The Whys and Hows of Training Rooms

Harvard University’s head athletic trainer, Dick Emerson, has a mixed blessing on his hands: Today’s athletic teams are bigger, stronger and faster, and the number of outstanding male and female athletes has increased significantly. That means his university stands an excellent chance at a successful intercollegiate sports program.

It also translates into a pressing need for new training room facilities, as more players put more effort into injuring themselves.

Improperly treated or untreated injuries can become chronic and debilitating years after the initial injury, according to a recent study done by the Naval Academy. Emerson acknowledges this. “My primary concern is the athlete as a person. I need to focus on his life beyond sports,” he says.

Generally, a university treats only its intercollegiate athletes, which has been expanding due to increased enrollment and added athletic programs. The industry rule of thumb allots 80 square feet per training table, with three feet between tables for modality carts and other equipment. That boils down to six to eight feet per athlete. Emerson works with 1,500 athletes covering 41 sports in 5,600 square feet, which forces his staff to double up on taping and treatment areas.

His colleagues at Boston College currently offer 4,000 square feet for their 750 athletes. Athletic trainers at a powerhouse like Ohio State University use 13,000 square feet to accommodate their 900 athletes. The man who tackled OSU’s challenges -- Garrick Niemiec, head of the college and university market at HNTB Architects in Boston -- offers these starting points to anyone interested in athletic training facilities.

Basic Space

An entry space should boast double doors large enough to allow gurneys, emergency equipment or just the golf cart toting coolers of ice into the facility. Niemiec advocates a separate waiting area for athletes, complete with lockers and shelving to store pamphlets on sports medicine and nutrition.

Humidity is rare here, so metal furnishings won’t need frequent replacement. The staff needs an enclosed office for storing medical records and performing routine functions -- phone activity is intense as vendors, schedulers, insurance and medical records representatives and parents stay in touch.

The taping area works best when placed adjacent to this waiting room, with treatment rooms beyond. Storage areas belong near the taping area, while rehab spaces play off the treatment stations for maximum efficiency.

“Often, trainers organize treatment tables in long, contiguous configurations, which forces the staff to walk longer distances,” Niemiec says. “A back-to-back configuration using six tables in sets of three is more reasonable.” Don’t forget to space these pairs three feet apart, and add a few privacy curtains to address coed situations. In the end, Niemiec’s path does use a few more square feet of space, but its flow compensates for the sacrifice. He also urges trainers to carve out a 250-square-foot special procedures room and a 100-square-foot casting room with a top-notch ventilation/exhaust system.

Last, but not least, no training facility can be complete without a general use toilet and a separate toilet for drug testing.

Flooring in the hydrotherapy area should be designed to have an epoxy or similar finish to provide water resistance. Vinyl composition tile or carpeting works effectively in treatment and physical therapy areas. Although carpeting does require more care, it helps create a more friendly environment, Niemiec points out. Dry wall or gypsum board usually does fine as a wall material here; however, Niemiec switches to concrete block in high-use areas or areas near water. Ceilings need to be nine to 12 feet high -- compromises in these dimensions force basketball players to bypass the most beneficial taping approach of standing on a table.

Good lighting measures 50 to 70 footcandles, particularly for the treatment area and special medical procedures area -- and Niemiec even supplements that luminosity with a special portable exam light. The high ceilings also support clerestory light.

Competitive Amenities

Stephen Bushee, Boston College’s head athletic trainer, generally prefers consolidated training facilities to multiple satellites -- the former provides better quality control in his book -- on the other hand, he is advocating his school plan a dedicated facility for football. In this case, a separate facility means one sport won’t consume the space at another team’s expense, a plus in the athletic recruiting wars.

Hydrotherapy pools (and multidepth versions in particular) definitely fall into the dress-to-impress category. Yet this amenity, with its water and electricity elements, presents the most dangerous space, Niemiec says. “You have the potential of an athlete passing out during a treatment, so you must maintain a visual relationship to this space at all times,” he cautions. However, you can combine necessities: Since hydropools demand a contained area for temperature and humidity control, he encloses both the pool and office areas in glass walls for maximum visibility.

“Often, universities overlook something as simple as a drain in the hydrotherapy room,” he adds. “It’s easy to install in new construction; more difficult in renovation but most expensive if not done at all and damage or injury results from flooding. Training rooms ideally are located on the same ground levels as the field, so getting to the plumbing systems sometimes can be difficult but must not be avoided.”

The line-of-sight issue applies to the rehab area, too, where athletes take advantage of stair-climbing and strength-training equipment. The same is not true for the exam rooms, however. “Confidentiality is an important issue,” Niemiec says. Here, a door and acoustical insulation are more appropriate than a curtain to foster one-on-one athlete-doctor conversations. It’s a good move to place telephones in these exam rooms, too, to encourage on-the-fly family consultations.

When it comes to high-tech tools, hospitals are generally the place for such space-eating equipment. Harvard, however, believes that an on-site X-ray machine is worth the initial investment and staffing cost. Perhaps funds for such an extra can come from savings in the building process: Niemiec advises budgeting between $125 and $150 per square foot to build a training facility. Ren-ovations, naturally, can run higher.

Harvard doesn’t regret a penny it has spent in this direction. “Sports train year-round now, so you don’t get traffic break when football or basketball ends,” Emerson says. “It’s obvious that the training room is a resource that should be well integrated into the athletics program.”

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