Much more than a weight room
The Alexandria football team practiced on the field from 8 to 10 a.m. at Alexandria Area High School last Wednesday before breaking up into groups and heading inside.
Players jogged back to the high school with their instructions on where to go next. First up for a group of varsity players was the weight room – check that – fitness and performance center.
It’s not a weight room that athletes in every sport at AAHS have at their disposal now. It’s much more than that.
“We can do so many more functional strength things here,” head football coach Mike Empting said. “In years past, what we had at Jefferson was pretty much just the weight room. We had free weights and that type of stuff so we could do traditional strength training. Here, we can do so many more sport-specific type activities, and as far as developing strength within the sport-specific setting, the possibilities are endless.”
The athletes that morning jumped right into taking advantage of that. There wasn’t a single player who got under a bench bar and lifted weights.
Instead, they started training in the functional zone, which features resistance-cord stations. Athletes on the plyometric board put on a belt and strapped resistance bands near their hips with the other end of the cord attached to the floor before going through a series of jumps.
On the field turf not far away, others worked with longer resistance bands mounted on the wall. They got down on their hands and knees and went through a series of out-and-back exercises designed to focus on balance, form and explosive movements.
“Kids were working their tails off,” head girls’ track and field coach Meghan Orgeman-Crumb said. “They’re sweating and their comments are, ‘That was fun.’ That’s what we want. They’re working their butts off and they say that was fun. That’s our goal.”
The functional zone is one of five specific training zones that the fitness center features. Those also include speed, strength, plyometric and cardiovascular zones. All of them together are designed to help build a complete athlete through performance training, which focuses on proper form and explosive body movements over excessive weights and over-stressing the body.
“The beauty of the room comes when all of its parts are synergistic,” Orgeman-Crumb said. “So when every zone is working together. They’re not just using the strength zone. They’re using it in conjunction with the functional zone, plyo zone and hopefully the speed zone in the summer or during the year. If people aren’t comfortable in the strength zone, at least we can hook them in the other zones and then get them going with every other piece of this room.”
SETTING THE TREND
AAHS worked with a company called Perform-X Training Systems based in Denver, Colorado when putting the facility together. In doing so, the company said Alexandria became one of just three high schools in the country to bring performance training to its students.
“Performance centers are the future in high schools,” Perform-X President Nick Reese said in a statement. “Alexandria is on the cutting edge.”
As far as equipment goes, the room features 16 weight racks with multiple functions. It has 22 different pieces of cardiovascular machines from treadmills, ellipticals and bikes.
Two of those cardio machines are Curve treadmills, which have no motors and are manually powered. That forces the athlete to expend more energy and experience greater recruitment of the posterior chain muscles.
WANTING TO WORKOUT
Athletic Director Dave Hartmann said during a tour with the Echo Press in late June that he hoped this room would be a place where athletes want to come and improve in their sport.
Weight rooms can be an intimidating place for some, but the options that the fitness center includes have made for a more inviting atmosphere.
Orgeman-Crumb is passionate about working with female athletes in every sport and said she sees that with a lot of the girls she works with.
“It makes the weight room less intimidating for female athletes,” she said. “If they’re not comfortable banging weights around, we can get them comfortable, introduce them to the room in a less aggressive way by using cords and a lot of different mechanisms.”
Empting said that in the beginning, all these options will make things more complicated because there is so much more to incorporate into an athlete’s workout. He noted that’s a good thing in the long haul because it teaches kids the proper ways to exercise.
FROM THE FIELD TO THE FILM ROOM
Empting’s football players who got their workout in at the fitness center last Wednesday hurried a little ways down the hall for some film study right after that.
The purchase of Hudl sports video software allows them to shoot video of their morning practice and come inside to a classroom setting where they can upload it and watch it with the athletes immediately.
After viewing the tape, it was time for a quick bite to eat and then back onto the practice field for a couple more hours.
“The impact that has on our practices is we can take less time coaching on the field so we can get kids more reps,” Empting said. “We don’t have to stop practice. We can run through it, come inside, look at it, make corrections inside in a classroom where it’s a more controlled setting and the kids are much closer to us. Right now, we’re able to go back outside again and take those corrections immediately to the field. That will be the same for basketball, volleyball.”
Times are changing rapidly in the way athletes train for their sports, even before reaching the high school level. Alexandria has conformed to that with the tools there for athletes to reach their potential.