Lay the groundwork for a high school program with one of the most respected high school strength coaches in the country. In this week’s Friday Five, Scott Meier, a strength coach with experience in both physical education and sports performance, reviews what it takes to run a thriving high school strength and conditioning program from the inside out.
By Carl Valle
The use of resisted sprinting and agility equipment is a popular way to train athletes, and one system that that keeps coming up is the Vertimax Raptor. When making an investment in equipment, coaches must think about the value and promise of any training device, including those that are widely used and trend well on social media.
I have waited to do a review on the Vertimax Raptor for a year, until I had time to break down every component of the product. Down the road, I also hope to compare it to the Run Rocket and other lesser-known systems on the market, such as the new Speed Cube and the Italian Power Sprint device. In this blog post, I cover science that is unavailable and review the Raptor in full detail.
What Is the Vertimax Raptor EX?
The Raptor is a line of resistance devices from Vertimax. Most coaches are more familiar with the company’s vertical jumping device, and now they have a horizontal system for sports training. I wrote about the science of the Vertimax a year ago, and this review of the Raptor product will go into extreme detail.
The system is a series of cords and pulleys that create a near-constant resistance for an athlete, and coaches have two product options. The first product, the one I review in this article, is the Raptor EX. The second device is the Raptor Dual, which is similar to the Raptor EX but also has two lines of resistance for overloading limbs or for multiple athletes. Since I wanted longer resistance with a single line, specifically up to 45 yards, I opted for the Raptor EX.The Raptor system isn’t just a case with a long bungee cord. Think steady resistance, not accommodating resistance, says @spikesonly. Click To Tweet
The product resembles a wide but thin suitcase and bungee-like cords run through the back of the box. To make sure it’s perfectly clear, the resistance lines do not create elastic resistance—they are more constant due to the mechanism inside the device. If you think the system is just a case with a long bungee cord, you need to remove that concept from your brain and think steady resistance, not accommodating resistance.
Video 1. Speed development is the best use of the Vertimax Raptor, so I recommend only getting the device if you are serious about working on developing faster acceleration. I use it as an option for some athletes who may need to sprint in multiple directions.
Many of the best athletes in the world use the Raptor for resisted sports training, and the product has additional components such as a wall mount for indoor facilities and a cart-like stand for training where a wall or fence is not available. Each system comes with three resistance levels, ranging from light to heavy. Three cord colors correspond with the resistance levels, starting with red (light), following by blue (medium), and then gray (heavy).
I went with blue because I like training with enough overload resistance to keep an athlete honest, and save the heavy work for the weight room and special rare occasions. Since the resistance can be adjusted slightly by increments of 2 pounds, my blue line ranges from 8-12 pounds of horizontal force. The heavier line goes up to 24 pounds and the lighter line starts with 4 pounds of resistance and goes up to 8 pounds. The cords are replaceable, and the system weighs 17 pounds and is 5 inches thick.
What’s Included in the Box?
So that I am perfectly clear, I have used the device in the past. I will pretend to be a new user, however, so those who are not familiar can understand what you get when you first buy a system. It’s also a good exercise for me so I don’t skip over areas that need to be explained. It’s important to know what you get and what you don’t get when you decide to invest in a Raptor EX.
Again, most of what I share here is useful for those who purchase the Dual system, but I don’t want the nuances to be lost so I am focusing my energies on the EX crowd. If you buy multiple Raptor EX systems, then some of the Dual model discussion may be appropriate.
When you get your Raptor delivery, you’ll see that it comes shipped like any other training hardware. My shipment was packed appropriately and looked like I was at a monster truck festival with its vibrant graphics and design. The product was ready to go and included literature and a universal belt. The box itself, which measures 36 inches wide by 8 inches high, is lightweight metal and has a handle for portability. Overall, I like the design, as it’s durable and designed for long-term use.
The 360 belt is a waist harness specifically designed by the company to provide multidirectional sprinting and movement. Other accessories are available, such as ankle and arm attachments, and handles for additional exercises. I didn’t purchase any accessories, and simply wanted the Raptor for resisted linear sprinting and directional movement. You can purchase replacement bands separately, and there’s a six-month warranty on them. The main system has a 12-month warranty, which covers every mechanical piece internally.
How Does the Vertimax Raptor Work?
It’s important that coaches know how the system works so they understand the benefits of the device and, of course, its limitations. If you know how the Raptor functions, you can appreciate the simplicity of its engineering. Like the Vertimax vertical jump system, the Raptor detects tension changes with the use of multiple pulleys and maintains a steady and constant resistance level over time. You can adjust the resistance range so the tension incrementally increases by approximately 2 pounds. The resistance line reaches up to 45 yards for the Raptor EX, and because the Dual system includes two lines, each one is about 20 yards each.If you train athletes in sports that require multidirectional speed, the Vertimax Raptor is the system you’ll want, says @spikesonly. Click To Tweet
Now comes the key difference between the Run Rocket and the Raptor EX—the spanning range of the line. I will say, on the record, that the resistance range for the Run Rocket is an advantage, but the system is rather linear compared to the spanning area of the Raptor. If you want pure linear resistance, the Run Rocket may be a better fit, but if you train athletes in sports that require multidirectional speed, the Raptor is the winner here.
The total distance of the Run Rocket is a full 10 yards shorter than the Raptor. I like the extra distance so I can run through 30 meters without fear of hurting the machine, and because it’s a resistance line, the deceleration distance is just long enough to be safe if you stop before 40 meters. I don’t want this review to become too much of a comparison discussion, but this stuff inevitably comes up and it’s good to have contrasting devices to visualize the differences.
Video 2. Resistance lines that are round and use a directional pulley are important if you want to move freely. The Vertimax Raptor has up to 45 yards of distance in a span of over 90 degrees.
Here is the benefit of the system that coaches should take note of: The use of a cord instead of a strap changes the dynamics of the resistance capabilities exponentially. Having the resistance line be a round cord enables the pull to be smooth and move freely side to side. This one variable could be a make or break for some coaches, and for me it was useful for soccer and football players I work with in the summer. I don’t do a lot of agility work with resistance, but I do find that I can do injury reduction work with adductors and the ACL with the system when I combine it with a solid weight training program.A notable benefit of the Vertimax Raptor is that its use of a cord instead of a strap changes the dynamics of the resistance capabilities exponentially, says @spikesonly. Click To Tweet
The product does retract, but it doesn’t yank the user. The forces are gentle enough that you don’t have to worry about injury or the risk of something dangerous happening as with elastic bands, and the system retracts neatly back into the casing. One of the limitations of the Exer-Genie is that it creates a bit of a mess unless you use a bucket or spool—this keeps the tangling from happening and removes much of the inconvenience of winding up the cord. You do get what you pay for though, as a Raptor system runs about $1,500, but it’s worth it if you have multiple systems. I have both the Exer-Genie and Raptor, and I still like to use sleds and chains. I have seen Raptors get mounted on squat racks and walls for ice hockey, but for the most part I see them used outdoors by court and field athletes.
What You Can Do with the Vertimax Raptor
The most common use of the Raptor is resisted sprinting and some multidirectional movement. You can do bounds, sport-specific patterns, and even light rehabilitation work. I personally don’t explore everything it offers, as I prefer to use devices like this for narrow purposes such as linear sprints, bounding, and even change of direction skills.I prefer to use devices like the Raptor for narrow purposes such as linear sprints, bounding, and even change of direction skills, but you can do more with it, says @spikesonly. Click To Tweet
What I do is not representative of the company’s education, but I am only able to comment on the value I experience from the device. If you have other ideas or plans for it, I recommend talking to a coach who uses it frequently. My personal suggestion is that you keep the exercises very straightforward, such as acceleration work, jumping activities, and lateral patterns. I don’t use the device for anything sport-specific, as my philosophy is too much specificity isn’t great for the majority of cases, but that’s just my style of training.
Video 3. Common field agility training works well, especially with lighter resistances. Here, an athlete works on multidirectional speed with the Raptor EX.
Linear sprints are my bread-and-butter workouts, as getting an athlete to sprint fast and fresh is one of the most powerful ways to improve athleticism. Sprinting is like a stem cell—it’s a potent growth stimulus for coaches and it needs to be clear and intense. I am not a fan of heavy sleds for sprints, as they defeat the main goal of sprint training. Opportunities to go all-out with athletes are rare, and access to the weight room is far more common than access to great sprinting conditions. Next to sprints, I like adding in a solid chunk of loaded locomotives outside the comfort zone of linear sprinting.
Video 4. You can do plyometrics with resistance, as it sometimes offers a novel addition to conventional training. Since the resistance is horizontal, contact times are unique and forces may not be as expected, so experiment wisely.
Bounding is an area that I never thought was as exciting for horizontal resistance, but if done correctly, it’s a great option for those who need their projection abilities upgraded. Double leg jumps, medial and lateral hops, and conventional bounding are all good modalities. I personally don’t attach the resistance lines to my legs or arms, but I just want horizontal resistance to my center of mass, nothing else.An obvious point I want to make is that the goal of the Vertimax Raptor is to take advantage of the length of resistance, says @spikesonly. Click To Tweet
An obvious point I want to make is that the goal of the product is to take advantage of the length of resistance. If you are trying to train limbs, the company offers the Vertimax platform series, which could meet the needs of those who utilize that style of training. But I just want 40 meters of resisted motion.
Adding Technology to the Raptor Training Session
I mentioned adding load cells to the Exer-Genie in the past, but in this section I expand on the necessary details of using Freelap timing and other technologies such as EMG or even muscle oxygenation. The awesome benefit of load cells is that you can see the peak forces over time. Once coaches become aware of the linear resistance after a few runs, it seems that conventional split timing with magnetic cloud pulse technology is what they need.
Lasers and radar are great, but honestly, if you want to make a big impact in training, Freelap is the most sensible choice. Realistically, coaches need setups that don’t take all day to actually set up, so Freelap is going to win with workflow. Some programs mount ultrasonic products or beam-based timing, but I think the demands of outdoor options require a portable and flexible option.
If you are going to use the Raptor EX for training and want to train with velocity, I don’t recommend using commercial radar systems. Again, the purpose of resisted acceleration is to actually develop a change in velocity, unless you purposely need to go very heavy. Most coaches want to reverse the change or improve the rate of acceleration, not stay stuck in a movement stereotype of load and speed. Therefore, if you have a holistic training program and are managing multiple variables, use split timing. If you are going far heavier than typical programs, you may want to choose a very heavy resistance band for youth athletes or incorporate a different modality.
Having a harness-based resistance line instead of a sled offers one great advantage: capturing ground contact times in groups. If you have a high-quality IMU mounted on the lower extremities, you can collect step data easily, but I prefer a contact grid. The combination of the laser and contact grid with Ergotest is possible, but only if you use a lower mounting position for the product and have the wall bracket include space for the sensor.
The final recommendation I have is not to forget about video and physiology. I know speed is important, but technique and fatigue go hand and hand. Lately, thanks to the new VO2 Master Pro app, we are using Moxy Monitor to do more and more, as the system easily synchronizes to a smartphone or tablet. I think you can do a lot more with Moxy now that the app enables heart rate synchronization, along with the obvious gas analysis. Due to the portability of the VO2 Master Pro, we can see more repeated sprint testing without the limitations of hardware in the past. Generally, I see physiology as a way to complement speed training, and most of my efforts are still velocity generated.
Why I Recommend the Vertimax Raptor System
Again, I have an array of resistance devices and recommend everything from a low-grade hill to a high-performance overspeed device. So, if you think you have to get one device and be tribal to other tools, that’s a healthy option. I am aware that the Run Rocket has adjustable resistance, so if you have a limited budget and are at a facility that has storage, you may find that a better option.
If you are buying for a team and know the resistance sweet spot you need, the Vertimax Raptor is likely a great fit. If you have multiple Raptors and choose to use the shorter-length dual option, you can train a lot of athletes at one time. Repairs on the Raptor are easy to make, as they have replacement kits that allow coaches to service and replace bands if necessary. To me, this is everything, as I hate having to wait for a repair and struggle doing self-maintenance.
My No. 1 priority is portability, and you can literally take the Raptor with you, like a briefcase, to work. I can’t leave a Run Rocket in the back of my SUV, as it’s a burden to move back and forth. If you care about the equipment footprint, the far smaller size of the Vertimax Raptor and the ability to mount it may make it necessary for some environments. The idea of mounting Raptors is very compelling for private coaches needing portability and coaches at large schools. For me, it’s a great option when working with athletes who need resisted sprinting opportunities and to learn movement patterns.My top priority is portability, and you can literally take the Raptor with you, like a briefcase, to work, says @spikesonly. Click To Tweet
If I had one recommendation for Vertimax, it is to make the system even smaller, so we can take it in carry-on luggage. I see it as a great option for coaches who do a lot of “destination training” or training camps. Otherwise, the system is a great fit for most coaching environments.
Before You Purchase a System
My only concern with the Vertimax Raptor is that a coach will just buy one without doing their homework and then feel frustrated that they didn’t find a perfect fit. When you spend money on equipment, you need to think about how it’s used in the wild—meaning a typical practice with large groups and less supervision. If you are coaching privately with small groups, remember that the product is meant for two athletes at a time at best, so it’s an investment that requires thought when you spend up to $2,000 on one resistance device.
The Vertimax Raptor has a place in training, and adding the right technology to it can satisfy college and pro coaches while also making it accessible to those working at younger levels. The Vertimax Raptor is a great option for coaches, and I recommend it.