Early one afternoon in June, former head football coach Jim Walden drops by the newly-renovated WSU Athletics weight room to check in on the project.
Just a few students are working out. However, Walden observes, the relative tranquility belies how active the room usually is in the fall when scores of athletes from a variety of sports are in for training.
When he ran the football program between 1978 and 1986, getting his team quality time in the weight room was a regular challenge. “Having coached my entire career, and college especially, time is of the importance to athletes,” said Walden. “They spend so much time practicing, lifting weights, they’ve got to go to class, and they have to spend time studying.”
Back when he was coaching, the weight room was one of the most congested areas on campus as students waited for turns with free weights and exercise bicycles. “What a football player is coming in here to do is totally different than what a women’s basketball player wants to do,” he says. And it all takes time. “When men and women athletes go into a weight room at 2:00, they don’t want to be in there until 4:15 to get done with a 45-minute workout,” he says.
In 1997, WSU took a step to streamlining the training process when it completed an addition to Bohler Gym. With two floors covering 14,000 square feet, more weight stations and more equipment were added to the facility. And then, this summer, thanks to fundraising, it was improved even more.
It’s still the bright and open space with a two-story window and a balcony of exercise equipment that perches over the main room. But the previous weight room layout featured eight stations each for squat press and Olympic-style lifting, and 12 for bench press. Now, after the renovation, there are 24 racks for each of the three powerlifts, and there are new sets of solid rubber weights for each rack. A set of TR straps, a new suspension training system of nylon straps that allows athletes to use their own weight to do a range of exercises, is also installed at each station.
Despite the presence of more equipment, the layout has been altered to open things up and allow more space for athletes to move around. “We can safely and effectively train up to six teams at one time and up to 130 athletes on the first floor alone,” says David Lang, director of strength and conditioning.
All 450-some students in athletic programs at WSU can use the enhanced stations to better design their workouts to the demands of their sports. “The student-athletes are able to complete an entire strength training workout without ever leaving a rack,” says Lang.
The new setup is better for everyone, says football coach Paul Wulff, who played center for the Cougars from 1986 to 1989. Instead of working the players out over a six-hour period, the coaches can work them out over three hours. “Our weight room allows for better communication,” he says. “Now the players face each other, and our coaches can see things better. ”
The new spaces and machines are not only key to recruiting, but crucial to helping the students do their best when they’re here, says Bill Moos, WSU’s newly-hired athletic director who spent some of his own time as an offensive lineman for the Cougars in the ’70s.
In his day there was nothing like the hydrotherapy complex, which sits between the Hollingbery Fieldhouse and the Mooberry track. The resource, which opened in 2008, features an underwater treadmill where an injured athlete can submerge up to his or her shoulders and get a cardiovascular workout without putting much stress on an injury. The space also has a cold plunge and a warm therapy pool. It not only helps athletes rehabilitate, it also enhances their overall training efforts.
Among other surprises scattered around campus is an indoor rowing facility for the women’s crew team. With two pools, each just wide enough to accommodate the length of an oar and long enough to fit a line of eight, the coach can get up close to the athletes and keep an eye on their form and technique. The $1.2 million project was completed in 2009.
Up north is the indoor batting cage, which can be set up to throw specific pitches or turned to a random setting. The cage is also equipped to tape the players so they can practice their swing, videotape it, and refine their technique.
Part of having the best teams is having the best equipment, says the athletic director. “We need to constantly be upgrading our facilities because our colleagues in the conference are doing so,” says Moos. “We need to lead the way, to be innovative, and to provide first-class facilities for our first-class student-athletes.”
It’s all a long way from the free weights and exercise bikes of Walden and Wulff’s day. Everything is more efficient, says Wulff, from having the right tool to work a precise set of muscles to knowing exactly what to eat to improve performance: “There are just so many more things available there than when I was playing.”
Remembering his experiences as a coach motivated Jim Walden to contribute to a project to update the workout space in Bohler Gym. Rather than make a direct contribution, though, Walden came up with the Make Jim Pay challenge. For every $5 donated, Walden contributes $1, up to $200,000. “My impact was to try and get this place bigger and provide more opportunity for athletes to spend less time doing exactly what they need to do,” Walden said.
He also hopes the effort will strengthen connections between former athletes and sports fans with the current program. “I did want to encourage more former athletes to give,” Walden says. “The University gave you a college education; they gave you an opportunity to play in front of big crowds; they gave you an opportunity to cry, hurt, to bleed. And they gave you an opportunity to spend time with some great people that you’ll remember the rest of your life. If that’s not worth the payback, then I don’t know what is.”