University of Wisconsin football strength and conditioning coach Ben Herbert has a vivid memory of his first look at the team’s old weight room.
Herbert was a freshman linebacker from McDonald, Pa., in 1998 when he walked into the room and saw defensive end Tom Burke, who was preparing for an All-America senior season.
The first thing Herbert saw was the 250-pound Burke, standing in front of a mirror, doing lateral raises with his arms, using 45-pound plates.
“He’s spitting and sweating,” Herbert said. “Most of the other guys you see are using 10-pound plates.
“I’m an impressionable 18-year-old with aspirations to come to Wisconsin and play and do all of these things. Then you see a guy like that, you’re like, ‘This is the real deal.’ He was a special player and, physically, a specimen.”
Herbert eventually moved to defensive end and was an undersized nose tackle as a senior in 2002 before joining the coaching staff. Needless to say, he’s got a strong attachment to the former weight room, located in the basement of the McClain Facility.
So, when the doors to that room closed for the final time in May, Herbert had some mixed emotions.
“That last day we trained in there, it was one of those days,” Herbert said, sounding wistful. “Definitely looking forward to what was to come, but felt like, you finish a good chapter and you close the door and you feel good about it.”
Herbert is as excited as anybody with the move this summer to the new weight room, located in the Student-Athlete Performance Center that is currently under construction at the north end of Camp Randall Stadium.
Yet, he also is justifiably proud of what the team accomplished in the cramped — at least by current major college standards — old space. Herbert believes weight rooms develop an “aura” and it’s hard to argue with results of the old place.
“A weight room, for us, is a place to get work done,” he said. “Guys are going to come, they’re going to grind, they’re going to sweat, they’re going to sacrifice on a daily basis. The thing about the old space we had, it developed an aura. It wasn’t the prettiest, it’s not a health club-esque environment, although we kept it organized, neat and clean.
“When you came in, it was just a place you wanted to work in, you weren’t afraid to get chalk on the floor, you weren’t afraid to sweat.”
The good news for Herbert is he expects the new room to develop its own aura. He said it’s already off to a good start.
“It’s a place guys can come and they’re comfortable working,” he said. “That’s what we do, we’re going to work, we’re going to sweat, we’re going to sacrifice day in and day out.”
The weight room currently shares space with makeshift training and equipment rooms. The setup is temporary for the upcoming season. Provided the Badgers qualify for a bowl game, the final phase of the construction will commence after the team departs for that game.
A couple walls will be knocked down and the weight room will be expanded to its full size. The final version should be finished around March.
In the cut-throat world of college football, size is everything. Weight rooms have become popular chips in the ever-escalating recruiting battles.
The old UW weight room was about 8,300 square feet. The current one is about 10,000. The finished product will be 17,000.
Herbert said the old weight room was never highlighted much in recruiting. But that has changed.
“When you show guys what’s to come, the impression is always, ‘Wow, you guys were pretty good for having this (old) space,’ ” Herbert said. “People would look at the (old) space, ‘How do you go out and do the things you do?’ Because you see a lot of other rooms (that are bigger).”
Brookfield Central coach Jamie Meulemans said the expansion proves the Badgers are not content to stand pat under coach Bret Bielema.
“It showed me Bret’s not just maintaining, he’s looking to the future,” Meulemans said. “Are you growing or dying? Lou Holtz said that. (Bielema) is growing, that’s neat to see.”
Herbert said the bigger space will have functional advantages. Usually, the football team lifts in small groups. But there are times when Herbert and his staff can have 45 players in the room.
The old room had eight benches, seven squat racks and six platforms. The new room will have 22 “power stations,” which can be used for benching, squats or platform work.
“To be efficient, from a programming standpoint, it changes what you can do, how you can do it,” Herbert said.
The room will also utilize some of the latest equipment, which is still being selected.
“Some things from a cardiovascular standpoint, there’s major improvements and things you can do with guys,” Herbert said. “You may need to take stress off joints, stress off their bodies in general.”
Still, to Herbert, there’s more to a weight room than the bells and whistles or the square footage. And the new place will have to earn its “aura” through the effort and hard work of the players, just like the old place did.
“A lot of guys came through it,” Herbert said of the old room. “I’ve been here for 15 years, that’s what I knew, that’s what I loved.
“When you get attached to something like that, when we flowed into this new space, I wasn’t sure, is it going to feel the same? Is it going to be the same? Right out of the gate, I was happy. Guys came in and they knew, it’s not the finished product, but we came in and got to work right away. It became refreshing to me, a new environment can stimulate you mentally. That’s important.”