Women's teams taking advantage of improved weight training programs


Mid-Valley Sports

Spending time in a dank room, gripping steel bars and listening to the clank of iron was not always the Oregon State women's basketball team's idea of fun 20 years ago.

Although current OSU coach Judy Spoelstra never shied away from the weight room during her playing days in 1981-83, most of the players would rather have been on the court than in the Gill Coliseum basement, working out for about 40 minutes a session.

If they felt like lifting, that is. The coach was usually not around and there was no strength trainer to help them with their workouts.

Some of the players would simply fill in their workout sheet without actually touching a weight or spent the time hiding.

"I had aspirations, so I lifted a lot," Spoelstra said. "But with a lot of my teammates, it was kind of a joke (to) go hide behind the pillar downstairs in Gill Coliseum, because if you were hiding back there when the coach came in, the coach couldn't see you."

Weight training for women athletes has come a long way in the 20 years since Spoelstra took the court for the Beavers.

Women now have access to better facilities and proper instruction from strength coaches.

Spoelstra said Title IX has helped give the athletes better opportunities in weight training and conditioning.

"Now it's more organized, it's more structured and it's brought along the strength coach that works with the women's teams and cares about the women's teams," she said. "They do a great job because they have everything organized and ready on these sheets. They monitor the players, they monitor their lifts."

Said OSU strength coach Trent Greener: "I think in the college setting you'll find that the weight training programs are very comparable to the men's programs, especially with identical sports, be it men's or women's. You're going to find that they engage in the same year-round training program. It's something that's done 365 days a year and the women are asked to participate in those types of programs at most, if not every Division I university."

The change did not come overnight. There was the belief in some circles that women did not need extensive strength work for sports because it was not a feminine pursuit and it could actually be unhealthy for them.

"I think that was more of an excuse than a reason," Spoelstra said. "I think that and the fact that when women's basketball first started, you couldn't cross halfcourt because women weren't allowed to sweat. Those are excuses, not really reasons.

"I think that was an excuse probably with a lot of programs not willing to buck up and say, 'Look, let's start spending the money and spending the time to train our female athletes because they can get bigger and faster and stronger and that's OK.' "

Greener said colleges started to take the issue seriously when the coaches became educated through interaction with their strength coaches.

The clincher came when coaches began looking at schools that had strong women's weight programs in place and noticed that the those athletes were performing better.

"I think they saw the benefits pretty quick, and I think that's why you saw a rapid increase at every college and every university," Greener said.

"Women's weight training has developed through the dispelling of myths that women could become muscle-bound and women are going to lose their touch or femininity or not going to be able to do the types of things as far as strength and power and agility and explosiveness that men (can)."

Freshman Ebony Young has seen the positives in a quality weight training program since she arrived at OSU.

Young, who is redshirting, said the women's basketball weight program is more intense than in high school. She said the players work on power lifts such as the bench press and squats, and the sessions are centered on using the proper technique.

She said her stamina has improved as well as her ability to mix it up for rebounds or loose balls.

"When I first came here I use

d to get pushed around when we had open gym before practice," Young said. "But now I feel like I'm a little bit more solid, and I really don't get bumped as much and fall on the floor."

Lifting to develop power has been popular among female athletes like Young who have seen their game improve through training.

Gymnastics requires power training in order for the athlete to have the quick burst off the mat for the floor exercise and the ability to hold one's body weight while spinning between the bars.

OSU senior gymnast Elizabeth Jillson said the Beavers do power cleans and a lot of toning in their workouts.

"During the summer we work on building up to our max, so we're building a lot of muscle and working with heavy weights," Jillson said. "At the end of the summer we do a max session and find out the max that you can do."

Jillson said she lifted in high school in order to rehabilitate knee problems, so she was somewhat prepared for the high-level college training when she arrived in Corvallis.

"It's an adjustment to get used to, but you do see the results," she said. "You just feel that much stronger in the gym. Personally, I like lifting. Instead of just working on gymnastics, it's another way of working out. I feel stronger and it's lot of different muscles you're working out."

At OSU, the strength coaches design programs for each sport, using lifts and exercises that will prepare the athlete for basketball or softball or gymnastics and strengthen body parts that are more susceptible to injury.

Athletes who stay in top condition throughout the year are less likely to suffer an injury than out-of-shape or underdeveloped players.

"With people getting bigger, faster and stronger, the injury rate is going to increase if you want to stay slight (and) slender," Spoelstra said. "So you've got to kind of keep up with the Joneses and put yourself in a situation where you're going to be able to handle some of the bruising and the falling and that type of deal without straining or breaking something.

"I think a lot of our strength program has really helped us to keep from injuries. There certainly has grown, probably in the last 10 years, this whole speed and strength and power training."

Lifting for power will build muscle mass, and some female athletes enter college with the concern that if they follow the weight program, they will pack the muscle on and look like a bodybuilder.

Each athlete responds differently to weight training, but most would have to spend several hours a day in the gym and adjust their diets to wind up with a bodybuilder's physique.

Jillson said the concern of the gymnasts is to avoid looking bulky in their leotards.

"I think our weight coach has done a great job in balancing out to find the exercises that work best for our bodies," she said. "And every body type is different. I build muscle differently than somebody else."


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