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Behind the success: The UAlbany varsity weight room

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By: Celia Balf

Taylor Swift and Fetty Wap doesn’t just leak from the P.E. building at the University at Albany so much as pour out in a torrent. This music, at this capacity, is hard to tolerate by the regular students but it’s the lifeblood of the varsity athletes. The varsity weight room is open from as early as 6 a.m. to as late as the weight coaches decide to turn the lights off— it’s the space that never sleeps. The weight room is used for team lifts, individual lifts and is open to the athletic staff. It is rarely empty, nor quiet— the sound of weights pounding into the ground are accompanied with the strength and conditioning voices yelling and echoing throughout the two rooms.

The door often open unless the football team is occupying the entire space / Celia Balf
The door often open unless the football team is occupying the entire space / Celia Balf

The strength and conditioning coaches are Connor Hughes (Director of Football and Men’s Basketball Strength and Conditioning), Tony Tullock (Assistant Director of Athletic Performance), Bridget Pryal (Assistant Strength and Conditioning Coach) and AJ Levy (Strength and Conditioning Coach). Between the four of them they split up the different varsity teams they train:

Connor Hughes: Football and Men’s Basketball

Aj Levy: Track and Field, Baseball and Golf.

Bridget Pryal: Women’s Basketball, Women’s Soccer, Women’s Lacrosse, Softball, Volleyball, Cheerleading and Dance.

Tony Tullock : Men’s Lacrosse, Men’s Soccer, Tennis and Women’s Track.

All varsity team’s participate in some lifting program, however each team and sport differs. Many teams lift more off-season in preparation for their regular season. It is more difficult to schedule lifting times in the sport’s main season because often times the athlete’s are playing in multiple games a week.

The importance of strength and conditioning is continuing to grow in terms of importance because it is now not just about becoming strong and powerful, but also about injury prevention.

The Strength and Conditioning program at Albany’s mission statement is as follows:

“The University at Albany Strength and Conditioning department is committed to improving athletic performance on the individual and team levels. The department focuses on the proper development and combination of strength, power, speed, agility, mobility, conditioning and body composition to enhance performance in all athletic arenas.”

It is important to note that most freshman student-athletes come into college with no prior experience in lifting. It is always clear who the freshman are on teams because of the scrawny builds matched up against the upperclassman who put in multiple hours a week on building their muscle and fitness up.

Bridget Pryal, who is responsible for coaching several of the women’s teams at UAlbany says that her main focus is making sure the athletes are staying injury free and strong all year round. With this in mind she says that her workouts are more or less the same throughout all the team’s she coaches.

“Honestly I do the same exact stuff with all my athletes and teams. Total body exercises like squats, hang cleans and single leg stuff,” Pryal said.

Because Pryal mainly coaches the female teams she puts extra emphasis on firing certain muscles like hamstrings in particular. “With female athletes they have wider hips so are more susceptible to knee injuries so I try to build up those muscles with them,” Pryal says. However she says if she were to coach a men’s team she really wouldn’t change the workout routine much at all.

Connor Hughes is the voice you often hear the most when entering the weight room— it’s loud, it’s demanding of attention and it’s just what is needed to train a football team year-round. Hughes said when the football team moved up a division to the CAA he didn’t change one thing about his program. The only thing that changed was the type of athlete the program brought in, which as a result just made the weight room numbers higher.

The football team goes into the weight room multiple times a week, it is organized by position for when certain guys come in— because the weight room wouldn’t be able to fit everyone at once. Before “Spring Ball” the team is tested on their squat, hang clean, bench, vertical jump, 40-yd-dash and pro-agility which is 5-10-5 sprint test.

These basic tests are used throughout most of the sports teams, however as you can imagine certain numbers should be higher than others depending on the sport and gender.

The testing period in the weight room is used as a starting mark for an upcoming season, and an ending mark going into the summer where athletes are expected to keep up with their lifting routine.

The weight room is an environment that not many people can picture— it’s ran similar to a practice, the team is there and it is ran by a coach, and in this case the strength and conditioning coach. For Pryal, she says she hopes that by showing the team’s she’s training that she is motivated and cares then eventually she hopes her athlete’s will buy in and see the importance of lifting like she does.

For a lot of athletes lifting can seem like a drag— it’s not the sport they fell in love with when they were younger and often it leave you sore with torn up and calloused hands.

“When athletes start to see it all come together, I think that’s when they start buying into me and how important it is,” Pryal says.

Granted coming together for one athlete could mean finding more success on the field, or a winning season— whereas for another it could be reaching that squat number that he or she never thought they would reach.

Pryal believes that it’s what these teams do in the weight room that separates them from their opponents. When she motivates a team that is having a winning season she says, “Everybody is looking to get you, to beat you, you have to work harder than everybody else.” For a team that is having a losing season she tells her athletes to, “Forget about what just happened and focus on the next thing, the next task at hand. Push yourself today, because that little bit will help with the next competition.”

These strength and conditioning coaches aren’t just there to tell the student-athletes to carbo load and throw around weights—they are also life coaches in a sense inspiring these athletes to constantly better themselves.

Throughout the weight room banners of championships won by the UAlbany team’s circle around the room, along with motivating quotes, nutrition tips, and daily reminders. It could be seen as this: an indication that what you accomplished is great, but there is alway more to go after. So, enjoy the championship banners but don’t ever get caught up—focus on the next task, the next year, the next weight.

Pryal says she enjoys training all of her teams and said her job stemmed from just being a college athlete interested in fitness. Through her internships and volunteer work she began to realize she didn’t just love her job because of the working out part, but also how she could help people every single day.

A good team puts in the work behind-the scenes and the weight room in the P.E. Building is where a lot this after-hour work is put in. It’s sweaty, it’s often times defeating, but it’s where it is okay to drop weights and fail—because the next time you will hit the rep, and you may be hanging a championship banner.

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