It’s a Wednesday morning in the Walker Human Performance Laboratory and Dr. Sean Collins’s Science of Strength class, part of the 2021 Summer Residential Governor’s School for Mathematics, Science, and Technology, is learning how to test for VO2 max, or how efficiently the body utilizes oxygen.
Ryder Robins, a senior from Ocean Lakes High School in Virginia Beach, is the first guinea pig. He’s on the treadmill doing a stress test. A heart rate monitor is strapped to his chest, his nose is clamped shut, and a one-way valve in his mouth is connected to a clear, corrugated hose. The hose snakes to a cartful of equipment — a metabolic cart — that monitors Robins’ airflow, gas concentrations, and other variables.
The 15 students in the lab that day are among 156 high school students on campus for Governor’s School. The program, which the University of Lynchburg has hosted for a quarter century, attracts gifted high school juniors and seniors from across Virginia for a month of intensive, educational experiences. It is funded by the Virginia Department of Education.
Over the four-week session, June 27 through July 24, students take classes in one subject six days a week, about three hours Monday through Friday and two hours on Saturday.
After class, short science classes are offered by Governor’s School and University faculty, along with more casual lectures or workshops on everything from women in science to the neuroscience of serial killers. Exploratory experiences, such as learning how to tie flies for fly fishing, are also on the schedule.
This summer, classes are offered in the following subjects: genetics, physiology, meteorology, astronomy, mathematics, statistics and research, hydrology, technology, physics, and exercise physiology.
One of these classes is Science of Strength. “[It’s] an exercise physiology course that explores how the body responds to and adapts to exercise/activity over time,” Collins, lab director and associate professor of exercise physiology, said.
“Oftentimes exercise physiology is directly associated with sports performance, because that’s the flashy stuff. But exercise physiology examines the underlying reasons how exercise improves health, wellness, and performance — not just performance.
“We are a clinical health care profession and exercise is medicine.”
Students cover a variety of topics in class, including vital signs, nutrition, and what Collins called “human performance measures, like maximum strength, power, and speed.” So far, their response has been good.
“The students are inquisitive and willing to participate in the class material and discussions,” Collins said. “They’re not afraid to ask questions, even if it’s off-topic. The uniqueness of the Governor’s School experience is that we have time to present and examine many topics in a more fluid environment.
“So when a question comes up, we can discuss the topic, even if it’s not related to what we were covering at the time.”
Through Science of Strength, the students also get a glimpse of what it’s like to be an exercise physiology major at Lynchburg. “The basic material is a slimmed-down version of our college classes here,” Collins said.
“We touch on almost all of the same topics, but we do not approach the same depth. But I do try to allow our students to get a taste of what exercise physiology is all about by taking experiences from the college classes.”
Robins, a soccer player and rock climber who is considering a career in sports medicine, said the class has “definitely got me much more interested in exercise physiology. All the talks [Dr. Collins] does, the things he does. I’m still very interested in sports medicine and it’s reinforcing that interest.”