To most people, the thought of trekking across campus to spend time doing burpees, squats and inverted rows may not seem appealing.
But Vassar College’s varsity weightlifting coach, Cameron Williams, has been able to inspire hundreds of student athletes to prioritize and enjoy lifting for the last three years, enabling them to perform beyond what they ever thought was possible.
With Coach Williams’s knowledge and experience in strength training as well as speed and agility work, many athletes become even more equipped to conquer and thrive in their respective sports.
An All-American indoor track and field star in NCAA Division III high jump, Coach Williams has been athletically successful starting early in his life. “I started strength training with bodyweight exercises when I was in middle school, and started using weights when I was 14,” he explained.
Williams had similar jobs at Georgetown University and the Potomac School in McLean, VA prior to making the switch to the head of varsity weightlifting at Vassar.
“I’m originally from southern Connecticut,” Williams said. “I was coaching in Washington D.C. at the time I saw an application for the job at Vassar, and I saw it as an opportunity to move closer to home.”
Coach Williams emphasizes the importance of strength training for athletes of all different sports. There are various aspects in each that can be enhanced through the addition of strength and agility.
“It benefits athletes in two ways. The first is that strength and power are the base upon which many athletic attributes are built,” Williams articulated. “Running quickly, jumping high, changing direction and throwing an object all require one to generate force generally as quickly as one can. The second and less obvious benefit is injury prevention. Put simply, a stronger body is often harder to break.”
Vista Grinde, a freshman tennis player, not only has the privilege of lifting with Coach Williams, but also of working for him.
Her job consists of cleaning benches and mats, returning weights to their proper locations, printing out workout instruction sheets and taking attendance of the athletes that show up to each scheduled lift session. This outside perspective permits her to observe Williams’s ability push the student athletes that he instructs.
Although she has only worked for a few weeks, Vista explained that Williams’s impact on the athletes is already visible. “He pushes the athletes and doesn’t allow them to give up. He motivates them positively, rather than putting them down,” she emphasized. “There is a mutual respect and trust between Coach Cam and the students that he trains since he makes an effort to get to know every individual personally.”
This powerful relationship allows athletes to prosper in the weightlifting environment, as each one feels completely safe and comfortable working with him.
Williams’s positive attitude and determination stems from himself to the individuals that he instructs. His energetic excitement is contagious, making athletes want to continue coming back to the weight room and beat their records.
“I really enjoy what I do, so I think that helps me bring energy to it everyday. Other than that, I just try to keep the environment as positive as possible because not every person enjoys lifting like I do,” noted Williams.
Coach Williams has been instrumental in assimilating freshman athletes into the habits of lifting. Even those who come to Vassar with weight lifting experience under their belt have already learned and improved with his training.
Colette Cambey, a freshman volleyball player, has increased her strength under his instruction. “Before Vassar, I took a weightlifting class during my senior year and loved it, so I continued it throughout the year and the summer. But since coming here, Coach Cam has taught me a lot,” illustrated Cambey.
She recognizes the difference these workouts have had on her athletic performance even so shortly into the season. “Lifting with Cam has helped me to increase my vertical by strengthening muscles that allow me to jump explosively,” she tells. “By focusing on full body exercises, like cleans, lift helps improve many different aspects of my volleyball game.”
To further motivate athletes and incorporate competition among them, Coach Williams maintains a leaderboard at the entrance of the weight room. It provides recognition for the athletes who are performing exceptionally and prompts others to improve their lifting skills.
Robert Nisbet, a sophomore men’s lacrosse player, is the epitome of a successful student athlete who has worked out with Williams and reaped the great benefits that the weightlifting program has to offer. He impressively holds a spot in all three categories of the leaderboard, bench press, back squat and hang clean.
“Coach Cam has helped me improve my technique on cleans and squats,” Nisbet says. “His advice to keep my back straighter and tighter has enabled me to lift heavier weights than I had been able to before.”
“Lifting with Coach Cam has definitely helped me to become more explosive on the lacrosse field,” he tells. “He believes that the positivity, energy and support of Cam, along with his motivation to consistently work at such a high-intensity level, will continue to aid him in his spring season.
Coaches also recognize the large impact Coach Williams and weightlifting have on individual and team success. “The spirited atmosphere he creates in the weight room makes the workouts a positive experience that not only connects the athletes to one another but that also enhances their performance and physical resilience,” head women’s lacrosse coach Judy Finerghty iterated.
A junior member of the women’s basketball team, Ariella Rosenthal, has also benefited greatly from Cam’s role as the varsity weightlifting coach during her time at Vassar so far. She is a consistent standout player for the Brewers, having an immediate impact since her arrival to the team, when she was nominated Co-Rookie of the Year. She continued to improve her team sophomore year, leading the team in minutes played.
Rosenthal contributes much of her success in basketball to the access that she has had to Coach Williams’ weightlifting program. “My strength has definitely increased, which is a huge advantage to a basketball player. If you can grab a rebound from somebody or body someone up it’s a huge gain. Lifting has 100 percent contributed to my abilities to do this,” Rosenthal elaborated.
Though she had minimal lifting experience prior to Vassar, Rosenthal now makes it a priority to lift several days a week. She enjoys the individual competition that lifting creates, saying that it drives her to push herself and beat her own records.
“Lifting is an interesting thing because it isn’t necessarily about beating and out-lifting the person next to you. Everyone has different abilities, so it’s really about beating yourself. The internal competition is what makes it so fun,” Rosenthal professed. “The satisfaction of beating my personal record or perfecting my technique makes me want to continue coming back and getting stronger.”
She attributes her great strength and her spots on the leaderboard for cleans and squats to Williams’s vast knowledge of lifting, his welcoming personality and the way he is able to motivate every athlete he works with.
“If I didn’t have him or the weight room, you would not see me lifting on my own. I would have no idea what to do. Having him as a resource is absolutely incredible and we’re lucky to have him,” Rosenthal continued.
Williams is always thinking of ways to improve the program for the individuals that he coaches.
“One thing that is new this year is I’ve simplified the programming for the Olympic movement portion of the workout in order to speed up lifts,” he tells. “It makes workouts flow better without sacrificing any performance benefits.”
Every student who has lifted in the varsity weight room has recognized and appreciated Williams’s contribution to their success as a competing athlete.
“My relationship with the athletes is very important to me,” Williams emphasized. “I love to teach and coach because I love helping people. So I’m always happy when the people I coach are successful both in athletics and life.”