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It wasn't that long ago that students at Williamsville South would fill coffee cans with cement to use for weight training. The school principal had to be persuaded to allow athletes to bring free weights in from home. Shop students made a bench press out of wood.

Those days of hit-and-miss workouts on antiquated equipment are long gone. Strength and resistance training has come of age in the late 1990s, and Western New York high schools have stayed in step.

The weight rooms of old -- the cramped, sweat-scented hideaways -- have given way to today's "wellness centers" packed with enough weights to make Arnold Schwarzenegger proud.

Available in today's high schools are a huge range of computerized gizmos, including stairclimbers, treadmills, Cybex machines, Nautilus equipment and plate-loaded machines, all aimed at making users bigger, stronger and faster.

"In the past 10 years, it's really shot up," said Williamsville South athletic director Kevin Lester. "Everyone is gearing up for weight rooms."

Considered a necessity in today's competitive world of high school sports, weight rooms are used by everyone from 300-pound linemen to members of the rifle team. These rooms also get a workout from the general student population during physical education classes and from the adult education community.

Most Western New York athletes consider lifting as part of their total conditioning program. The benefits include increased muscular strength, increased muscular endurance, injury prevention and improved performance. There is also the social aspect as boys and girls gather in one location to burn calories together.

But some caution that certain athletes have become too dependent on weightlifting as part of their regimen.

"We have athletes who should be playing three sports, but they want to be ready for their main sport," said Lester. "We have football players who should be wrestling, but their attitude is they're getting ready for football. To tell you the truth, I'd rather have them out there competing in another sport."

Western New York is graced with several schools with top-notch equipment. Based on visits and phone interviews with several athletic directors, here's an idea of some of the best places to get pumped:

Clarence: Designed with the general student population in mind, Clarence has something for everyone. The 34-by-72-foot wellness room boasts $96,000 worth of state-of-the-art equipment.

There are 19 cardiovascular pieces, including eight Flexdeck treadmills, four computerized bikes, three recumbent bikes, four Stairmasters and two eight-station Universals.

But the best part about the room, according to athletic director Greg Kaszubski, is "it's always packed. We can keep over 50 kids going at a time, and nobody is standing around," he said. "Just about all our teams spend time strength training. Even the rifle team goes into the wellness room looking for different benefits. It's helped all our kids. It's a great set-up."

The center was part of a two-year, $23 million construction and renovation project completed in September which included a new gymnasium, pool, library-media center, new administrative offices, additional corridors and classrooms, and the enlargement of some existing facilities.

Clarence had the luxury of building from the ground up.

Amherst: State-of-the-art equipment is only good if athletes are given the proper instruction on using it. Amherst is ahead of the game with Scott Geisen, a personal certified strength/conditioning instructor and certified athletic trainer. Geisen had taught physical education at Amherst the past nine years.

The L-shaped room helps break up designated free weight and cardiovascular areas. The room features two treadmills, two Lifestep machines, three rowers, two Universals and free weights galore. Lavatories are located within.

Williamsville South: South makes excellent use of a 30-by-60-room (the size of a volleyball court) with an assortment of Maxicam equipment. It has a Gravitron machine, which assists in dips and pull-ups. It's a machine students wait in line for, and is especially popular with girls who want to work on upper-body strength. A super-safe Smith machine helps younger athletes learn proper technique for squats. Heavy bag a nice touch. The room rocks with a four-speaker sound system.

Frontier: An old auxiliary gym makes a nice site for Frontier's variety of equipment. It is well thought-out with machines facing inward and enough room to move between them.

Kenmores: The formation of the "Power Club" helped spark interest at West and East's almost-identical Wellness Centers (both about the size of 2 1/2 classrooms), which are open to students year round. There are approximately nine Cybex stations. Roominess makes Kenmore an inviting place to feel the burn.

Lockport: With the addition of a couple of new pieces in each of the past three years, Lockport finds itself with practically all new equipment. The converted wrestling room is outfitted with seven Paramount Fitness machines, a Smith machine and three benches. It is utilized by all Lockport students during a 10-week fitness unit.

St. Francis: The size of a gymnasium, its room can accommodate 40-50 students. "They flock to it after school," said dean of students Tom Pasternak.

Three years ago, St. Francis received a $12,000 donation earmarked for the fitness center. A Lifestep was donated two weeks ago. The center is used by athletes and non-athletes who just want to get more fit. The next goal is to get rubber flooring to replace cement. It has updated lighting and ventilation.

Athletes are issued age-appropriate programs.

Hutch Tech: It mostly has free weights, and has a nice aerobic area. Approximately $20,000 has been invested in updates the past four years.

Lancaster: A converted cafeteria serves Redskin athletes and the community well. With many free weights, two computerized bikes, two rowing machines and a Universal, this room takes a beating year round. It lacks cardiovascular equipment.

Sweet Home: Its converted auto shop is not pretty but functional, and it is stocked with perhaps the most free weights in the area. "It just gets the job done," said football coach John Faller. There is designated space for cardiovascular and strength work with the trainer's room nearby.

Weighty issue in Western New York

Clarence: New and nice. Raising funds for permanent floor. Not huge.

Amherst: Weight lifting records posted on wall added incentive.

Williamsville South: Love that Gravitron machine.

Frontier: A Smith machine away from whole package.

Kenmores: Something for everyone.

Lancaster: Spacious, bright and busy. Not big on technology. Country music?

Hutch Tech: The best in the city?

Lockport: Creative budgeting keeps room current.

St. Francis: Athletes issued age-appropriate programs.

Sweet Home: Most free weights in WNY.

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