The following is a story written by Rick Davis previously published in the Spring 2013 issue of the UNO Magazine
As UNO graduate and former football player Kyle Kasperbauer stands on the treadmill being fitted with a computer-connected mouthpiece of plastic tubing, one thing becomes readily clear: This is NOT going to be a run-of-the-mill mile physical fitness test.
“This will tell us how much oxygen he is consuming,” says Matt Heesch, a graduate student in UNO’s new exercise science doctoral program. “This is the best determinant of aerobic fitness.”
Kris Berg, professor and co-director of UNO’s Exercise Physiology Laboratory and Fitness Center, chimes in.
“You’ll start out walking 3 mph for two minutes,” Berg explains, adding that the speed will be increased every two minutes. “And the last couple of minutes, you’ll run uphill.
“I’ll ask you a couple of times how you are doing. Just give me the high sign. We want you to go as hard as you can for as long as you can. Just let it rip.”
And with that, Kasperbauer, who finished third in the world at the 2012 CrossFit Games (see “Crossed Up,” Page 40), begins to walk on the treadmill — the computer to his left taking readings as he goes.
Soon, he is up to 10 mph – a six-minute mile pace. “That a boy, Kyle, you’re knocking them down,” encourages Berg. Now come the inclines — and more encouragement. “This is some serious work now,” Berg exclaims. “As long as you can, as hard as you can.”
Kasperbauer, who holds a bachelor’s degree in exercise science (2007) and a master’s degree in sports medicine athletic training (2010), is sweating, breathing hard, and churning his legs. “Last part of the race,” Berg says. “Kick it out; 20 seconds left. Beautiful work.”
Kasperbauer grabs the treadmill’s handrails and slows his pace, exhausted.
“They call it a ‘max’ test for a reason,” Berg says with a smile.
Heesch pricks Kasperbauer’s finger for a blood lactate test — a measure of muscle fatigue. “He was exercising at an extremely high intensity,” Heesch says.
The “VO2 max” test, as it’s called, is one of a variety of tests offered at UNO’s Exercise Physiology Laboratory — to athletes and the general public — that combine the latest scientific research with the latest in fitness-testing technology. Fellow former Mav and CrossFitter Stacie Wemhoff Tovar is being tested alongside Kasperbauer.
Other tests on the pair will include hydrostatic (underwater) weighing, the gold standard of estimating body fat; a Wingate test, which measures anaerobic power as participants ride a stationary bike full-out for 30 seconds while resistance is continually increased; and a Doppler ultrasound femoral blood flow test, which measures blood flow to the leg.
Berg, a professor at UNO for 42 years, has seen plenty of advances in his field and at UNO.
“When I came here, there wasn’t a lab,” Berg says. “There was a classroom with a broken-down treadmill that you had to hand-crank. There was literally nothing.”
With support from the university and community, the program began to grow. The current School of Health, Physical Education and Recreation (HPER) Building opened in 1980, and this fall semester, UNO introduced its doctoral degree program in Exercise Science — the first of its kind in Nebraska.
“Many of our students come here today because they want a degree in exercise science,” Berg says. “So we expanded the curriculum, so there is much more science that underlies their training.”
Filling a Need
And these graduates are needed, with rising rates of obesity and other diseases related to a lack of physical activity.
“Exercise physiology is very much dedicated to meeting the needs of the community,” Berg says. “The major health problems of today, such as heart disease, obesity, hypertension, and Type 2 diabetes, are brought on by lifestyle. And physical activity, along with not smoking, are the key determinants of our overall health.”
Through the Exercise Physiology Laboratory, UNO offers the general public sophisticated testing normally only available to those in research studies.
“I don’t know of any other university that offers science-based fitness testing and exercise programs like this for the general public,” Berg says. “For a nominal fee, a person can come in and have these sophisticated tests using state-of-the-art research equipment interpreted by researchers. The treadmill test, for example, costs only $90.”
UNO athletes are primarily tested in connection with research studies. Berg has studied athletes in men’s and women’s basketball, volleyball, football, hockey and track and field.
The VO2 max — the volume of oxygen the body is able to use to produce energy — is critical to the elite athlete. “This capacity doubles in the elite endurance athlete. Consequently, huge amounts of oxygen are delivered to muscle, allowing the professional cyclist or elite marathoner to travel about twice as fast as a recreational cyclist or jogger.”
To enhance competitive performance, the training of today’s athlete is very sport-specific. “We specify what exact stimuli are needed to make the muscle, heart, nerves most effective for a particular type of physical activity,” Berg says.
Berg’s work extends beyond athletes. About 15 years ago, he began offering a six-month course titled Special Exercise for Life and Fitness (SELF), initially for those with diabetes and now open to people with any chronic illnesses — from peripheral arterial disease to arthritis to fibromyalgia.
“Working with diabetics has been one of my passions for years,” Berg says. “When I was 12 years old, I was diagnosed as a Type 1 diabetic.” Berg’s younger brother died from diabetic complications at age 33. Berg says the disease started him on his professional path as a researcher. “I started treating myself as an experiment.” He shared his story in the 1986 book Diabetic’s Guide to Health and Fitness, and he has lectured nationally on the subject.
“With this program, we just see powerful effects in people,” Berg says. “Many are able to reduce the number of medications they are on. But most impressive is the improvement in their overall physical ability to move. The program received national recognition in 2009 as an exemplary exercise program for seniors.”
He also began a course called Strong Bones, initiated about three years ago following osteoporosis research he conducted with colleagues in the College of Nursing at the University of Nebraska Medical Center.
“In both of these programs, people can start anytime; it’s open enrollment,” Berg says. “They come in twice a week. We show them exactly what they need to do in order to optimize their improvement in overall fitness but, in particular, their functional capacity to walk stairs, carry a sack of groceries, lift an object overhead, etc.”
“We train them much like the athlete, but we tone it down so it’s proportional to their capacity. And that makes them much more efficient movers.
“Exercise is medicine,” Berg says. “We all have the potential. We just have to make it a priority.”
By the Numbers
So how did CrossFit standouts Kyle Kasperbauer and Stacie Wemhoff Tovar perform on their UNO Exercise Physiology Laboratory tests?