Sunday, October 25, 2015

Weight Room Design for athletes.

The weight room I currently work in is amazing. I have never seen another high school weight room like it. It is enormous. There are over 10,000 square feet and I have comfortably had teams of up to 40 athletes using the facility at once. Not a dime was spared in its construction and it shows. From the floors to the lighting to the spacious offices in the corners of the gym everything is pristine. Even the equipment is brand new and name brand.

Having heard all of that you would think that this weight room would be everything I could ever dream of as a strength coach, but there are a variety of things I would change. The great equipment fills the room almost wall to wall, limiting space for athletic movement, the dumbbells don't allow for a lot of ballistic movements (we have the adjustable load dumbbells) and the weight room is just generally not built for athletes. It is built like someone at Lifetime Fitness was given a blank check and told to fill the place up.

Building an appropriate interior for any gym is a challenge but the gym should be built to optimize the experience of it's members by catering to their needs and wants. Equinox caters to those who want a great workout but also want to be pampered so in addition to great strength training equipment they also have eucalyptus towels on every floor and Kiehls products in the showers. Powerlifting and Olympic Lifting gyms have chalk bowls to help grip strength and because a little mess doesn't matter if it puts a few extra kilos on the platform . LA fitness has lots of machines because members don't know what to do without them and are often intimidated by free weights. My gym caters to athletes in all different sports so we need a diverse range of equipment. What follows in this post is my ideal gym interior given an unlimited budget and approximately 10,000 square feet (approximately what we currently have)

Squat racks and barbells. This has to be the foundation. You can debate the merits of different methodologies and exercises but any solid strength program has barbells and racks. Whether you prefer high bar or low bar squat, or a heavy dose of front or back squat, or maybe you go full Mike Boyle and only do single leg work and pulls, the rack allows you to safely set up for movements that will load the axial skeleton. Personally I like a rack that comes with a straight pullup bar and the option to have someone squatting in the cage and someone else taking a bar out for pressing or single leg work. Something like this:


Ideally the rack also has attachments for a landmine on one side and can have a bench placed inside. Having  squat racks in one place and benches in another is a poor use of space, particularly when my gym rarely has one group squatting while another benches.


Medicine Balls/Wall - Tennis, lacrosse and baseball are all sports that are won and lost based largely on who can generate more power through the transverse plane. Barbells are excellent for developing strength and power when moving forward/backward or up and down. But to transfer that strength to the field sometimes you need a more precise tool. Medicine ball throws of all sorts can help take strength developed through traditional means and hone it to fit the sport. Medicine Balls canrange from 3-30lbs and vary depending on the drills being used and the time of the off-season. A rebound wall to allow for multiple throws is ideal for developing speed/power in multiple planes. This video illustrates a great use of med ball throws for transverse plane power.


Extra equipment can make storage a problem and can eat up valuable ground space so whenever possible use wall space and vertical storage to allow for maximum floor space to have athletes move.

This is perfect. Although I prefer balls that bounce


No more adjustable DB's - Adjustable dumbbells are easier on the wallet and take up less space in the gym which makes them seem like a fantastic idea. Until you pick them up. The feel is all wrong and for many brands they are bulky and awkward to hold for goblet squats and many other less conventional positions. Your hand is forced to go in between the four corner pillars that hold the piece together. I tried snatching one and nearly broke my wrist off inside the weight. Very disappointing. Make space and spend the money on the real thing. Steel or rubber are fine but the adjustable bells in my experience don't get the job done.

A few other key points on dumbbell purchase and implementation. Get multiple pairs of the commonly used weights (for my population 30-60lbs) and don't feel pressured into getting heavier bells to accommodate the two strongest guys. I have maybe maybe 350 athletes and 5 guys that will need anything over 80lbs. It would be more effective to adjust their workouts than waste the money and space on 5 more pairs of dumbbells for these individuals

Kettlebells - This is one item that we don't have in my gym that I would love to acquire. I work with high schoolers, many of whom have never lifted weights before, at least not properly. So for many this is their first exposure to squatting, hinging, overhead pressing and the concepts of braced core, packed shoulder and so many others that seem second nature to a veteran lifter.

Holding a bell in the goblet position teaches braced core better than any verbal cue I could come up with. The anterior load causes the athlete to sit down and back and deep into the squat. The light weight (compared to a barbell squat) causes less overall stress while still providing a big training stimulus, making it a great in season training tool when recovery is at a premium. You can make similar arguments for the hinge. The KB deadlift is the easiest hinge to learn because it allows for a degree of knee band as well as a wide stance to open the hips. The deadlift then can easily transition into KB ballistics like swings and cleans if the athlete shows aptitude.

The number of people that can squat like that with a bar is almost zero. But it's actually fairly common with the bell. Embrace the kettlebell!

For upper body the getup and various bell presses teach a stable packed shoulder far more effectively than DB pressing. The distribution of the weight makes the rotator cuff react in a different manner and builds stability which can later transition to more traditional barbell overhead or horizontal pressing

Space! - My gym is currently overrun with glute ham raises and reverse hypers. I think we have about 10-12 of each. While I think those machines can have some value I have always had a preference for training on the feet, particularly for athletes. Therefore the equipment has become an overpriced place to store training journals and for me to stand when I need to address the whole team at once. One of the things that some of my mentors in this field always tried to push was the idea that athletes need to be athletic in all of their sport preparation. The conditioning, the lifting and flexibility should all look athletic.  Being athletic require space. Crawls, lunges, shuffles, bounds, med ball throws, olympic lifts, circuit training, etc. None of these things can happen with the current set up so I would gladly sell off all of that extra equipment in exchange for some extra room. The clip below is from Train 4 The Game, a facility just outside Austin, where they do some amazing work integrating multi-directional speed, power and reaction work into their strength training programs. Notice how much room the facility has. Weights are against the walls and athletes can always pivot in any direction without running into anything or each other.



As far as organization goes, put your racks and balls against the walls, and dumbells in a large corner. That gives you open space in the center to perform your other work. If you live in a cold weather climate then I think a short indoor track or turf space is a fantastic investment to allow for sprint work to be performed year round. Because I train in Miami and have a football field right outside it isn't necessary where I am.

If I have these things (bars and racks, medballs to throw, dumbbells, kettlebells and space for athletes to be athletes) then I'm set. Large square footage is nice but only if you actually have access to all of it and you aren't overrun with machines. Build your facility to suit the needs of those who use it. And if athletes are using it allow them to do what they do best. Be athletic!


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