Colorado Springs Military Newspaper Group

Air Force Academy Spirit

Academy HPL tests, researches, trains, educates

KC-135 pilot Capt. Dustin Benker, who is training for a marathon and triathlon, runs on a treadmill to check his oxygen consumption and carbon dioxide production while he works out. Photo by J. Rachel Spencer

KC-135 pilot Capt. Dustin Benker, who is training for a marathon and triathlon, runs on a treadmill to check his oxygen consumption and carbon dioxide production while he works out. Photo by J. Rachel Spencer

By Academy Spirit Staff


Officials say there are more than 1,000 cadets and another 100-plus faculty and staff tested and trained by the Academy Human Performance Lab in a typical year.

The HPL enhances all intercollegiate teams by providing the coach and team members specific testing and training to improve their athletic performance. The lab also provides a means for individual assessment and improvement in a number of physiological performance parameters. Finally, it provides opportunity for various academic/scientific independent studies.

The effort to develop and maintain the caliber of athletes the Academy boasts is a complex challenge the HPL staff faces daily … but one at which they excel. There are many tools to their trade and this article is intended purely as informational in nature to help readers understand the scope of what it takes for Academy athletes to keep all on top of their respective games with the help of the HPL staff.

This HPL testing/training includes:

Dual Energy X-ray Absorptiometry Testing

This is a test for body composition and bone mineral density. The measurement of percent of body fat is widely used in sports medicine as another determinate of athletic performance. The ideal weight of an athlete is made up of the person’s total weight and the relationship of lean body weight to fat weight ratio. Consideration in determining an ideal weight includes the natural endowment and basic physical structure of the athlete plus the type of activities in which he or she competes. This testing is conducted both for teams and individuals.

Sports Vision training

Improved eye performance results in better athletic performance. The HPL currently has many state-of-the-art vision enhancement capabilities. Each testing and training regime will be sport specific and the time involved in each assessment/training varies with each sport. The staff recently published a study with data on more than 900 hundred cadet athletes over a 10-year period and tracked individual improvement in the lab over a four-year period. The study concentrated on myriad sports vision exercises and found a minimum improvement of 54 percent at one station and two stations with more than 150 percent improvement over a four-year period.

Besides training USAFA athletes, the staff is working with several other military organizations on improving visual skills including AFSOC Combat Controllers and Air Force Security Forces.

Maximal Aerobic Capacity (VO2max testing)

Maximal oxygen uptake (VO2max) is a primary determinate of endurance performance and provides important information on the capacity of the long-term aerobic energy system. This test is a 6-to 14-minute exercise test where the workload continues to increase until the athlete has achieved volitional exhaustion. The test is normally performed on a treadmill or cycle ergometer. Based on the results of this test, the athlete can be provided with a specific and individualized training plan designed to further enhance their physical and sport performance.

Maximal Anaerobic Power (Wingate testing)

The Wingate anaerobic test involves a 15-30 second all-out effort with either the arms or legs on a cycle ergometer. Many athletic events involve short bursts of maximal effort utilizing energy that is stored in the muscle tissue to produce a rapid burst of power. This energy supply is rapidly depleted during maximal effort, usually within 30 seconds of the start of the activity. This test provides the athletes’ peak power, average power, rate of fatigue and total work performed. It is very repeatable and an athlete can be evaluated several times throughout the year to measure changes in anaerobic power that occurred during specific training periods.

Running and cycling economy and/or blood lactate threshold testing

The staff can measure an athlete’s running or cycling economy. This test can be done at a variety of speeds and tells coaches which athletes have the more economical styles through metabolic analysis. Running economy is another indicator of athletic performance since the more economical runner will be using a lower percentage of his or her VO2 max at a given speed. This test takes about 30 minutes, and speeds chosen can be matched to the athletes’ ability. Biomechanical filming can be combined with this test as well. Follow-up tests will show the athlete how much his or her running economy has improved through technique change.

Total Hemoglobin Mass

The USAFA HPL is one of only three U.S. labs capable of measuring total hemoglobin mass utilizing the optimized CO re-breathing technique. This technique allows an athlete’s total hemoglobin mass, erythrocyte, plasma, and total blood volume to be determined using a minimally invasive and very precise and repeatable method. This information can be used by the coach or athlete to judge the quality of the athlete’s endurance training.

The HPL will move to its new 4,500 square foot location in February with the completion of Phase-One gym renovation. This will allow the lab to consolidate all its equipment in one location. Once there, more testing equipment will be added, which will allow testing athletes even more efficiently.

Hyperoxic training – swim team

We have started some initial testing with some intercollegiate teams with hyperoxic training-allowing the athletes to breathe in sea level air (which has more oxygen per volume than the air at USAFA) during interval training or maximal effort events to further adapt the skeletal muscle and improve athletic performance at sea level events.

New programs on the horizon

The HPL will soon start a joint USAFA/Air Force Research Laboratory study with a primary objective of identifying genetic associations with physiological performance and psychological cognition parameters. This study will aid in the development of a personalized military training program, which will allow the Air Force (or other DoD entity) to optimize warfighter physical and cognitive capabilities while lowering training injury rates and training time.

The following members of the HPL were hand-selected by senior Athletic Department staff. They all have degrees in exercise physiology. Interns are hand-selected by HPL staff based on the intern’s qualifications, school requirements, and needs of the lab.

Lt. Col. Michael Zupan, Ph.D.

Lt. Col. Michael Brothers, Ph.D.

Jeff Nelson, Ph.D.

Al Wile, MS

Jim LaChapelle, M.S.-retired AF intern

Elizabeth Grossmann -intern from CU-Pueblo.

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