Gear Test: VertiMax training system

VertiMax's bands and pulleys may be expensive, but they've also been proven to improve performance. Courtesy of VertiMax

John Harbaugh may have called Ray Rice’s fourth-and-29 blitzkrieg against the Chargers last November “the greatest play he’s ever been a part of” and a “miracle,” but to Rice, the Baltimore Ravens' All-Pro running back, it probably came as less of a surprise.

Why? Because since the beginning of last offseason, Rice has been reaping the benefits of some very special resistance bands and pulleys that he claims give him an edge he never knew he had.

PRODUCT: VertiMax, $1,995-$3,295, www.VertiMax.com

WHAT IT’S SUPPOSED TO DO: Ever seen a baseball player swinging a weighted bat in the on-deck circle, only to swap it for a regular bat at the plate and scythe it through the air for a home run?

Well, imagine a system like that for your entire body. VertiMax is designed to add resistance to any body movement that’s required in sport.

The machine -- a platform with extendable bands -- is attached to a system of pulleys. What makes it more effective than the resistance bands at your local gym? Well, the pulleys ensure that the resistance is constant and increases only when you choose. The bands also move wherever you do without ever getting lax. The resulting workouts allow for a stronger core, better balance and a lot more strength.

A running back who needs more explosion? No problem: Strap the bands around your ankles and reap the rewards. Tennis player working on your forehand? Put the bands around your wrist and swing away.

DOES IT WORK? If the VertiMax machine doesn't work, then an awful lot of franchises around the country are pretty wrong. As it stands, 16 NFL teams, 13 NBA teams, 11 MLB teams and six NHL teams are using VertiMax. And it isn't just the pros who’ve reaped the benefits. The current No. 1 in college basketball, Louisville, swears by it.

Rice, who first discovered VertiMax last offseason, was so convinced of its benefits that he invested in the company.

“Before VertiMax I was training with a weighted vest and never really had resistance around my ankles,” Rice told ESPN Playbook. “But now I don’t need the vest because I can change the resistance on the machine and do less damage to my knees. When you take the bands off you feel like you can run faster and jump higher -- and when I measured myself I actually was.”

And it’s not only young players like Rice who’ve become converts.

“A guy on my team who uses it is Ray Lewis,” explains Rice. “And I know it did wonders for him. You’re talking about a guy who’s played for 17 years. When he told me that he used it, I know other guys are going to listen and use it as well.” (Clearly, Lewis is a man of influence.)

While the VertiMax might take some getting used to, the results are very much quantifiable, with another devotee being Stipe Miocic, a UFC heavyweight fighter.

“I strap it to my hands and work on punches and kicks,” explains Miocic, who has ended 78 percent of his fights with a KO. “After the first day, I was like wow, holy crap, it’s so rare that I get a workout like that. You know because your heart rate is way up.”

PRODUCT 2.0: The biggest issue with the VertiMax is price. It’s a little steep for the average health nut, with even the cheapest model coming in at a shade under $2,000. But for those who take their sport seriously, it’s probably worth it; for a college athletics program or professional franchise, it’s a must.

For Rice and Lewis in this year's playoffs, it could prove priceless.