Though it opened in March, Kingston athletes are now feeling the full effect of the Tiger Den, a new and advanced training room at the Ulster County YMCA completely funded with private donations.
The Tiger Den was created in a matter of a few weeks by knocking down the walls separating three racquetball courts, installing brand new weight training equipment and providing space for plyometric exercises, designed to work the fast-twitch muscle fibers so important for explosive movement.
The idea for the Tiger Den was hatched through brainstorming sessions amongst a group of Kingston coaches. Obviously, the coaches have a vested interest in fielding winning teams and a focused speed and strength-training program could only help Kingston remain competitive with its regional competition.
But there was another rationale in establishing an off-campus training facility, according to girls track coach Nick Badalato.
“We need to get more kids involved in sports. We’ve been losing kids to the street and there has been a decline in participation. Having a place like this helps draw interest and helps to motivate kids to work hard,” said Badalato.
For a monthly fee of $22 students receive supervised speed and strength training at the Tiger Den, as well as full use of the YMCA facilities, including the swimming pool, which is no small perk during the sweltering summer months. Students unable to pay the fee are subsidized by a scholarship fund.
Kingston High School has an on-campus weight room but that facility has two major drawbacks. One is that the cramped quarters can’t compete with the spacious, open floor plan of the Tiger Den’s 40 foot-by-60 foot layout. The other limiting factor, for female athletes especially, of the on-campus room was that it was located in the boys’ locker room.
“In the off-season I usually run every day. Now I can lift weights while working on my strength and agility,” said sophomore Daniele Diacouo, who plays lacrosse and soccer.
The program devised by the Kingston coaches keys on increasing athletic explosiveness. The core of the weight training exercises is Olympic lifts such as squats, clean and jerk and the push press. “These are multi-joint exercises that work on pure explosive power,” said Badalato.
The plyometric exercises use just an athlete’s own weight applied to fast, powerful movements, such as jumping on and off boxes and running through a speed ladder, which is sort of like adrenalized hopscotch.
The Tiger Den is always staffed with Kingston coaches to ensure maximum safety and assist athletes with technique and training questions. The atmosphere is very conducive to intense, focused training. Another benefit is the opportunity to strengthen a bond among teammates that will hopefully pay dividends on the playing field during the regular season.
“We had a weight room at the school but this makes it so much easier. There were not as many people lifting at the high school,” said senior George Ryan, who competes on the track and football teams.
The Tiger Den is open to all YMCA members, as well as Kingston alumni. Lilith Mesidor graduated in June, but is training this summer in preparation to play lacrosse at SUNY Purchase.
“When I come here I get to specialize in lifting for a runner,” said Mesidor, who also competed in track. “As a sprinter you want to build muscles that make you faster,” she added.
Each athlete is given a logbook with specific instructions and repetition schemes. The workouts last for about 90 minutes and are quite intense. The exercises emphasize what Badalato called the three most important athletic joints.
“The ankles, knees and hips are where most of an athlete’s explosion comes from. Most of your power is generated from the legs, not the upper body,” he said.
There are some differences in workouts for boys and girls. The boys are a bit more focused on adding muscle mass while the girls are looking to develop leaner muscle strength. Since the summer strength-training season began last week, the Tiger Den has attracted between 70 and 90 athletes per day.
“The summer is when it really counts. This is somewhere to go and something to do to better,” said senior track competitor Kristen Gottstine.