Coach patents new kind of workout gear

DECATUR (AP) — The idea came to Ryan Birt in a late-night eureka moment.

Birt, Millikin’s wrestling coach, was an NCAA Division III national wrestling champion and football player at Upper Iowa University at the time. He’d injured his elbow when a helmet slammed into it, and during his rehabilitation was unable to use a straight bar to lift weights.

As a substitute, Birt turned to lifting the circular plates that go at the end of the bars, but those hurt his joints.

“(Circular plates) don’t bend or work around the body and you can’t grip it,” Birt said. “My college wrestling coach told me to either suck it up or find a better way to do it.”

The solution woke him from a deep sleep.

“It was 3 a.m. and I had this vision,” Birt said. “I’m a visual person so I could see it in my head, but I’m not an artist so I couldn’t put it on paper.”

Birt eventually found someone to draw it, then patented it and had a prototype made in Decatur with the help of company co-owner Dan Butler. The result is what is now known as the Birt Plate. It’s partially manufactured in Decatur and already has some big-time clients, including the University of Illinois, the Indiana Pacers, Ball State University and the Iowa Army National Guard.

It is a growing part of the economy. Americans annually spend an estimated $33 billion on athletic equipment and $19 billion on gym memberships, according to a September survey of 1,000 U.S. adults by personal finance website

Birt hopes his invention will revolutionize the strength-training segment, much like University of Florida doctor Robert Cade created the sports drink market when he concocted a drink to help keep players from getting dehydrated — Gatorade — and the way former Chicago Blackhawks center Stan Mikita changed the hockey stick market did when he designed a large bend at the end of a hockey stick that became the “banana stick.”

Mikita took the inspiration from a broken hockey stick end and the adjustment made for faster slap shots. The banana stick became the modern standard in the NHL. Birt said he sees the same potential for the Birt Plate.

“(The workout) can be more intense because of the safety of it — you are never going to put your body in jeopardy while using this plate,” Birt said. “We have over 200 exercises that can be done with just the weight alone. You don’t need the bar.

“And the plate will never go bad. You could hit it with your car and it would be fine. That’s your gym membership fees for the rest of your life.”

Decatur has a long history with inventions. Hieronymus Mueller, who settled in Decatur in 1857, and his sons claimed more than 500 patents, many related to water devices, for example.

In his case, Birt said many wrestlers use plate workouts. But there’s no grip on a circular plate, making it difficult to hold when sweating. Plus, because of the shape, certain lifts were either impossible or would force users to put their bodies in bad positions, causing back strain.

The shape of the Birt Plate — an “H” with a hole in the middle for a bar — allows body parts such as the neck or legs to fit in the spaces, opening up a much wider selection of workouts.

“The only thing you could really do with round plates is put it on a bar and lift it,” said Verneil Phillips, Millikin’s grounds manager and part of a collection of Millikin employees, known as the “Noon Group,” with whom Birt trains three times a week.

“With the Birt Plate, there are multiple uses to do individual workouts with each individual plate,” Phillips said. “You can’t grip a round plate to your chest — you would feel uncomfortable. (The Birt Plate) lets your arms get wrapped inside there and hold onto it firmly.”

Although the idea for the Birt Plate came like a flash, the distance from idea to prototype took several years. In that time, Birt graduated from Upper Iowa and began a wrestling coaching career at Loras College in Dubuque, Iowa.

It was on a recruiting trip to the Decatur area that Birt met Butler, his future business partner and the man that would help make the Birt Plate a reality.

“I was recruiting a Mount Zion wrestler, Joe Butler, and his dad is Dan Butler, who’s the President of Morgan Distributing here in Decatur,” Birt said. “When I was recruiting him I told them I had this idea and I would love to train myself and my boys with it.”

Quickly, the idea went from dream to design and the name was born.

“One night we were sitting down and he tells me his idea,” Butler said. “I drew it on a napkin and then to the legal pad.

“Then my wife Jodi, Ryan and myself tried to come up with a name. We decided ‘Birt’ was just strange enough to stick.”


Source My Journal Courier

Scroll to top