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NFL lockout may help boost trainer's business

Steve Saunders glanced at a sheet of paper and instructed Todd Herremans through his arms and shoulders workout. He checked on Trevor Laws, who was doing a crunch with a medicine ball, and then continued evaluating Jamar Chaney's muscle endurance.

Steve Saunders glanced at a sheet of paper and instructed Todd Herremans through his arms and shoulders workout. He checked on Trevor Laws, who was doing a crunch with a medicine ball, and then continued evaluating Jamar Chaney's muscle endurance.

Jamaal Jackson walked in, looked around, and, spotting media in the gym for the second time in a week, cracked at Saunders: "Hey, man, I'm going to start working out down the street."

Jackson was only kidding. Saunders is a performance coach and the founder of Power Train Sports Institute, and his gym in Cherry Hill has become a refuge for several Eagles as well as other NFL players from the area. Their union has decertified, and their employers have locked them out, so many players have decided to come here, four or five days a week, to work out with Saunders and his team of assistants.

The season, they figure, will start eventually. It is best to be prepared.

Saunders began working with NFL players 10 years ago. His first client was Wilkes-Barre native Qadry Ismail, and he now trains many Pittsburgh Steelers, including James Harrison and Hines Ward.

The 40-year-old Saunders, who lives in Lancaster with his wife and four children, was a four-year starter on the defensive line at Millersville University. Over the last five years, he has opened four Power Train locations in Pennsylvania, in addition to the one in Cherry Hill, and he has plans to franchise locations across the country later this year.

Herremans has been working with Saunders for four years, Jackson for three. Hanging from beams inside the gym are signed posters of Eagles linebackers Omar Gaither and Stewart Bradley, tight end Brent Celek, and former Eagles cornerback Sheldon Brown. Laws, Juqua Parker, and Victor Abiamiri are regulars. Last week, David Akers signed up. Chaney, a rookie linebacker for the Eagles last season, went through an introductory workout on Monday.

Saunders said he has between 40 and 60 NFL players as clients, including more than a dozen Eagles, and he anticipates that if the lockout continues well into the summer, that number could grow.

The lockout is bad for the business of football but potentially great for Saunders.

"The one thing I've seen that's different is I'm having agents call this time of year, which I don't usually have," said Saunders, who worked out Raul Ibanez during the Phillies' offseason. "Usually this time of year, a guy will know somebody that we train already, and he'll say, 'Hey, tell me about your guy. Can I come in and try it out?'

"This year, I've gotten calls from a couple of agents saying, 'Hey, what do you charge?' That's what's funny about what's coming from the agents. They don't necessarily get the workout part of it, but a guy will say, 'Hey, go get me prices from a couple of places.' "

The realities of the lockout are only starting to hit the players. Typically at this time of year, the players are still on vacation or just beginning their independent workouts. They usually are not required to begin offseason workout programs at the team facility until April, with minicamps and organized team activities to follow in May and June.

Next month, the reality should set in.

"It's just kind of weird now," Herremans said. "It's almost like you could go [to the NovaCare Complex] if you needed to get your fix of seeing the guys on the team and keep the camaraderie going. But now we can't even do that. So I think it's important to get more and more guys over here working out with Steve, just to keep it going while we can't even go in the building."

Herremans credits Saunders with helping him over the years achieve the "tricky balance" of simultaneously gaining weight and losing fat. The 6-foot-6 Herremans said he now is a svelte 310 pounds, about 11 pounds lighter than his playing weight last season.

"I actually have people notice it and say, 'You don't look like a normal lineman,' and I kind of like that," Herremans said. "Steve's helped me create that image."

The difference between working out at the NovaCare Complex and working out at Power Train, many players said, is that Saunders creates an individual program for each player. His program includes a comprehensive evaluation, a nutritional plan, strength training, range of motion activities, and creative workouts that keep the athletes mentally in tune.

So whereas Herremans and Jackson go through the same workout as the other offensive linemen at the Eagles facility, their programs at Power Train are customized to their specific needs. Each player also has worked with Saunders on off days during the season.

Saunders' gym was buzzing on Monday. Herremans was playing music in between sets. Laws was working on abs. Jackson was warming up. Young was working on his legs. And the ripped Saunders was advising all of them.

While Saunders acknowledged a protracted lockout "could" be good for business - he asked an assistant to order 50 more Power Train T-shirts for current and prospective clients - he said: "As a fan, I don't like it."

"I think it will expose a lot more guys to us this year, so in a sense maybe it is good," he added. "But I don't think it's truly good for anybody in this sport or anybody who likes football."