As Punahou restructures its sports development program, physical changes to familiar spaces are taking place on campus.
By Gus Downes ’04
For centuries, physical development was part of everyday life: humans simply moved in ways that provided practical benefits to their existence. With the introduction of exercise machines and programs promising quick results with minimal effort, society shifted their focus away from natural movements that strengthen the entire body. Now, the Punahou Athletic Department is getting back to basics and is teaching students how to use their bodies and simple tools to train efficiently and effectively.
Taking Training to the Next Level
After his appointment as assistant principal for athletic and student life, James Kakos and others embarked on a series of retreats to figure out how to optimize student care. When the question arose as to how best to take care of student athletes, Kakos realized, “There was an opportunity to really improve our approach. The ideas have evolved.” Since then, Kakos instigated a complete review and restructuring of the sports development program at Punahou.
Hired in July 2016, Athletic Associate Michelle Arnold began taking inventory of Punahou’s current equipment and practices. A self-confessed “gym rat,” she herself had to completely rethink her own physical training early in her life. She played volleyball at Kamehameha, then later at George Mason University. The repeated stress on her back resulted in degenerative disk disease. She required three back surgeries by her early 30s. “I was done,” she said. Looking for a safe way to exercise, she turned to canoe paddling. She took to the low impact, full-body workout and has crossed the Kaiwi Channel from Moloka‘i 15 times.
“We need to be able to treat the body as an integrated unit, I’m not here to train a basketball player. I’m here to train an athlete.”
“Michelle is excellent at building relationships,” says Kakos. “She wants to learn and has a growth mindset that we need to take the program to the next level.” To start, Arnold worked to earn the title of Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist® (CSCS®), awarded by the National Strength and Conditioning Association. “The gold standard of strength training,” says Kakos. The certification requires a six-hour test. It emphasizes the scientific foundation of training, as well as safety. Punahou athletic trainers and weight room staff are currently earning their own CSCS certificates.
Squat, carry, lunge, sprint, push and pull: These are “the movements needed for life and sport,” says Arnold. As the body learns to perform compound movements, “our athletes are going to be more explosive, instead of just strong.”
“We need to be able to treat the body as an integrated unit,” Arnold says. In practical terms, that means doing dynamic exercises that integrate core and joint stability into strength training. “I’m not here to train a basketball player. I’m here to train an athlete.”
Reshaping the Weight Room
Functional training and closed kinetic chain exercises, or CKCs, are at the root of this fitness philosophy. A CKC is an exercise in which a hand or a foot is stationary, such as push-ups, pull-ups and squats, which emphasize core stability while working various muscle groups. They also don’t require high-tech equipment to perform. They are, however, easy to perform incorrectly. The soon to be CSCS certified staff are available to help anyone, athlete or otherwise, execute proper form.
The Hennrich Fitness Center, better known to students as the weight room, has recently been rearranged. The bulky, single-joint machines were “redundant,” says Arnold. “Fifteen years ago, these machines were top of the line.” They still work. The problem is, they simply don’t do enough. She adds, “We need to get students to move.”
“While sitting on a tricep extension machine will work the muscle, it does not engage other muscle groups or the core,” says Arnold. Those machines, along with the old dumbbells, were moved to the loft overlooking the gymnastics room. “The loft used to house old equipment that was outdated,” says Arnold. It’s recently been cleared, cleaned and updated with bars that are used as anchor points for resistance bands and suspension training.
The weight room now has far more open space and can accommodate entire athletic teams. The new free weights have thick handles to improve grip strength. The bulky machines have been replaced with new equipment that’s effective, heavy-duty and low-tech. The Woodway Curve is a self-powered treadmill that requires proper running technique. The Sorinex Glute Ham Roller is a 24" by 10" metal frame on wheels with handlebars and a footrest. TRX straps are webbing with handles that can be hung to support body weight. None may look complicated. Properly used, however, they enable a full body workout.
There’s also integration with the TrainHeroic smartphone app that enables coaches and trainers to set workout routines and track students’ performance. A student athlete can open the app and see exactly what exercises to do, and how many reps of each. The routines can be tailored by coaches to be sport-specific, if necessary. A soccer player and paddler both have different fitness needs, after all.
In addition to sport-specific training, there’s a focus on periodization or specific training phases. Coaches can program preseason workouts to build a baseline level of fitness. Midseason training complements athletes’ performance, and offseason training ensures that the gains are acquired in anticipation of the upcoming season.
But, Kakos says, “It’s not just for athletes.” All students and alumni are welcome to utilize the fitness programs. The new tools and training programs allow students to develop a truly personal approach to fitness. The dynamic movements the revamped program focuses on are about functional strength. Lifting boxes, carrying groceries and digging with shovels all require multiple muscle groups working in concert. Core strength and joint stability protect bodies from injury not just in sport, but also in hobbies and professions that span all walks of life.
According to Punahou strength coach Troy Hotz, students’ “eyes open up when they come into the weight room. So many more possibilities and training for students and athletes. Students love the changes.”
Aria McComber ’18 is one of them. A captain on the varsity volleyball team, McComber is committed to play as a libero/ defensive specialist for Washington State University. “I love the changes to the weight room this year,” she says. “Punahou’s weight room was already amazing but now with more space and new equipment I really can challenge myself on another level. I especially enjoy the addition of the Woodway and the Sorinex Glute Ham Roller. Also, the TrainHeroic app is a great tool for Punahou athletes who don’t have trainers or their own workouts.”
Fitness for All
The response from the PE department, says Arnold, has been “out of this world.” Matt Martinson ’79 teaches a Lifetime Fitness course for ninth graders, and a Strength Training course for students grades 10 – 12.
“In the past, the physical set-up of the weight room dictated the type of activity we were capable of doing with our PE classes. Large machines dominated the space, so the instructional objective focused on teaching safe and correct use of the equipment,” he says. “The new design has allowed teachers a chance to be more creative in how we teach strength training. We can have students work with resistance bands, rollers, medicine balls and partner-assisted training exercises all in the same room. I think the facility has become more user-friendly to both the highly trained athlete and the student who is beginning to explore fitness training options.”
The restructuring of the sports development program is in full swing. Athletic staff have visited University of Texas – Austin to observe state-of-the-art sports training and facilities. Consultants in equipment training and sports psychology have given campus presentations and workshops. Arnold has earned the title of Director of Sports Performance and is enthusiastically coordinating across the PE and athletic departments to move forward.
Punahou is creating a program to help students be versatile, smart and strong. “Our goal,” says Kakos, “is for Punahou athletics to become a thought leader in sports performance.”
In summer 2018, Hennrich Fitness Center will undergo a major renovation to create a highly-functional space that will serve the fitness needs of the entire Punahou community. Student athletes competing at the highest levels, PE classes, alumni, faculty and staff will have access to state-of-the-art equipment and customized training programs beginning in the 2018 — 2019 school year.
Gus Downes ’04 is a Honolulu-based freelance writer.