Lab Rat in Action

Decked out in some comfortable clothes I headed to Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT) Human Performance Laboratory, ready for whatever lay ahead of me. All I knew was that the physical assessment would include the following:

  •          Questionnaire
  •          Body measurements
  •          Glucose and Cholesterol Blood test (finger prick)
  •          Blood pressure / Resting heart rate / Oxygen saturation
  •          Lung Function test
  •          1 min Push Ups / Sit Ups
  •          1RM Bench and Leg Press
  •          Leg Extension and Flexion (Right and Left)
  •          VO2 max test on treadmill

On arrival I was met by the lovely Dr Sacha West, who was going to take me through my assessment. Naturally, first up was signing an indemnity form. I seem to sign a lot of those forms in my life lately and more often than not it is for some high risk adventure I’m doing.  Not that what I was about to take on was high risk, but I guess they just wanted to make sure they were covered should I drop a large dumbbell on my chest and crush my body under its weight. Once all the formalities were over, Dr Sacha and I headed over into a small office on the office on the side. It was time to get measured ~ everybody’s favourite part, right?!  Dr Sacha leaned over and picked up this cold, steel looking contraption. I knew instantly what she wanted to measure.  My body fat percentage….

A small trigger of the lever and the “claws” would open and with a pinch of my body fat it would measure the fat on my upper arms, my waist, my hips, my thigh, my lower leg and my shoulder. You name it, it was measured!

A small trigger of the lever and the “claws” would open and with a pinch of my body fat it would measure the fat on my upper arms, my waist, my hips, my thigh, my lower leg and my shoulder. You name it, it was measured!

In fact, I don’t think there was a spot of fat that we left out! We had some trouble taking the fat on my upper leg. Apparently my quadriceps are pure muscle and there is no fat to be found. (How delightful!) No matter how hard we tried to find a spot of fat to pinch, there was just nothing and eventually we had to give up. Body fat measured, it was time for the tape measure. Again, there wasn’t a piece of me that was left unmeasured.  Next up was to quickly check my height; it was a bit of a surprise (and shock) to find this one tells me I had shrunk 3cm’s.  Three centimetres!!  I just had my height measured three months ago (twice at two different places) and I was my standard height. Either old age is catching up to me quickly and I’m shrinking fast or something is just slightly off with their height measurement contraption! I do like to think it’s the latter. With all my measurements out of the way it was time to get down to the nitty-gritty. My first task was the lung function test. I had to put my mouth over a cylinder that had a pipe attached to it that was linked up to some fancy machine. I was then asked to breathe normally for two breaths and then taking in the deepest breath I could, I would blow it back out into this contraption. They showed me what would happen on the monitor and showed the red line I could follow as I breathed out and I was told how the red line needed to reach this black line far over on the other side of the screen.  Sounds simple, right?!

The screen showed something like this but I had more squiggles on the page and my line was red.

The screen showed something like this but I had more squiggles on the page and my line was red.

I would need to repeat this exercise three times.

Pic found here

Pic from here

Two normal breathes in, deeeeeeep breathe in and then blow it out as hard as I could. I don’t even want to imagine what I looked like and I have no idea how Dr Sacha and Thabisile didn’t laugh. My cheeks felt like there were going to explode and my eyes must have been bulging out of my skull so far if I were watching it I would be concerned they were going to pop right out of my eye socket and roll all over the floor.

Pic from here.

Pic from here.

Twice as I blew out the red line moved and moved and edged ever close to the black line I needed to reach but twice it just stopped. Dead. Just short of the black line. My amazing cheerleaders Dr Sacha and Thabisile shout, jumped up and down and encouraged me to keep blowing out but the line just stopped. I wondered if it was trying to tell me I was almost dead and I should breathe again before I passed out. This was all rather comical and we did it about 5 times with what looked like at least 3 good readings and hopefully by the end of it all they got the readings they were looking for. Still breathing, we moved over to the floor where I was about to start one minute of push ups. It was time to face palm the floor while trying to stay graceful. I started off feeling strong and I thought this isn’t too bad but as those seconds ticked away my wrists (which have both been sprained quite badly when I was young) started to really feel the pain and with each passing push-up my arms grew weaker. 60 seconds is a long time to do push-up’s when it’s not something you do on a regular basis! Dr Sacha counted down the seconds and her assistant, Thabisile cheered me on, making the whole event rather festive. Push-up’s out the way, hopefully with me looking streamlined and in perfect position but I’m thinking more along the lines of bum up in the air, back caving in and arms about to give way for face to hit the floor is probably a more realistic image! Then we moved straight onto sit-ups. Much easier.  Thabisile positioned to hold down my feet I was ready to go. I started out fast and this time feeling more like I actually looked the part, 30 seconds and I was still feeling strong. Then in the last 10 seconds I began to feel the burn and with each sit-up my body began to feel heavier. I pushed through my 60 seconds without too much fuss and even breaking out in a little sweat when that was done. With my arms feeling slightly weak, as we moved over to the next part of the assessment I was relieved to see I would be using my legs. It was time to do some leg presses.  We started off warming up without any weights and then we started loading the weights. 20 kg’s on either size. With each leg press we added another 20kg’s and then another. Soon I was bench pressing 180kg’s.  It was getting hard but I still felt strong. They asked me if I wanted to try some more weights. I said yes. We raised it to 190kg’s. I released the lever and the weights rolled down, heavy on my legs as my legs eased back into an upside hunch position. It was time to push up. The weight was suddenly heavy and at first push nothing seemed to move. My cheer leading squad in full action, with all my might I pushed up and leg pressed 190kg’s.  We decided to stop there, which was probably a good idea as I didn’t feel like death by leg press!

The leg press machine ~ all 190kg’s!

The leg press machine ~ all 190kg’s!

From the leg press we moved onto the bench press. I didn’t have much hope of doing anything here, especially when I saw the solid steel bar across. Before I positioned myself on the bench I queried how much the bar itself weighed. Apparently 18kg’s and that’s without any weights on! I lay back in position and readied myself to lift the bar. First, a practice run without any weights. I twisted the bar to unlock it and lifted it up. I’m not used to lifting weights with my arms like this and the bar was heavy but I managed it with what I would call ease. We decided to put on a small weight of 5kg’s on either side.  Ready to lift 28kg’s, I twisted the bar and pushed up. I scrunched up my face and used every (sleeping) muscle in my upper body to lift that bar with the added 10kg weight on.  Wooooaaah! I realise some men (and possibly even woman) could probably lift 28kg’s with their toes, but this was a first time for me and we were happy to leave it at 28kg’s else it really might have been death by bench press for me!

Looks rather pathetic and light from here but when you are lying on your back and trying to lift the 18kg bar and the 5kg weight on either side of the bar, it is far from light!

Looks rather pathetic and light from here but when you are lying on your back and trying to lift the 18kg bar and the 5kg weight on either side of the bar, it is far from light!

After having worked my arms, I would probably be exaggerating if I said they were hanging like limp celery at the side of body but I was grateful that my arms could relax for a bit. Next thing I knew I was strapped up into a chair that had me feeling I was getting ready to propel forward at astronomical speeds in order to do some sort of crash test on the wall opposite the room. Thankfully, this was not the case. I was about to do some leg extension and flexion.  All strapped in so I wouldn’t fall out it was time to work my legs. My cheer leading team of two were cheering me and chanting the words push and pull in time to the movement of my leg. I seriously don’t know how I would have done it without them ~ plainly put, the experience without them would have just been another boring gym session except a session that pushed you to your max ~ these ladies made it a laugh a minute as I was put through the paces.

All strapped in and ready to launch. At least that is what it felt like.

All strapped in and ready to launch. At least that is what it felt like.

That was the easiest, most relaxed one of the lot and I was grateful that I wasn’t going to zoom forward across the room and crash into the opposite wall! Lastly, it was time to do the VO2 max test on treadmill.  I was fitted with a heart monitor and a watch to monitor my heart rate and this exercise would directly measure my body’s oxygen consumption.  The plan was to start walking really slowly and then at 3 minute intervals increase the speed and the gradient and at the same time take my heart rate while all the time breathing into the oxygen mask. I was told which figures on the screen to watch as that indicated my oxygen levels and that the higher it went the better it was.

Getting strapped into the oxygen mask for VO2 max test on treadmill.

Getting strapped into the oxygen mask for VO2 max test on treadmill.

It took us a while to get ready, the oxygen mask was too big for my face so they looked for a smaller one. Problem was, the mask they were using was already the smallest one. Apparently, my feet are not my only tiny structure, I have a really tiny face too.  In the end to stop air escaping they had to strap the mask up super tight to seal all the edges leaving my face feeling like it was pulled and contorted in every possible direction. Safely behind the oxygen mask and just before the start button was pushed we snapped this shot. It’s funny how when a photo is about to be taken and you naturally smile even though in this case my smile is more than hidden away by the oxygen mask.

Smiling behind the mask, I was good to go.

Smiling behind the mask, I was good to go.

At each three-minute marker I would be asked how I was feeling and I would have to rate how I was feeling emotionally according to this chart.

My rating chart according to how I was feeling at each 3 minute mark.

My rating chart according to how I was feeling at each 3 minute mark.

At each 3 minute mark, the speed would also be increased as would the gradient.

At each 3 minute mark, the speed would also be increased as would the gradient.

I have no problem with the gradient going up, I climb steeps mountains and to get maximum benefit of this I also walk at a fast pace on the treadmills at gym at a steep gradient. The only problem I foresaw, as I mentioned in my previous posts on this lab rat experiments I would be doing, I don’t run. Ever. I suffer from excruciating shin splints if I do. In fact, even if I am just walking at a really fast pace it can bring the pain on. But I know the feeling of when it starts and before it gets to the point where I can no longer stand up and tears of absolute pain and agony are streaming down my face. As the machine kicked into action I wondered how long it would take me before the shin splints started. First three minutes passed and all was going well. Next three minutes and the speed was increasing rapidly and the gradient was getting higher. I could feel the ache beginning to make itself felt in my shins. With each three minutes that had passed the treadmill was going faster and faster. Then we had a problem with my heart rate. No, don’t panic, I was still alive by all means it just wasn’t reading my heart rate. A few adjustments and we got it back on but it kept ‘disconnecting.’ Maybe the universe was trying to tell me something.  Another 3 minutes passed and by now with the super-fast pace and the angle I was walking at, the pain was beginning to scream at me from down under in my shins. It was time to increase the speed and the gradient some more. I was practically running but I knew I wouldn’t be able to go much longer before I collapsed, unable to stand due to the pain in my shins. Eventually we called it time. I was disappointed in myself, I wanted to go longer, but that pain is something I recall vividly and all I wanted to do at that moment was stop moments before the pain became unbearable. Dripping in sweat, breathing hard and trying to ease the shooting pain in my shins, I jumped to the side as they stopped the machine. My lab rat testing was done for the day! One and half hours at the Human Performance Laboratory and I think I had done enough exercise for one day and one thing was for sure, I wouldn’t be heading to the gym that night. I am looking forward to receiving my results and how it has all been analysed. Although I am not sure I will be sharing it all with you…. I will be back in the Human Performance Laboratory right after we are back from our climb to the top of 6962m and then again six months down the line after that.

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Thanks to the wonderful Dr Sacha West and her wonderful ‘partner-in-torture’, Thabisile. For cheering me on. For the laughs. And for being the ‘mad scientists’ in your lab. I had a great experience. And would you believe it I’m looking forward to coming back for more (torture).

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