Published April 1, 2020
Just before the world changed several weeks ago, one fortunate group of students discovered the global dimensions of their chosen discipline during a study-abroad course in exercise science sponsored by University at Buffalo’s Office of International Study.
Five undergraduates and a teaching assistant from the Exercise Science program joined Professor David Hostler, PhD, chair of the Department of Exercise and Nutrition Sciences, on a week-long trip to Wales, United Kingdom, to learn about strength conditioning practices there. Because common sports in the U.K., like rugby, netball and cricket, differ from those in the United States, the UB students saw a different approach to sport training and conditioning—and education.
“In the U.K.,” Hostler explained, “undergraduate education for exercise science is three years long, but students don’t take anything not in the major. The program is very focused with lots of internships.”
The trip featured time in a number of settings that, ultimately, reinforced an idea: strength and conditioning is a profession practiced everywhere, “wherever there are sports worldwide,” said Hostler.
“We met professional rugby players, nutrition scientists, athletic coaches, and strength and conditioning coaches who helped us to understand what equipment they use and how they use it so we could compare it to the U.S.,” said Exercise Science major Samantha Clark. “We were able to sit in lectures at the University of South Wales (USW) and gain knowledge about the field of strength and conditioning.”
In fact, students spent a day in classes at USW led, among others, by faculty head Ian Jeffries, a world expert in sprint training.
Exercise and Nutrition Sciences PhD candidate and teaching assistant Hayden Hess, MS, ATC, CSCS, also felt his experience at USW was telling. “I was able to get insights into strength and conditioning pedagogy,” he said. “The instructors and faculty at USW were informative and had many novel ways to disseminate material to their students. Additionally, the structure of their courses placed an emphasis on active and autonomous learning, as well as teaching others like student-to-student and student-to-client. This was an unconventional and out-of-comfort-zone learning opportunity for our UB students.”
Other visits included time at the Wales Rugby Union, the national governing body for grassroots and elite rugby teams in that country, a day attending a gym session, practice and team meeting with the Scarlets professional rugby team, and a session with the strength coach for the professional-level Cardiff City Football [soccer] Club.
“Students got a view into professional sports that most people would never have,” said Hostler.
Students also saw the applications of many elements they learn in class, like sprint and strength training, in practice with real athletes. For instance, sprint training--focusing training techniques to help people accelerate and reach top speed faster--cuts across many kinds of sports. Clark found the biomechanical aspects of sprint training one of the most compelling things she learned on the trip. “The combination of lecture and lab allowed me to fully understand the components of sprint training and allowed me to enhance my knowledge of how an athlete’s biomechanics can have a huge impact on their performance,” she said.
Exercise Science major Dan Sweet agrees that seeing the science he discusses in the classroom applied “at the highest level of sport. Even the most passionate students go through times when we feel tired of reading textbooks and studying exercise physiology only in concept, without applying what we've learned,” he said. “Seeing the strength and conditioning professionals in Wales at the top of their field practice what we've learned and talk to them about what they do was incredibly inspiring and an experience that will continue to influence my education.”