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Pandemic leads to creation of SJA Powerhouse for student-athletes

Floor space at St. John Arena has been adapted into a safe, strength and conditioning area

Although the COVID-19 pandemic has brought many challenges to collegiate athletics, The Ohio State University Department of Athletics created an opportunity during the pandemic to improve the strength and conditioning regimen of its student-athletes while adhering to strict and necessary health and safety guidelines.

When Ohio State senior director for sport performance Heather Mason arrived on campus in 2017, she realized additional strength and conditioning areas were needed for Buckeye student-athletes even after the opening of the state-of-the-art Schumaker Complex in December 2018.

“At the time, I was assessing all of the facilities, and the weight room in French Field House had 676 student-athletes training out of a 3,816-square foot weight room,” Mason said. “We knew Schumaker wouldn’t cure all of our space problems so I created a proposed layout for St. John Arena to facilitate training our larger teams with a marketable increase of trainable space and square feet per student-athlete to help accommodate all of our sports.”

Then the pandemic hit in March and Mason was tasked by athletics director Gene Smith and athletics administration to find a way to train more than 1,000 student-athletes while adhering to the department’s stringent COVID guidelines.

That led to the extraction of equipment from four different Ohio State satellite strength and conditioning facilities to one separate location in St. John Arena. The operation, which Mason says followed a motto of “alignment, assignment and execution,” took 18 hours of moving time and involved all strength and conditioning coaches, one licensed tech to make sure all equipment was installed properly, and the guidance of Shelaine Warren and Kevin Gilson, building coordinators at the Arena.

“Shelaine and Kevin are the real MVPs,” Mason said. “It really was a great project and we all learned a lot about each other. All equipment is aligned by the inches to make sure we comply with the COVID guidelines. We’re very fortunate our administration is open to creative ideas and listened to the positives of this. To see that vision, you had to have a very open mind. They chose to take this concept to completion. When you have more than 1,000 athletes deserving of equal training space, you have to think differently and change your operational business plan.”

The newly titled SJA Powerhouse opened the week of Sept. 7 with 349 student-athletes scheduled to train in the facility this fall. It features 27 racks, six complete sets of dumbbells, eight power blocks, four combination cable pulldown-row machines and four glute-hamstring benches. Under the current guidelines, each student-athlete has their own rack and the only shared equipment are the dumbbells and limited machines.

The racks are 10 feet apart with dumbbell racks 15 to 17 feet apart. All strength coaches wear masks and gloves and use the electrostatic sprayer of disinfectant to clean each piece of equipment between groups. Every student-athlete has their own bottle of water and undergoes a temperature check and symptom check before entering the facility.

With the new SJA Powerhouse, in addition to the department’s other strength and conditioning facilities, Mason feels Ohio State has been able to not only maximize its equipment but maximize its personnel in this unprecedented situation. Unlike many institutions in our current environment without merged strength and conditioning departments, Ohio State allows its student-athletes to train with their designated strength and conditioning coaches in a safe manner while optimizing their productivity.

“The integration of many departments made this project a success for the student-athletes,” Mason said. “Everyone had to adapt how they do business, from facilities to sport medicine, sport nutrition and equipment. Also, we have staff from event management, camps and fan experience at the system assessment checkpoint running COVID protocols. If your name isn’t on the list and you don’t have a ‘ticket’ (a green screen on the app), you don’t receive admittance to the game (strength training). We are stronger together than apart.

“With the new facility and our protocols in place, we feel we’re at the forefront of collegiate strength training in our current environment.”

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