LINCOLN PARK — Fitness Formula Club in Lincoln Park recently earned the rare distinction of being the only gym in the Midwest to be named a certified performance center by USA Triathlon.
The gym has been working on obtaining the distinction for nearly three years as endurance-sports interest, specifically in triathlons, has swept Chicago and the nation.
"This is becoming our hub for triathletes," said Chris Navin, head endurance coach at Fitness Formula.
The center's focus on endurance training follows a national surge in interest in such races as the popular Chicago marathon and triathlon, and even longer Ironman events.
Almost 2 million people completed at least one triathlon in 2011, according to the most recent study by the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association. That number is up from more than 1.2 million in 2008.
"The sport of triathlon has grown unbelievably in just the past five or 10 years," said Navin, who competes in two or three Ironmans a year. "With places like this, we can start taking that intimidation away."
As cold weather approaches, endurance athletes training at Fitness Formula will be able to compete in indoor triathlons that simulate those of real races around the world.
In the club's endurance center, 16 CompuTrainer machines let cyclists hook up their own bikes to virtually ride real courses that play out on the screen as the machines mimic hills and even wind speed through resistance.
"Chicago is pancake flat for the most part, so to be able to ride an Alpe d'Huez stage of the Tour de France, you can't really do that in a lot of places but you can do that here," Navin said.
A triathlete can, and often does at Fitness Formula Club, swim an Olympic-distance leg, run up into the bike room and complete the cycling portion, and then jump onto a treadmill to finish the remaining 6.2 mile run.
When Fitness Formula Club was named a USA Triathlon Certified Performance Center late this summer, it became the sixth in the nation.
To obtain that title, fitness centers must have USA Triathlon-certified coaches; swim, bike and run analysis; a performance lab for Vo2 and lactate testing; physical therapy; massage services; nutrition consultation and access to a sport psychologist.
"It provides year-round training, which in Chicago is pretty tough," Navin said.
Scott Lewandowski, regional fitness director for Fitness Formula, said the gym decided to add the cycling studio when it noticed many of its members were heading to small studios elsewhere in the city to get in their bike training.
The gym has about 200 people who participate in the endurance programs, and since 2002 more than 500 members of its TriMonster training club have completed triathlons.
Having the indoor cycling studio also provides a summer alternative to Chicago's lakefront path, which is consistently packed with cyclists.
That makes it dangerous for those training for the triathlon as the usual riding position in a race is on the aero bars, making it sometimes difficult to reach for the brakes when things get crowded.
"I tell even our best athletes who are very good bike handlers, don't do it on the lakefront," Navin said.