Data from determination: Project tracks hormones related to muscle function© Aug. 19, 2011, Norwich University Office of Communications
Scientific study isn’t always detached and objective.
Stefan Wuorinen, a biology major approaching his final year at Norwich University, does a lot more than observe his test subjects as he studies the effects of exercise on college-age men. He sweats, begs and cajoles volunteers to get the right result.
On a hot August afternoon, Stefan and another young man, both dressed in shorts and head rags, left the lab for a workout in the hot sun. Grabbing a set of resistance bands, Stefan faced the volunteer and began to demonstrate a rigorous series of exercises he was expected to perform.
Stocky and strong, Stefan extended the bands straight up, urging volunteer Matt Davison of Northfield, Vt., to do one more repetition. His task was to inspire the test subject to work as hard as he could.
That’s what we want kids to get out of a research project—to start formulating their own questions.
professor at Norwich
“By the 10th rep, you should be close to failure,” said Stefan. “One more. One more. One more.”
By then, Davison’s limbs were burning and shaking. Sweat had broken out on his face and he was breathing hard. Still, after a few seconds of rest, he moved gamely into position for the next exercise, a mock bench-press utilizing the same resistance bands. Tall with the lean build of a runner, Davison had anticipated a tough time on the circuit.
“A football player would be able to knock these out, no problem,” said Davison, a former Norwich student and close friend of Stefan who was preparing to enlist in the Army.
Stefan, who has been closely involved with several exercise-related research projects at Norwich, sought out exceptionally fit young men for the study. Subjects were put through the paces on three separate occasions—covering circuit weight training, circuit resistance training using bands and running—with phlebotomist Stefan collecting blood samples at the beginning and end of each session. The idea is to gather data on the effects of different kinds of exercise on testosterone and growth-hormone production.
After three circuits, Davison summoned his remaining strength to follow Stefan back to the lab. Despite difficulty with this exercise, Davison has shown in previous studies to produce exceptionally high levels of testosterone, the principal male sex hormone and an anabolic steroid. Men produce more testosterone than women, and it is key to growth and wellbeing, especially as they age.
Stefan, sterilizing a patch of Davison’s arm, mentioned that he had the highest testosterone reading of any of the test subjects last year. “The reason, I think, you produce so much testosterone is endurance.”
This idea is tied to his hypothesis, in which he theorizes that endurance exercise brings about a significantly higher percentage change in these hormone levels than weight and resistance exercises. People who are good at running, like Davison, seem to have more “slow-twitch” skeletal muscle fibers, which produce more testosterone, he said.
This information helps people figure out how to use exercise effectively, he said, especially as men age and stand to benefit from healthy levels of these hormones.
“Exercise is an important part of your life,” said Stefan.
A pre-med student earning minors in chemistry, health and coaching, Stefan has been studying this question for several years. The idea was very much his own, according to biology and physical education Prof. Elizabeth Wuorinen, Stefan’s mother and project mentor. Stefan enjoyed using resistance bands in his own training, she said, as they tend to exhaust muscle groups thoroughly. He began to wonder about their effectiveness compared with traditional weights. Research turned up virtually no information, so the project took shape.
“That’s what we want kids to get out of a research project—to start formulating their own questions,” said Elizabeth, who conducts ongoing studies on women’s exercise and hunger.
Beginning in the summer of 2010, Stefan measured testosterone in eight athletes and future Marines before and after exercise. Research continued during the school year and into a second summer with a slightly altered project. Norwich, the country’s oldest private military college, provided grants for the summer work. He added growth hormones in his 2011 data collection, providing a more complete picture of how muscle groups process energy.
Elizabeth is glad the project has continued over time, and said they plan to publish the results in the future.
“We were just so intrigued by the results the first time,” she said.
As these are projects that take months to complete, Stefan said that dedication is an important quality for a researcher.
“You have to be genuinely interested in what you’re researching,” he said, adding that many of the participants have become caught up in the results.
“They’ve all been great. For the most part, everyone worked his hardest.”