Ten Weeks to Fitness Victory

Exercise science students put their knowledge into practice as they help employees meet their fitness goals.

by Jennifer A. Cline, writer/magazine editor

On the ground level of Bardo Gymnasium, a floor below the Wildcats’ home court, a different kind of victory is taking place, for students and employees alike.

On this level are locker rooms, classrooms and faculty offices, and a suite of rooms that contain the tools to build not just an attractive body, but a better quality of life. In these rooms, first-year exercise science students coach their clients – all Pennsylvania College of Technology employees – to reach their fitness goals.

During a 10-week period under the students’ watchful eyes, the victories come – in incremental changes.

At week four, Brandon S. Peters, of Mount Joy, can already list improvements he’s seen in his client, Carolyn R. Strickland, vice president for enrollment management and associate provost. Strickland’s goal is to run a 10K, and eventually a half-marathon, and to train without taking so many breaks.

“She’s making really good progress,” he says. “Her cardiovascular endurance has gone way up, and I can see her strength has gone up, too.”

Peters and his classmates in a Cardiovascular Programming course develop a training program for their clients and monitor them to ensure they’re using good form and working their hearts at optimal levels. It is the first time in the associate-degree program that they act as a one-on-one trainer.

“For a lot of students, the first time they meet a client in this class is the first time they’ve (ever) met a client, and a lot of them are shaking in their shoes,” says Ron Kodish, assistant professor of exercise science. “They’re not sure if they’re ready. It’s around the second week – third week at the latest – that they become comfortable.”

“I think that 6 mph was too easy for you,” Emylee R. Shultz tells her client, Chris Holley, as he takes on a second round on the treadmill. Holley is an assistant professor of automotive who wants to counteract the weight gain caused by a new medication and to enhance his flexibility.

Shultz, who lives near Hughesville, began her Penn College studies in exercise science, changed majors for a semester, then returned.

“I can’t imagine doing anything else,” she says as she monitors Holley’s efforts. Her goal is to teach at the college level.

“I chose this major because I love the human body, and it can do amazing things when the work is put in. I hope to someday teach others more in-depth about the importance of physical fitness.”

For Shultz and Holley, today’s session is a circuit that transitions from treadmill work to functional exercises.

The students customize workouts and change them throughout the program based on their clients’ goals and progress, taking notes on their performance throughout each training session.

Emylee R. Shultz warms up her client, Chris Holley, with side squats.

Emylee R. Shultz warms up her client, Chris Holley, with side squats.

Medicine balls are among the functional tools that Brandon S. Peters uses in his sessions with Carolyn R. Strickland.

“I try to mix it up every two weeks,” says Brandon S. Peters as he trains Carolyn R. Strickland. “It’s important that we switch up the workout so one area isn’t getting weaker while another area is getting significantly stronger.”

Heistand takes note of her client’s heart rate, breathing and other signals of how hard her heart is working.

Hailey J. Heistand takes note of Kay E. Dunkleberger’s heart rate, breathing and other signals of how hard her heart is working.

“You ready? We’re going to go hard for three minutes,” student Hailey J. Heistand, a Wrightsville native, tells her client, Director of  Disability Services Kay E. Dunkleberger.

“I watch her breathing,” Heistand says as she makes a note on her workout log and Dunkleberger begins her three-minute treadmill run. “I talk to her, because if she’s having trouble talking, that shows she’s working hard. I watch for when her face changes color – turns red. I watch how far forward she is on the treadmill. That shows she’s getting tired, and I don’t want her to face plant. I watch her heart rate, because hers is normally low, so when it gets to 150, it shows she’s really pushing it.”

Clients wear a heart-rate monitor, so students know their heart rates at all times. Measuring and interpreting a variety of data are important, says Kodish, who teaches the course.

“You caught her at a good time; these are her least favorite exercise,” Peters tells the photographer as Strickland begins a set of burpees.

“You caught her at a good time; these are her least favorite exercise,” Peters tells the photographer as Strickland begins a set of burpees.

Before every meeting, Heistand and other students take their clients’ blood pressure. At the beginning and end of the program, they use the “Cardio Coach,” a VO2 max – or maximal oxygen uptake – calculator. The sophisticated equipment, obtained through a grant proposal written by Kodish, is the envy of bachelor-degree programs and many graduate programs. It measures how well a person’s body is using oxygen while exercising or at rest. The students use the data to determine the heart-rate range their client should maintain during exercise.

It’s among the information the students use while planning future workouts.

“Some people might think that giving a workout to a client is easy, but there is more science behind it,” Shultz says. “For example, there are three energy systems our body uses, and we as trainers need to make sure we are working the client in the appropriate system for their goals.”

Students also use their knowledge of body movement, learned in a course on human movement science. In another course, they’ve learned how the body’s cardiovascular, musculoskeletal and metabolic systems respond to exercise.

“There’s so much knowledge that plays into creating a workout,” Peters says. “It’s very interesting.”

The 10-week cardiovascular program allows students to put that knowledge into practice in a safe environment – safe in that they are working with committed clients who are interested in the students’ success as much as they are in their own fitness results, and safe in that instructors are near to offer advice.

“Some people might think that giving a workout to a client is easy, but there is more science behind it.”

Students are required to meet with their clients three times each week. Much like “real life,” if a client is unable to make it to a scheduled session, it is the student’s responsibility to reschedule.

While they work with their clients, the students are monitored by Kodish and Erin J. McMurray, lab supervisor for exercise science.

“I watch, observe, give them pointers,” McMurray says. “I see how they’re interacting with their clients and draw their attention to things they’ll need to know when they’re working professionally. ... I might say, ‘Did you notice your client was looking really tired at this point in the workout?’”

She and Kodish each evaluate the students in 10 areas.

“I write detailed information for each student,” McMurray says. “It’s unbelievable how they incorporate that information when they come back in the fall.” In the fall – the first semester of their second year – they’ll again be matched with clients, this time with a focus on weight training.

In addition to grades from Kodish and McMurray, the students are evaluated by their clients.

Shultz measures Holley‘s, blood pressure.

Shultz measures Holley‘s, blood pressure.

“In the beginning, I see how nervous they are,” Dunkleberger says. “But by the end, they’re confident.”

Dunkleberger, Holley, Strickland, and most of the other clients, come back again and again to work with the students, not just for the results they see in themselves.

“I want them to have a good experience the first time they work with a client so that they will feel encouraged,” Strickland says. “I know I get something out of it, but I want them to get something out of it, too.”

It motivates the volunteers to persevere in their training.

“When you participate in this program, you will not let the student down (by missing a session),” Dunkleberger says. “You’re committed. If it were me exercising on my own, I might come up with excuses.”

She didn’t. Dunkleberger met her 10-pound weight-loss goal and, along with Holley and Strickland, moved into the top – “superior” – range in their Cardio Coach scores.

In terms that demonstrate knowledge, Peters can rattle off the changes he’s seen in his client: Her endurance is up; she flushes out her lactic acid more quickly; she works out at a high anaerobic threshold for a long period of time. Her face does not get as red during hard workouts. She has more power in her strides. And she’s lost weight, yet gained muscle.

“I love helping people out in reaching their goals,” Peters says. “That’s pretty much what I want to do with my life is help people.”

Their instructor, Kodish, has a similar goal.

“It’s such a pleasure to come in and watch the students grow,” he says. ■