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The Labs in Robinson Center

May 1, 2017

It houses not only offices for the Department of Health, Sport, and Exercise Sciences (HSES) but swimming pools, athletic courts and specialized classrooms, too. It also contains a number of laboratories and centers where faculty and student researchers collaborate to explore human movement, performance and psychology.

The Applied Physiology Laboratory, the Neuromechanics Laboratory and the Jayhawk Athletic Performance Laboratory comprise the Osness Human Performance Laboratories, named after Wayne Osness, professor emeritus and longtime chair of the department. 

Neuromechanics Laboratory
A number of students, both undergraduate and graduate, are active in the Neuromechanics Laboratory under the guidance of HSES faculty members Joe Weir, chair and professor, and Trent Herda, associate professor, who serves as lab director. The researchers use biomechanical tools and technologies to assess human muscle performance and physiological responses and adaptations to a variety of interventions.

For example, they are examining the effects of acute and chronic exercise and obesity on muscle composition and motor unit behavior. Of particular interest to the researchers is quantifying alterations in the composition of the muscle (i.e., muscle size, intramuscular fat, etc.) as a result of endurance- and resistance-training exercise interventions — and subsequently the effects changes in muscle composition may have on motor unit behavior and the neural costs to match force tasks.

From their work in the Neuromechanics Laboratory, undergraduate students have authored peer-reviewed scientific abstracts presented at regional and national conferences. One student received a University of Kansas Undergraduate Research Award. Graduate students have been lead authors on peer reviewed scientific papers in top journals in the field and present scientific abstracts at national conferences every year. Graduate students have also been awarded more than $20,000 in funding from external organizations to support their research. Says Herda, “The School of Education provides an environment that fosters and promotes student involvement in high-level research.”

Michael Trevino is one of the student researchers working with Herda. Trevino, a doctoral student, says, “My research primarily investigates the influence muscle fiber type has on muscle function. Previously, we have shown strong relationships between the amount of slow-twitch contractile proteins in the muscle on the strategies the muscle utilizes to produce force. For my dissertation, we are examining if we can increase the amount of slow-twitch contractile proteins in the muscle with aerobic cycling on a stationary bike for individuals who are not in a regular workout program, and if this training influences how the muscle produces force (e.g., activating more muscle, increasing the firing rate of the active muscle, or both). Preliminary results suggest that individuals who are using aerobic training to improve fitness and/or lose weight should incorporate resistance training as well as a means to improve strength.” 

Jayhawk Athletic Performance Laboratory
The Jayhawk Athletic Performance Laboratory provides sport science research and information support to optimize high performance in athletic settings. Several past and current projects include studying:

  • optimal use of the arms when vertical jumping
  • methods to maximize sprinting performance in the presence of high levels of lactic acid
  • the effectiveness of modified exercise handles for training and rehabilitation 
  • how to modify barbell squats for in-season basketball training
  • methods to monitor readiness to perform on the basketball court
  • the importance of proper exercise instructions for maximal jump performance
  • the effectiveness of probiotic supplements on swim performance
  • the effectiveness of pre-workout energy drinks on lifting performance
  • contributing factors to batted ball velocity in baseball
  • training methods for baseball catchers' throwdown performance
  • ground reaction forces during platform diving drills and
  • how the body responds to highly stressful lifting training, also known as overtraining.

Eric Mosier, a doctoral student who works in the lab, was a history major and football player during his undergraduate years. He became interested in strength and conditioning and decided to work on a master’s degree in exercise science on the non-thesis track. As he worked with Andrew Fry, professor and director of the lab, he found himself increasingly interested in research and determined to earn a doctorate. Says Mosier, “I looked at a lot of programs and interviewed at different schools. Dr. Fry and I just meshed and five years later I’m still working with him.”

Mosier says that the lab has allowed students, undergraduate and graduate, to be involved at every level of the work. Some research topics can be generated by questions from coaches and athletes. A quick pilot study can lead to a full study or even a thesis or dissertation. As a student, Mosier’s experience of working and publishing with Andrew Fry has opened many options after he completes his doctorate — he can work in academia or in applied strength and conditioning settings.

Applied Physiology Laboratory
The Applied Physiology Laboratory houses a biochemistry area, a molecular biology area, a blood draw and muscle biopsy procedures room, an exercise testing area, a histochemical area, and various areas for exercise/ metabolic testing. Faculty researchers include Philip Gallagher, associate professor, who serves as director, and Dawn Emerson, assistant professor. Researchers here focus on how aging and disease can elicit significant muscle loss and what strategies might be successful as countermeasures. They also investigate how physical and mental challenges precipitate an exaggerated endocrine response that potentially increases susceptibility to opportunistic infections through suppression of innate immunity. Another research focus is investigating the risk factors for exertional heat stroke and exercise associated hyponatremia (low sodium levels in the blood), and strategies for hydration and electrolyte supplementation, including how these relate to energy balance.

Numerous undergraduate and graduate students work with HSES faculty in the lab and assist with data collection, biochemical analyses, statistical calculations and manuscript preparation. One of those students, Melani Kelly, says, “As a relatively new doctoral student, life in a research lab has been an eye-opening experience. Coming in, I was a little naïve as to what sort of research I would be conducting, as well as the requirements of that research. Now that we are midway through my first big project, I realize that data collection is a full-time job, but that it is very rewarding. Working with human subjects and learning the research process have been a couple of the best experiences during my time in the KU Applied Physiology Lab. The current research project I am working on is looking at the differences between consuming water, orange juice or a carbohydrate electrolyte beverage (e.g., Powerade), on recovery and rehydration after exercising in the heat. For future research, I would like to look at exercise in the heat and supplements. This area of research interests me because as an athletic trainer I want to prevent injuries or illnesses from occurring to the best of my ability. Supplements is an area that is not only lacking research to boast effectiveness but also safety.”

Emerson notes that both students and faculty gain from research collaborations. “For me, one of the great benefits to working in the Applied Physiology Lab is the opportunity to mentor students at each level — undergraduate and graduate. I want to make the experience an enjoyable learning opportunity that they can use to help guide their career choices. Whether students simply want to understand research better or are trying to decide if being a researcher is for them, we provide opportunities for the students to be involved at every level of the process, from developing the study and finding funding to carrying out the study and presenting the results.”

Amateur Sport Research Center
The Amateur Sport Research Center (ASRC) is a student-run research center, with doctoral students serving as leaders. The most recent co-presidents are Claire Schaeperkoetter and Jonathan Mays, both of whom received their doctorates this May. “The decision to have doctoral students as leaders of the restructured ASRC was an easy one. Their positions allow them to take ownership in the center and implement new and creative ideas faculty would not dream up. Jon and Claire have been tremendous co-presidents and we will miss them dearly,” says Jordan Bass, associate chair and assistant professor, who serves as the director of the sport management program.

Schaeperkoetter, Mays and Bass recently had an article accepted for publication in the International Sport Coaching Journal examining the increased numbers, and consequences of, male coaches in female sports. Additionally, seven center members were part of a study accepted in the Journal of Intercollegiate Sport detailing the rise of intercollegiate eSports programs and perceptions of student-athletes.

Mays says, “Being in a leadership position with the Amateur Sport Research Center has allowed me to expand my academic experience beyond research and the classroom. It has given me the opportunity to delve into administrative procedures and has strengthened my communication and leadership abilities. As a whole, the center has considerably strengthened our program and the individuals in it.”

“It has been a tremendous honor and wonderful opportunity to serve as co-president of the ASRC alongside Jonathan Mays,” says Schaeperkoetter. “We have been able to collaborate with fellow doctoral students on research, on future directions for the ASRC and on practical steps for developing research lines. As we continue to build the sport management program here at KU, the ASRC has given all members feedback and collaborative opportunities, both with building each individual’s research experience and creating a stronger program as a whole. I am so grateful for the opportunity to help get this initiative off the ground and am excited for its continued growth.”

Another faculty member associated with the center is Brian Gordon, assistant professor. Gordon and four doctoral students who are center members recently submitted two research projects for publication consideration. The first project involving Zach Scola and Peyton Stensland examined the motives and benefits of being a member of an out-of-market Pittsburgh Steelers fan club. Farah Ishaq and Ollie Taniyev investigated the content of individual and team sport athletes' Twitter accounts and assessed the effectiveness of this content with sport consumers in the second project.

KU Sport and Exercise Psychology Laboratory
The KU Sport and Exercise Psychology Laboratory (KUSEPL) is devoted to research and service that helps individuals optimize their physical activity experiences. The lab members include faculty, graduate and undergraduate students studying and working in the field of sport and exercise psychology. The director of the KUSEPL is Mary Fry, associate professor, whose research focuses on the influence of the psychosocial environment in sport on participants’ motivational responses, as well as their physical and psychological well being. 

The KUSEPL regularly conducts evaluations of physical activity programs, provides training to coaches and professionals working in sport and physical activity settings on how to create task-involving and caring climates, and delivers physical activity/positive life skills and mental skills training programming to participants of all ages.

One recent study examined whether a caring, taskcentered approach to coaching would lead to increased retention of players on a football team. Joseph Claunch, who received his doctoral degree in May 2016, worked with Fry on the study which looked at coaching strategies at Haskell Indian Nations University. Fry and Claunch, who played on the Haskell team in 2002, found that the coaches reported that not only did they have their best retention rate ever in a positive environment, but that they felt more connected to their fellow coaches, more connected with their players and that they were even better husbands, fathers and family members.

Doctoral student Candace Hogue graduated from the program this May. In her dissertation research, she examined middle school students’ stress response to learning to juggle in two distinct climates. In the caring/task-involving climate condition, the children had a positive experience and reported high effort, enjoyment, interest in continuing to juggle and low anxiety, shame and embarrassment. However, in the ego-involving climate, where those who picked up the skill more quickly received the most praise and recognition and where rivalry among participants was fostered, the students had enhanced stress responses measured by their salivary cortisol, as well as greater shame, embarrassment and anxiety, and lower enjoyment.

Unfortunately, many young athletes still experience outcome-centered climates in sport. Master’s student Mike Breske, who completed his degree last summer, extended Hogue’s study by teaching students to juggle in an ego-involving climate, Students were assigned to a control group where they received a brief history of the field of sport psychology or to a session where they were given a brief summary of research on motivation in sport psychology. The priming session served to buffer the stress of the students in the treatment group, so that they dealt with the stress in the outcome-focused climate better than those in the control group.

Students in the KUSEPL are part of important research studies that inform coaches and teachers about how they can maximize both the performance and experience of athletes of all ages and ability levels. Fry says, “I’m fortunate to work every day with bright, passionate, highly motivated students who are making the world a better place.”

*Feature story from the Jayhawk Educator, Spring/Summer 2017 edition. Read full version here.

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