March 12, 2015 • Strength & Conditioning

Maximizing your weight room

How schools are turning to multi-use equipment to get the best workout

When it came time for Georgia Tech to upgrade its weight room, John Sisk wasn’t going to waste the opportunity.

The university’s director of player development had redone two facilities at other high-profile colleges, so he knew what to expect. He just needed to decide what equipment was best suited for the school’s student-athletes.

Colleges and high schools around the country are making sure the needs of their athletes are met for each sport. Having solid strength and cardio equipment readily available for every athlete is a top priority.

weight room“I think as strength training programs have adapted at the high school level … they have very similar weight rooms,” Sisk said.

“The kids have been trained at a high level already and to see those kids come into our facilities and having the facilities to accommodate the needs, they’re going to grow and we’ve got to develop kids at every sport.”

Sisk was integral in Georgia’s Tech weight room facelift that started in May 2014 and lasted three months. The 8,000-square-foot facility added between 40 and 50 new pieces of equipment, including 22 racks, with adjustable cables on each rack for multi-purpose use; 12 connected racks with inlaid platforms along with buckle plates and dumbbells; and eight cardio pieces. The school went all out on three Woodway treadmills — costing $15,000 apiece — but each treadmill features a wider deck to accommodate every athlete.

When Brian Clarke came to Noblesville High School (Indiana) seven years ago, there were about 100 student-athletes using the school’s weight room facility on any given day. That number has increased to 650 kids this year after an approved course called “athletic weights” was added to the curriculum. Now, Clarke figures the school’s equipment takes up to 40,000 reps each day.

Before Clarke helped Noblesville revamp its weight room three years ago, he visited a number of schools to find the latest craze in equipment. The school ended up purchasing 14 platforms with inlaid flooring, 14 half racks and 14 combination racks that are plate loaded and dual adjustable.

“With our vision, we wanted to make sure we had enough what we call ‘learning stations’ available for all the student-athletes we have in here so that we’re training the body properly,” Clarke said.

Colorado College invested in new equipment in 2012 for its strength and conditioning center. Director of Athletics Ken Ralph orchestrated the renovation of the school’s 6,200-square-foot room and purchased all the items he needed in one fell swoop.

Colorado College purchased a dozen full racks with all the trimmings; full double dumbbell stations; six adjustable benches with dumbbell stations; a special plyometric room that’s attached to the weight room that’s outfitted with jump boxes and agility ladders; four pieces of selectorized equipment, mostly for rowing exercises; two belt squat stations; and 12 cardio machines.

Ralph made sure he purchased multi-use equipment that would benefit everyone from the school’s Division I men’s hockey team to the college’s swimmers.

“We have some sports that are really strained for contact and collisions like lacrosse or hockey, and then you’ve got other sports like swimming or cross country, which are going to have a very different experience in the weight room,” Ralph said. “You need to be able to accommodate the needs of all your different athletes.”

Colleges and high school used to pack their weight rooms with bench presses and treadmills. Those items are is still relevant, but there’s been a shift to buying multi-use equipment.

“The real shift in functional training has been a key,” Ralph said. “Our strength and conditioning staff is very sophisticated in the way they took a look at the physiology of strength training. We needed equipment that could do multiple things.

“For example, with our racks, you bench press on it, you can do inclined press, you can do squats, you can do pull-ups. There are so many things that you can do with that one piece of equipment that it takes the place of what used to be six or seven separate pieces. So having that one multi-functional rack really makes a big difference for us.”

Clarke agrees the most valuable piece of equipment in his school’s weight room is the dual adjustable rack. He noted hundreds of exercises can be performed using it, including plyometric and agility work, and single and multi-joint exercises.

“I would pitch to any college or high school with limited space, if you take their half-rack and on the back side of it put a dual adjustable, as long as you have about six to eight feet on each side of it, you can put six athletes there and for 45 minutes never leave that thing and get a completely killer workout in,” Clarke said.

Doug Scott, strength and conditioning coach at Pingry School (Basking Ridge, New Jersey), believes the No. 1 piece of equipment in every school should be neck machines. Concussions and neck injuries have become a major issue in recent years, and Scott, who purchased four neck machines for his school, wants athletes to withstand the blows.

Budget is another important factor in making purchases, and this can be a dicey subject for colleges and high schools. Setting aside funds to help pay for new equipment is essential for the wellbeing of student-athletes.

“We weren’t going to make a selection based on price,” Ralph said. “We were going to make a selection based on quality and based on customer service, durability. Price was pretty far down the list for us. To me, you’re going to get what you pay for with strength and conditioning equipment. We wanted something that was going to be very, very durable and something that would definitely stand the test of time.”

Ralph hopes most of the equipment he purchased for Colorado College’s weight room will last 20-plus years. He knows some of the cardio equipment will have a shorter lifespan, but the multi-use racks should last.

“What we want to do is use the budget we have for that room to upgrade rather than replace,” Ralph said.

At Noblesville, the district passed a referendum that included funding for a new weight room. That meant the budget wasn’t much of an issue when Clarke picked out equipment for a new facility. He wanted to invest in racks and other solid equipment that lasts.

“You’re going to get what you pay for,” Clarke said. “I think when you get down to the weight room area, there’s not always monies allocated for that. When it comes down to the monies being there, often times they’re not as high as you’d want them to be or there was a grant written or there was a donation. So then people start (thinking), ‘How much can I get for the money I have here instead of the quality of it?’

“You get the highest quality you can, because it’s got to last. It’s got to last a while, because you don’t get to redo a weight room every four or five years like uniforms.”

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