball is lowered.

Naughton provides hands-on training for those who want it, but clients are free to work out on their own. He charges $15 per session, which can last as long as the athlete wants — or can take. Most gyms around Albany charge about $40 a month, more for personal training.

Derek DeLisle, a 16-year-old swimmer who holds three records at his USA sanctioned swim club in Delmar, N.Y., said switching to the more basic workout at Naughton’s gym had enhanced his performance.

“I used to do the lat pull-downs and bicep curls,” he said. “They can make you stronger, but they don’t really help with the swimming aspect.”

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