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Thursday, Jul 09, 2020

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Joe Schillero, assistant director of fitness at Campus Recreation, is the founder of Ohio University’s Bobcat BarBelles women’s strength training program.

Joe Schillero, assistant director of fitness at Campus Recreation, is the founder of Ohio University’s Bobcat BarBelles women’s strength training program.

Photo courtesy of: Kelly Roderick

Participants in the Bobcat BarBelles 2.0 program engage in an end-of-the-year celebration and group workout with the Buckeye BarBelles.

Participants in the Bobcat BarBelles 2.0 program engage in an end-of-the-year celebration and group workout with the Buckeye BarBelles.

Photo courtesy of: Kelly Roderick

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This special Compass series highlights the ways in which Ohio University staff and faculty are living their passion while making a difference – on campus, in the community, in their fields, and around the world.This special Compass series highlights the ways in which Ohio University staff and faculty are living their passion while making a difference – on campus, in the community, in their fields, and around the world.

Campus Rec staffer develops program aimed at making OHIO women strong(her)


When Joe Schillero began working at Ohio University’s Department of Campus Recreation in January 2015, he saw a world of opportunity to engage Bobcats in recreation and fitness activities that would benefit them physically, mentally and socially.

Less than two years later, Schillero, the assistant director of fitness at Campus Rec, has seen one of his first fitness efforts aimed at OHIO students blossom and grow into a program that is empowering women throughout the Athens Campus.

Under Schillero’s leadership, the fitness staff at OHIO’s Ping Center launched the Bobcat BarBelles women’s strength training program in the fall of 2015, setting out to capitalize on the facility’s renovated and expanded weight and fitness space.

“Our functional fitness room and our weight space are really great because you have the ability to do so many things in those areas,” Schillero said. “But on the flip side, it can be intimidating, particularly for women who, unless they’ve played a sport or something, may not have had experience with this type of exercise or training.”

Prior to coming to OHIO, Schillero helped coach several different fitness programs, including the Buckeye BarBelles program at Ohio State University. When he joined the staff at OHIO’s Campus Rec, he decided to bring a more comprehensive BarBelles program to Bobcat Nation.

Designed to introduce women to information and techniques that serve as the foundation of health and fitness, the eight-week Bobcat BarBelles program is comprised of two parts. Each week, all of the program participants take part in a lecture presentation and discussion.

“The presentations are about hot topics in fitness and health and are geared specifically toward women,” Schillero explained. “We go over how to put together a workout program, how to prevent injuries, how to take a mental approach to exercise.”

Those presentations are followed up each week with smaller group sessions where the BarBelles participants are taught proper techniques for various barbell movements, including the squat, bench press, overhead press and deadlift. The smaller group sessions are taught by Schillero’s graduate assistants and student staff, each of whom has undergone training with him.

“It’s a very supportive group,” Schillero said of the BarBelles coaches. “Those small group sessions aren’t necessarily workouts. They’re more instructional, providing the participants the techniques they need to learn in order to properly pursue individualized exercise programs in the future.”

The first Bobcat BarBelles program sold out immediately, with 35 women signing up to participate. And, while the program was designed for female students, it also attracted interest from some female OHIO staff and faculty members.

“I love involving faculty and staff, and I think it’s so important for students to interact with faculty and staff outside of the classroom or University offices and vice versa,” Schillero said. “While the Bobcat BarBelles program is designed to help women feel more comfortable in the weight room so they can better pursue their health and fitness goals, it is about so much more.”

For Schillero, the goals of the program are three-fold: To create a sense of community among women on OHIO’s Athens Campus; to build confidence, both inside and outside the gym; and to empower women.

“The biggest thing I hope they take away from this program is the ability and confidence to go into areas like the weight room or anywhere that is out of their comfort zone and take advantage of those opportunities without feeling self-conscious or being able to overcome that self-consciousness,” Schillero said. “Obviously I hope they remember all the weight-lifting cues and other information the program provides, but if they have the confidence leaving here to go into areas where they weren’t comfortable before, that confidence can be life-changing.”

Schillero noted the work he does as a member of Ohio University’s Eating Disorder Support Team – work that also inspired him to start the BarBelles program. Comprised of dietitians, an exercise physiologist, an athletic trainer, physicians, counselors and psychologists, the group works with OHIO students struggling with eating disorders. 

“In many of those cases, the women are overexercising, and a lot of that overexercising is all about how they look, which is very subjective,” Schillero explained. “They’ll look in the mirror in the morning, and they aren’t seeing themselves as they truly are, so they’ll go on the treadmill for four hours and then go do a fitness class and then go do something else. … I don’t want people exercising in our facility when they’re looking at exercise as sort of self-punishment. … Workouts are tough, but you should be looking forward to what you’re doing. It should be something you’re doing because you want to make yourself better. … A lot of it is mental and about getting people to think about exercise differently.”

According to Schillero, the Bobcat BarBelles program provides its participants with objective goals, moving beyond how they feel when they look in the mirror.

“If they can add 10 pounds to their squat, they’ve made progress and there’s no doubt about whether they’ve made progress,” Schillero said. “More importantly, their confidence is better because a lot of the movements they’re learning are very empowering movements. If you can take a barbell and lift it up over your head, that’s very empowering.”

The initial Bobcat BarBelles program was such a success that Schillero and his team decided to launch Bobcat BarBelles 2.0 during this past spring semester. Building on the progress made during the first program, BarBelles 2.0 features two small group workout sessions a week.

“In BarBelles 2.0, they’re taking those movements that they learned and actually going through a workout with more individualized attention from the program’s coaches,” Schillero said, “and they can see how they progress over the course of the semester.”

Rachel Onusko was one of the 30 women who enrolled in the BarBelles 2.0 program.

A sophomore majoring in applied nutrition/dietetics, Onusko came to OHIO eager to immerse herself not only in her studies but also in opportunities at the Ping Center.

“I had always wanted to explore the weight room at Ping but was too nervous to go alone,” Onusko said. “When I first started going to Ping, I didn’t see very many women in that section of the gym. … I also didn’t know a lot about strength training and wanted to learn more.”

A semester later and Onusko said she now feels comfortable walking into the weight room and lifting without worrying about what others think.

“The aspect that I enjoyed most about the Bobcat BarBelles program was the overall sense of community,” Onusko said. “Each week, I would look forward to walking into the Ping Center and getting to be with a group of highly motivated women who were excited to workout. I love the feeling of being able to strengthen myself physically and mentally, and I think the BarBelles program is a great way for women to feel empowered inside and outside of the weight room.”

Kelly Goodison and Samantha Cross also benefitted from the Bobcat BarBelles program – but on a different level. The pair served as coaches for the program, engaging in a professional development opportunity while making a difference in the lives of their fellow Bobcats.

“I decided to coach in the BarBelles program because I have a passion for helping others reach their personal fitness goals,” said Goodison, who graduated from OHIO in April with a degree in communication studies and a minor in sports administration. Goodison coached in both the BarBelles 1.0 and 2.0 programs.

“My favorite part about coaching was seeing the look on the girls’ faces when they lifted a weight they never thought they could,” Goodison said.

A group fitness instructor/student manager who has worked at Campus Rec for three years, Cross has been involved in Bobcat BarBelles from the beginning, leading some of the program’s lecture presentations. 

“I most enjoyed seeing and being a part of the girls’ progress through the program,” Cross, who is majoring in applied nutrition/dietetics and minoring in business administration, said. “It was extremely gratifying to see their growth and excitement.”

Cross noted not only the opportunity to serve her fellow Bobcats, but also the opportunity to learn from the program through the training she received to become a coach. 

“I myself took away a ton of additional knowledge on strength training,” she said.

Cross will be putting that knowledge to good use in the coming weeks as she gears up to coach this year’s BarBelles programs and works with Schillero to develop the final round of the program – Bobcat BarBelles 3.0.

Open to women who have completed BarBelles 2.0, Schillero explained that Bobcat BarBelles 3.0 will represent the program coming full circle.

“Bobcat BarBelles 3.0 will be an opportunity for us to take a small step back from coaching these women, to give them a workout program, and then facilitate them working out on their own,” Schillero said. “It will serve as the final step of this program because my overall goal is they these women won’t need us to achieve their fitness goals – that they’ll be empowered, educated and have the confidence to go it alone or with the women they’ve met through the program.”

Schillero and his team plan on kicking off Bobcat BarBelles 3.0 next year and are gearing up for Bobcat BarBelles 1.0, which kicks off Sept. 12. (See sidebar)

“I am excited to see the response to Bobcat BarBelles and the program’s rapid growth. It’s providing opportunity for women across this campus to learn, connect and feel more comfortable and confident lifting weights,” said Mark Ferguson, executive director of Campus Recreation. “Joe has worked hard to expand the offerings of our fitness program and break down barriers to our students leading healthier lives. Bobcat BarBelles is a perfect example of that, and it highlights the quality, inclusive programming that Campus Recreation strives to deliver as a whole.”

Bobcat BarBelles kicks off Sept. 12

Ohio University’s Department of Campus Recreation will be kicking off its Bobcat BarBelles 1.0 program from 5 to 6 p.m. Monday, Sept. 12, at the Ping Center.

This eight-week strength training program is open to all women on the Athens Campus, with registration limited to 35. The cost to participate is $30 and includes a Bobcat BarBelles tank top.

To register, click here. For more information, call 740-593-9918 or email Joe Schillero at schillej@ohio.edu.

UCM seeks nominations for ‘Making the Difference’ series

The Ohio University community is home to a family of staff and faculty committed to inspired teaching and learning and driven by a desire to make a difference.

University Communications and Marketing’s (UCM) “Making the Difference” series focuses on OHIO staff and faculty who are making a difference – on campus, in the community, in their fields, and around the world. 

UCM is calling on Bobcat Nation to help us share the stories of the numerous ways in which OHIO staff and faculty are making a difference every day. If you know of an individual or group of individuals who would be ideal candidates for this series, please contact Angela Woodward at woodwara@ohio.edu.