Worth The Weight
Indiana University spent years training student-athletes in outdated facilities, but now its strength and conditioning center is among the nation’s best.
Recruits touring Indiana University’s campus prior to 2009 may have a hazy recollection of the athletic department’s weight training facility. It’s no accident.
The undersized rooms and aging equipment didn’t radiate the prestige you would expect from one of the Big Ten’s most illustrious programs. To keep the facility from becoming a liability, the university purposely made it an afterthought.“One of our weight rooms before this, it was almost to the point where you would avoid it or gloss over it,” says Mark Wateska, assistant athletic director for strength and conditioning. “It was a good facility and we got a lot of great work done there, but aesthetically it was just very displeasing.”
Indiana University’s 25,000-square-foot strength and conditioning center, built in 2009, is among the biggest in the nation.
That’s no longer the case as Indiana today boasts a massive 25,000-square-foot weight training facility, parked at the north endzone of the football stadium. What previously was an eyesore is now the focal point during recruit visits, showing the university’s commitment to its athletics and the development of those who choose to go there.
That commitment was never an issue but Indiana’s weight training facility never gave the impression of a major college campus. Wateska says before the construction of its new building, the university had two weight rooms, roughly 5,000 square feet apiece. One was housed in the football stadium and the other in the basement of Assembly Hall, the campus’ historic basketball arena.
“It was very, very old,” Wateska says. “What we essentially did was doubled our weight room space and modernized it. It’s just a fantastic facility to train our student-athletes.”
A new era
Strength and conditioning has evolved over the years, making upgrades to equipment and facilities all the more necessary. Prior to Indiana’s renovation at Memorial Stadium, its weight training facilities were among the oldest in the conference.
The new student-athlete development center took two years to complete and the strength and conditioning facility makes up just the lower floor. The entire complex is 138,000 square feet and houses administrative and coaches offices, in addition to the sports medicine offices. It also provides space for the academic support department.
“I hate to use the term ‘one-stop shop,’ but when they come into our building they can get their strength training needs and academic support,” Wateska says. “We also have a full-functioning athletic training room for sports medicine and our training tables in the same area so our athletes can come over and get everything they need without having to go to multiple sites.
“This is one centralized area, so it’s nice and convenient for all our student-athletes.”
Wateska admits one of the biggest challenges posed by the old facility was scheduling. The campus has about 650 student-athletes and the size of the previous strength and conditioning rooms made it difficult to accommodate everyone. Especially since a significant number of student-athletes train during the fall in the morning or early afternoon.
“You train around class schedules, so when you have a number of sports vying for the same time slot, as far as strength and conditioning goes, it can lead to some scheduling difficulties,” Wateska says. “One of the things we’ve noticed now is we can have hundreds of athletes in the room and there are no problems.”
Designed for efficiency
Not only is Indiana’s new strength center designed to eliminate scheduling conflicts but it also is built for efficiency.
The weight room has a “mirror design,” created to help alleviate congestion and allow coaches to work closely with athletes.
The size of the older weight rooms forced Wateska to make use of every bit of space, often placing machinery closer together to increase availability. He also wasn’t able to distribute the equipment in a way that maintained an even flow of student-athletes.
That all changed with the design of the new facility. With its size, the department separated machines far enough apart to give athletes room to work comfortably. The weight room’s “mirror design” complements that concept.
Wateska describes the strength and conditioning center as “two 12,500-square-foot facilities in one room.” It includes two wings, each offering the same equipment and workout opportunities as the other. That allows for teams to participate in the same routine without stepping on each other’s toes.
Wateska was allocated a specific amount of space in the new building and told to fill it as he saw fit. What he came up with is a facility he believes allows student-athletes to get the best workout in the most efficient way.
“We sat down with the blueprints as a staff and said, ‘This is what we have for space,'” Wateska says. “Let’s fill it with the best equipment available and lay it out so it has a nice flow, keeping in mind more than 600 student-athletes will use this facility.
“They’re not all sequestered. If you look at our weight room, it’s big, beautiful, spacious and well laid-out. Conceptually, many people won’t recognize this, but the thought process was to have two weight rooms in one and that’s kind of how our flow works really well.”
A convenient place
The evolution of Indiana’s weight training room is just one piece to the university’s commitment to build a better athlete.
Common areas are used for cardio work while a significant amount of space was set aside for warming up, flexibility, exercise and agility training. The facility includes Mondo flooring with Inlaid Platforms, Force treadmills, high-speed treadmills and elliptical machines. Because the weight room looks out to Memorial Stadium, the field also can be used in speed training and conditioning.
“We can train any athlete–healthy or coming back from rehabilitation–and we have the equipment to train anybody and help them with the work they need and prepare them for competition,” Wateska says. “Now that we’ve eliminated the space problems, our facilities are equipped well enough that, philosophically, we can implement any strength and conditioning protocol that we feel is best for that particular sport.”
The athletics department employs a staff of 11 strength coaches and spent nearly $1.2 million in equipment, in addition to using machines from the old weight rooms. The spacious facilities benefit not only the athletes but those who work with them.
Wateska says coaches are now able to closely watch student-athletes, giving them greater abilities to train and teach proper techniques. Football players now work out alongside the volleyball team and both programs have plenty of room to get the maximum results from their efforts.
That’s a luxury Indiana athletes didn’t have more than a few years ago. Wateska says he doesn’t receive much feedback from those who are accustomed to the luxurious facilities but former athletes who return for a visit are impressed.
“One former player who is now in the NFL came back and saw it, and he’s very proud of the program and how we’re taking steps forward,” he says. “It just sparks a lot of Hoosier pride when they see that, facility-wise, we are putting effort into the program and we want it to be competitive on a national level. It’s just great.”