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New Lab Offers Advanced Fitness Testing to the Public


In November, Boise State’s Human Performance Laboratory (HPL) opened its doors to students, researchers and the public in its new home on the first floor of the Norco Building. While its unveiling was marked with little fanfare, the new space is one of the region’s most unique and sophisticated physiological testing spaces, making it not only a great learning and teaching space for Boise State kinesiology and nursing students but a vital health resource for the public.

“We see this as an investment in students, giving them quality facilities to engage in research and learning,” said Tim Dunnagan, dean of the College of Health Sciences. “When paired with the biomedical lab in Yanke Center, we’ve created a premier space in exercise science at Boise State. It’s a big step up.”

In the HPL, athletes, health enthusiasts, recreationists and individuals looking to overhaul their sedentary or otherwise unhealthy lifestyles can make an appointment to test their body’s muscular strength, metabolic rate, anaerobic and aerobic capacity, and body fat composition, to name a few. Then, armed with their base-level fitness and guided by professionals, individuals can craft exercise plans to improve their fitness. The lab’s close proximity to the Health Services Center on Norco’s second floor have turned the building into a one-stop holistic health space.

“For years we’ve known that what we need to develop for our greater population is a cohesive health system with behavior and health coaches to make long-term changes for folks,” explained Ron Pfeiffer, associate dean of the College of Health Sciences. “That’s an effective integrated health system and that’s what we’ve created here. We have physicians on campus, nutritionists, behavior health specialists and now the Human Performance Lab. In a single building we can help people craft a preventative health plan that will greatly improve the quality of their lives. It’s a big cultural shift and we’re proud that shift is happening here.”

The HPL also is the ideal environment for learner-centered teaching. Students participate in activities using equipment unavailable anywhere else in the region. They experience first-hand, as participants and technicians, the tests used to understand human physiology and manipulate data to help athletes excel.

“Fifteen thousand people come through this building each year,” Dunnagan said. “Now they’ll be able to see a process that’s usually hidden – the process of research and learning.”

Walls of windows give passersby views of each piece of state-of-the-art equipment in the Human Performance Lab. Treadmills allow kinesiology students to conduct electrical studies on the heart, which help them identify heart disease, heart arrhythmia and overall cardiac function. “These treadmills function at higher speeds and greater inclines to accommodate athletes,” noted Shawn Simonson, an associate professor of kinesiology and director of the HPL.

Other equipment includes an antigravity treadmill, which allows researchers to reduce body weight down to 20 percent of a person’s mass. This is not only great for athletes looking to rehab injuries; overweight individuals can use the machine to work out without the physical stress of carrying their full body weight, and older adults could use it to increase their muscular function, which may help reduce falls. “We’re hoping to do a study on that in the near future,” Simonson said.

Serving more than 700 students within the College of Health Sciences, the Department of Kinesiology hosts four undergraduate and two graduate degree programs each with multiple sub-discipline areas of specialization. The department provides comprehensive undergraduate and graduate degree programs that incorporate scientific and professional methods of inquiry to study physical activity, exercise, sport and health-related issues; advances the body of knowledge through scholarly inquiry; and offers a wide-range of fitness and sport activities that help promote lifelong well-being.

The HPL is equipped with research-quality equipment and is set up to be a learning environment for students in related fields as well. Faculty and students working in the HPL have conducted original research in body composition, cycling, energy expenditure, environmental stress, exercise and resting metabolism, hydration, nutrition, Olympic weightlifting, resistance training, weight loss and many other areas. Clients have included local entrepreneurs, the Boise Fire Department, AlterG, weight loss centers, and numerous health enthusiasts and recreational athletes.

“This is what we envisioned when we launched BroncoFit,” Pfeiffer added. “We’re literally trying to build out a model that can be translated to healthcare clinics anywhere. That’s the shift we’re talking about.”