Explorations in Exercise Physiology

In December, I completed my Question block, ending with the Question “what are the physical determinants of resilience?”. I’m really interested in how people work, both in their anatomy and psychology, so I want to look at how exercise can make us better able to respond to stress. As you have probably seen from other blog posts in the last couple of months, Question can be quite a whirlwind. By the end of the block I was definitely ready for winter break and was also excited to be able to get back into a class without quite as much crazy figuring out your life stress! And I was even more excited for January block because I was able to get into a class that directly relates to my question.


This month I am taking Exercise Physiology. Exercise physiology is the applied science that describes and explains exercise responses and applies them to help maximize health and performance. In this class, we’re studying what we already know about how exercise affects the body AND designing and conducting our own studies to learn something new.


In the first week and a half, we learned about what is already known about exercise’s effect on the neuromuscular, cardiovascular, and respiratory systems. We studied lactic acid in the bloodstream, heart rate, blood pressure, and respiratory ventilation so that we could practice the techniques and start using the equipment we will need for our own studies. The exercise tests we’ve been conducting range from easy workouts to maximal effort exercises so that we can get a full range of data. Going to maximum means that some of the tests are pretty exhausting for the participants!


During this time we also started planning what our last two weeks of block would look like. Our final project for the class is writing a research paper on a study we conduct. The study could be anything of our choosing. My group decided we wanted to look at the effect of diet on exercise performance. After bouncing around quite a bit to decide how exactly we wanted to do this, we decided to look at how short periods of fasting affect performance abilities. The other two groups in the class are examining how beet juice affects performance at submaximal exercises and whether an ice bath or an active recovery period is better at aiding recovery from an intense exercise period.


The third week of block was when we were actually conducting our experiments. We didn’t actually have any scheduled class, but most of us were in the lab for at least 3 hours each day either testing people for our study, analyzing our data, or being tested in other group’s studies.


For my group’s experiment, we wanted to test how depleted carbohydrate availability would affect anaerobic performance. We conducted a control test on each participant (control meaning normal eating patterns before the test) as well as a test after fasting. For each test, we first had the participants exercise on a stationary bike for an hour at 80% of their maximum heart rate so as to deplete the glycogen stores everyone has in their bodies as much as possible. After this hour of biking, each participant completed a Wingate test. In a Wingate test, participants are supposed to pedal as hard as they possibly can for 30 seconds—they have about 20 seconds before the test actually begins to get their pedaling speed as high as possible. During this 30 seconds of the actual test, the workload becomes much harder and participants have to try and continue pedaling as fast as they can for the full 30 seconds.

Classmate warming up for our experiment.

During the testing, we used respiratory and blood measurements to see what kinds of fuels (carbohydrates or lipids) the participants were actually burning. While we were interested in seeing whether the hour long bike would actual deplete carbohydrate stores after fasting, we were mainly focused on the participants performance in the Wingate test. After the Wingate test is completed, we were able to see the participants power output throughout the exercise, so what we really wanted to compare was how much power the participants were able to produce after fasting compared to normal dietary practices.


Taking Exercise Physiology has really opened up my eyes to a potential career field I had never even thought about. Our tutor, Meaghan, has worked so hard to let us experience what it is like to be an Exercise Physiologist. This class has been a pretty amazing opportunity for me and makes me even more excited for my next couple of years studying physiology at Quest!

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