This summer I have been hard at work in the Student Development Complex, here at Michigan Tech. It is a closed room with no windows, kind of odd for an exercise nut, but some of the best things are happening there! We have research going on testing the human body to its limits. Specifically, my research is testing the limits of our respiratory system during exercise. I believe that respiratory muscles are important in performance and if we can understand the limiting factors of the respiratory then we can help people with asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and team and endurance athletes. I am taking members from our cross-country ski team and putting them through two arm cycling trials to failure, i.e. biking for your arms. One trial their whole body is 100% fresh, the second their respiratory muscles have been fatigued ~20%. During the trials, I track the time and all their respiratory and metabolic functions and compare them between the trials. I have had six people go through the tests and have seen a surprising decrease in time to failure when respiratory muscles were fatigued. Additionally, their breathing rate was low and volume high during the normal condition and it flipped during the fatigued condition, showing that when the muscles are already fatigued they work even harder trying to sustain performance. The next step in my study is finding out how and why this happens.
Here in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan it can get hot, for us at least. Our lab is air conditioned, unlike most buildings up here, so we can have a consistent climate for testing and it is the place to be somedays. Research in the lab is a blast! When I have subjects in for testing we keep the mood light and keep them determined with some tunes, conversation, and cheering. There are also pros and cons to the lab, because I have ski team commitments to come accomplish, my mornings arriving in the lab for set-up are as early as 6:15 AM and nights can be the same, ending late, crunching numbers or safety checking our laboratory. I have been learning a lot over the summer about different programs and technology we use in the lab. I’ve been fortunate enough to use ultrasound, metabolic carts, NIRS devices, and EMG. Currently my task at hand is to learn SigmaPlot, a graphing program that is Excel on steroids; I’m getting good at it! The main tests that I am running on subjects are maximum aerobic capacity and maximum upper-body exercise tolerance tests. Using flow meters I have also been able to test their basic respiratory function, one subject’s lungs could take in over 8 liters of air! A normal person his size would normally take in 5-6 liters of air. Our results are looking like we expect when we plot them out, but statistically only some are significant. The next step is to keep trucking on and see if the results stay consistent!
Our lab isn’t just me and my research host, we are a team of many undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral students! It is amazing to see how we transfer knowledge and share ideas with each other. It is great that I can go to a doctoral student (a goal of mine) and get info on schooling and my research. I have been in the lab a while now and teach some of the undergraduate and graduate students how the equipment works with their research project protocols. In a few weeks, we will have a testing blitz for my project and get five participants through five days of testing each! My worst experience so far is troubleshooting our metabolic carts and lab computer… It was supposed to take an hour and ended being the whole day. My favorite part of lab also surprises me too, it is the intensity that all the team members bring to the lab, but when we have a BBQ we are all relaxing and playing yard games.