INDIANAPOLIS – Summer is winding down and a new school year is upon central Indiana.

With a return to the classroom, student-athletes will soon take the field of competition again. Teams prepare year-round now focusing on weight training, conditioning and nutrition under the tutelage of a strength and conditioning coach. 

Connor Karwowski is entering his third year as head strength and conditioning coach at North Central High School.

“I love working with high schoolers,” Karwowksi said of his dream job. “I love the gym. I couldn’t imagine doing literally anything else.”   

Karwowski earned his master’s degree in kinesiology from the University of Wisconsin. He relies heavily on the science of the human body to improve the overall health and strength of his student-athletes.

“You learn what works best, what doesn’t work,” said Karwowski. “We use a lot of those principles training here that spans across all sports.”

He’s spent years in the gym with experience being his teacher.

“We learn some of the stuff from the books. We’ll learn some of the stuff from the hands on and we sort of mold that together to fit what we need best in here.”  

Beyond the weight on the bar or the nutrition that fuels performance, Karwowski insists progress in the weight room or in competition lacks meaning without one important factor.

“I think about where I was in high school: mentally, physically, emotionally and I think about where they are. What if one more person had given me a helping hand? Another ounce of love and compassion? Building strong individuals is awesome, but we’ve got to build people first. If they are not good people first, the athlete part doesn’t matter.” 

For student-athletes, ‘Coach Connor’ has had an immediate impact.

“I’m a multisport athlete, so he helps me in both track & field and football,” said Kaden Edwards, an incoming senior. “All my maxes and PRs [personal records] have improved rapidly. My squat was maybe like 455 pounds and now it’s at 550. Numbers like that keep improving.”

For other athletes, it’s the environment created within the weight room that aides performance on the playing surface.

“I don’t see any negative energy in here at all,” says Ryan Smith, another North Central senior. “I see only positive energy and then when we go to the field, it’s the same thing. Just positive energy every day.” 

Teaching and coaching strength isn’t just a career for Karwowski, it’s an all-encompassing calling. 

“He can pretty much lift or bench anything.” Smith said.

And when they saw Karwowski lift for the first time?

“I was shook,” joked Smith.

“He’s just like a monster,” Panthers’ senior Elijah Mack added. “It’s insane, for real.”

Karwowski began strength training following his own high school athletic career, transitioning from a soccer player to football.

“It’s been 15-16 years since then. I’ve been in the gym every week since doing something.” 

He realized soon lifting wasn’t only helping in football, but it had become a new passion.

“I quickly found out that my favorite part about sports was actually the weight room. When I found out that I could actually compete doing just that, it just made sense to stick with that.” 

For the last few years, he’s been ranked in the top 30 in the word for his age and weight class. His competition totals in the squat, bench press and deadlift are remarkable.

Squat: 1,040 lbs. 

Bench Press: 744 lbs.

Deadlift: 771 lbs.

In the sport of powerlifting, those three lifts get added to an overall total to determine the competition results. For Karwowski, his is 2,518 pounds.

“It feels heavy,” he said with a smirk. “It’s all relative. It’s going to feel like what your current max is. If you squat 500 lbs., my 1,100 lbs. feels like your 500.” 

The dedication it takes to push the boundaries doesn’t come without sacrifice for him.

Skipping training sessions, ignoring solid nutrition and sleep all sidetrack those goals he has set out for himself. The training is quite often very unforgiving.

“This stuff is hard”, he explains. “Some of it is straight up unenjoyable, but I know in order to get to the end goal I have to go through that.” 

Karwowski sees a great connection between his career teaching student-athletes and his pursuit of success within the sport of powerlifting.

“The kids respond really well to seeing me do cool stuff. It creates a better bond with them, because they see they’re not the only ones going through the hard stuff.”