Facility Name: South Shore YMCA
Location: Quincy, MA
Research Type: Strength training

Traversing the labyrinth of hallways that is the South Shore YMCA in Quincy, MA, it is hard to imagine that hidden somewhere within the 50-year-old building located just on the fringe of the town's center, leading research in the field of strength training is taking place nearly every day. Yet, tucked away primarily in a tiny room outfitted with several strength-training systems, Wayne L. Westcott, Ph.D., C.S.C.S, fitness research director at the South Shore Y, leads a team that has produced reams of research and several books on the science behind effective strength training.

“We are just a group of people that do simple studies to help the practitioner,” Westcott says. “We are really interested in finding information that will help trainers and other fitness professionals do their jobs more effectively.”

For more than 20 years, Westcott has been conducting these “simple studies” at the South Shore Y to bring some science to weight training. His studies, some lasting several years or more, have compared strength training and stretching and have looked at the effects of strength training on young female figure skaters as well as the effects of regular and slow speed training on muscle strength.

“So much of what has been taken as fact or science on the floor is really just a compilation of anecdotal stories,” Westcott says. “It doesn't mean that they are untrue, but it means that they are just anecdotal accounts.”

Although Wescott and his associates often work with universities on many of the research studies, much of the research is geared to the fitness floor instead of in the classroom.

“We take more of a real-world approach to the research done here,” he says. “We can't be as controlled as some journals would like with a two- or three-day study. We also draw most of our subjects from the membership, so randomly assigning them is difficult because they are paying us.”

He said their research is detailed, in-depth and usually long term and gives fitness practitioners theories that they can apply to clients to help them achieve their goals.

While their research is not geared toward academia, Westcott and the South Shore Y staff have worked on their research with various universities and companies such as Town Sports International and Nautilus — all of which have helped fund additional research. However, the bulk of the research funding comes from grants and the South Shore Y's budget. Research costs consist primarily of salaries since the facility and subjects are already available at the Y and its partners' facilities.

Westcott has primarily studied weight training and weight training principles, but he would like to turn his focus to the psychology of strength training for upcoming studies.

“We have looked at weight training on the obesity epidemic, adults, seniors and youth — in fact, we've done more kids' research than anyone,” Westcott says. “What we need to do now is look a little deeper at the psychology of motivation. We need to find out what motivates someone to come to the gym consistently and achieve results for a long-term. We need to really understand the psychology of strength training and let practitioners use that research to teach strength training to their clients.”