CHARLOTTE - Some players have a love-hate relationship with the weight room: They love what it does for them, but they hate having to do it.
Whether they tackle their time in the weight room or merely tolerate it, whether they embrace it or brace for it, all agree that the Panthers' new weight room makes the whole experience better.
"It's a great place that makes you want to be in there longer," wide receiver Brandon LaFell said. "It looks like they put a lot of money into it, and we're going to use it to the best of our abilities."
When the Panthers returned to Bank of America Stadium following training camp, they got their first look at the renovated room. The entrance from the locker room features a curved glass wall carved with words to inspire, and a mural toward the back honors former Panthers linebacker and assistant coach Sam Mills and his famous "Keep Pounding" speech prior to a 2004 playoff victory over the Dallas Cowboys.
"It's real nice, especially the part dedicated to Sam," defensive end Eric Norwood said of the mural. "It's still lifting weights, but it's a different atmosphere."
When players bend over to grab a piece of equipment, they can't help but notice specially designed flooring that features the Panthers' whiskers logo. When they incline to bench press and face the ceiling, they're greeted by a stunning presentation of the Panthers' traditional logo.
More subtle to the design but quite intentional is the diamond plate material lining several walls.
"We're trying to convey that we want to be a work-hard team, so a lot of the baseboard work is done with diamond plates to give it that hard look," first-year strength and conditioning coach Joe Kenn said. "Obviously, we think it's fantastic. We can rank ourselves with the best of the best when it comes to NFL facilities.
"When people walk in here, they're going to be like, 'Wow.' "
For Kenn, who has spent much of his life in weight rooms of every shape and size, the true wow factor comes in the more practical parts of the room. Kenn worked with PLAE to design a fitting floor for training activities away from the weight rack, while the eight racks themselves were customized by Hammer Strength – something the fitness giant rarely does.
"Hammer Strength kind of broke their mold for us," Kenn said. "We wanted to develop a multipurpose station that allows for very limited walking around. That was what was behind the design of our rack.
"Our guys are here to play football, so if we can do things to cut down dead time in our weight room and make our athletes feel like we've got a very efficient and time-productive training room, they're going to be more competitive and confident and more enthused to come in."
Other principle partners in the project reside in the Panthers' geographic footprint. UCS of Lincolnton, N.C., and Sorinex of Irmo, S.C., provided fitness equipment throughout the room. The project was designed by architect Ron Smith of McMillan Pazdan Smith - which has offices in both states – and was built by Charlotte-based Rodgers Builders. Jon Cain of Charlotte-based agency Luquire George Andrews designed the Mills mural.
"The Carolina Panthers stand for the Carolinas - North and South Carolina - so it was important to have North and South Carolina companies involved," Kenn said.
Thanks to the united efforts of Kenn, team president Danny Morrison, head athletic trainer Ryan Vermillion and countless other Panthers employees, players can now sweat in style.
That's more important than you might think.
"I think the weight room is the most important room in the building," Vermillion said. "Your team comes together as a team in the weight room when they work together and they strain together. That builds unity.
"Sure, it has a great ceiling and a great floor, but really it's all about getting the players better, helping to prolong their careers, getting them as healthy as they can be and winning games."