LARGO – Toronto Blue Jays slugger Jose Bautista had a rough 2016. The 36-year-old had an injury-plagued season, played in only 116 games and batted just .234 with 22 homers.
But the six-time All-Star who has been a routine contender in the MVP race appears to have regained his form during spring training in Dunedin, batting .563 and slugging over 1.000 in his first six games.
Physical Culture, a new Largo gym that mixes an old-school mentality with modern-day technology and techniques, has been part of that turnaround.
And the owners say those techniques and technology, which include a 3-D motion- capture system, don’t just work for the many professional athletes they train. They work for everybody.
“We just finished up our Major League Baseball program, so we’ve had a lot of big-name athletes out here training with us, as well as the general population,” said co-owner Ryan Bruggeman, 34. “So you’ll see a good mix of soccer moms training next to world champions. It’s kind of cool.”
Physical Culture, which opened at 12722 Starkey Road on Jan. 7, is not your typical gym. It doesn’t contain a sea of treadmills, ellipticals and weights that make up most facilities.
Instead, Bruggeman, who co-owns the gym with trainer Michael Wille, said the focus is on education, movement and maximizing the potential of what the human body can do.
“If you type physical culture into Google, you’ll probably find the physical culture movement of the early 1900s and 1920s, where everything was kind of gymnastics based,” he said. “Even the schools back then, it wasn’t like P.E. today. It was kind of like a gymnasium. They had rings and ladders and bars and it was using your own body, and that’s kind of our concept.”
The movement-based approach with a focus on athletic performance and fitness development has been cultivated by Bruggeman and Wille over several years while running sports performance programs at other facilities in Tampa through their former company, Genergy Human Performance.
Bruggeman, who is also the strength and conditioning coach at Shorecrest Preparatory School, said his background helped mold his philosophy about the importance of mobility.
Bruggeman first grew a passion for fitness when he was pursuing bodybuilding. He got injured, however, and the loss of mobility created by bodybuilding led him to believe that it was a dead-end road. That’s when he decided to explore the world of physical therapy and functional training.
He moved on to work with Exos, a world leader in sports-performance training, and later paired up with Wille, who is a lead instructor for Strong First, a school of strength that certifies coaches and physical therapists.
After years of managing other people’s gyms, the pair decided to open their own. But they wanted to make it their own by offering tools and knowledge that no other gyms were offering.
“My problem with the typical big-box gym is always that people come in and unless they are willing to pay $600 or $700 a month for a personal trainer, good luck,” Bruggeman said. “Yeah, you get to use the treadmill and you get to use some equipment, but no one’s going to tell you what to do. It’s always more money. Our whole concept was let’s give as much information as possible included with the membership.”
For prices that Bruggeman says are competitive and in some cases cheaper than other gyms, Physical Culture offers classes, one-on-one training and open gym, where members can still get instruction. It also offers programs on boxing, muay thai and Brazilian jiu-jitsu.
Techniques and technology
Two features that many other gyms don’t have, however, are Kinstretch, a system that develops body control, flexibility and range of motion, and DARI, a sensorless 3-D motion analytic system.
Bruggeman said Physical Culture is the only Kinstretch-certified facility in the state.
“Basically think of yoga, but the next evolution is mobility training,” Bruggeman said. “It’s really really powerful stuff. A lot of the major sports organizations are starting to go to that. We’ll get football players, baseball players, hockey players. We’ve got every type of athlete you can think of who come in and do that specific exercise.”
Aside from Bautista, Bruggeman’s clients have included MLB players Russell Martin, Marcus Stroman, Kevin Pillar and Melky Cabrera; NHL players Vincent Lecavalier and Ryan Malone; NFL players Maurice Stovall and Darren Howard; boxer Antonio Tarver; and many more.
DARI looks like something out of a Hollywood special effects studio, but Bruggeman says the results are far from fantasy. Several cameras mounted from the ceiling record an athlete as they perform a series of movements and display it on a computer screen. In minutes, the data, such as range of motion and power output, flow in.
“As a practitioner of several different modalities, it could take me upwards of an hour to assess someone,” Bruggeman said. “This essentially allows me to do that in 10 minutes.”
While professional athletes use the tools and methods to enhance their careers, Bruggeman said the gym tailors everything so that everyday gymgoers can use them to enhance their lives.
“I may have a 10-year-old kid come in who’s never done anything other than maybe play some sports, I may have a professional athlete come in or I may have an 80-year-old grandmother who just wants to play with the kids,” he said. “So we just scale it to everybody.”
Dr. Moses Bernard, a chiropractor based out of Tampa, said methods such as Kinstretch work for everybody.
“They are the exact same techniques that I use at my clinic on a day-to-day basis,“ he said. “Exactly the same.”
Bernard said he met Bruggeman a couple of years ago at a different gym and quickly realized that he was more knowledgeable than most professionals he knew.
“Actually, to this day, he is smarter than any other chiropractor or physical therapist that I’ve ever met. So, any endeavor that he’s had at different locations, I’ll follow Ryan wherever he goes.”