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What in the World is the BOD POD?
Courtesy: George Mason Athletics
Release: 09/15/2011

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Deep inside the George Mason Field House, between the rowing team's erg room and the training room, there exists a laboratory in which cutting edge research is being performed daily. But instead of beakers and Bunsen burners, the work is being done with the latest fitness and athletic performance equipment.

It is there that, in conjunction with the University's kinesiology department, Mason athletics has set up a sport science lab which is being used to test and measure Patriot student-athletes in the hopes of both improving their performance as well as making advances in the research field.

"We are able to provide information regarding strength, power, body composition, and overall physical conditioning to other members of the Center for Sports Performance," explained Dr. Margaret Jones, who serves as the kinesiology program coordinator as well as the head of the lab. "This information can then be used for program design and implementation in the areas of nutrition, training, and athletic health care, which can lead to reduction in the number of injuries and improved sport performance."

One of the most unusual and eye-catching pieces of equipment in the lab is the BOD POD, pictured above. It's used to measure body composition, calculating the difference in the amount of air between when it is empty and when an athlete is sitting inside. Those raw numbers are processed to calculate muscle mass and body fat percentage, which in turn can be used to aid strength training, health care or nutritional programming.

"Way back in the day, we used to do it via underwater weighing, which required someone to get in and blow all their air out and go underwater, and that was a lot more difficult," Jones said. "This is a snap, it takes about 30 seconds.  Someone comes in, sits down, breathes, blinks, gets out, and we have our information. "

If it looks like it may not be the most comfortable 30 seconds of an athlete's day, that's not too far off. Some have expressed concerns of claustrophobia, and the challenge of fitting, for example, a nearly 7-foot tall basketball player may be daunting. For them, Jones has a quick response.

"What I tell them is Shaquille O'Neal got in, not this one, but Shaquille O'Neal's been in there, so if he's been in there, they can get in there," she said.

Inside the lab there are also two treadmills, one of the standard variety and one curved. The machines are more than just treadmills, being able to go up to 18 miles per hour, adjust for up-hill and down-hill grades, and even run in reverse. 

Another more-than-meets-the-eye device is the force platform. On first glance, it would appear to be a standard scale, but it is used to measure the force generated by an athlete jumping or lifting, another valuable tool in assessing his or her total body performance. Researchers can also use a portable oxygen consumption system, which can be worn while running on the track or out in the open doing physical activity instead of the standard lab treadmill.

Right inside the entrance, the lab also holds a device called the Power Plate. It's one of the most cutting-edge devices in sports performance training, as an athlete stands on it and holds on while the  base vibrates. Jones cites its ability to recruit more muscle to train than conventional strength training methods, and also that it can be used to develop and maintain muscle for rehabbing athletes.

Jones and her lab works in close partnership with Mason's Center for Sports Performance, which consists of the athletic department's athletic training, strength and conditioning, and sports nutrition units. Working together, they can help improve each athlete's physical performance while also moving towards breakthroughs in scientific research.

"The attention being paid to sport performance is an up-and-coming thing," Jones explained. "More people like myself are focusing on the sports science side of the field, as opposed to more traditional fitness, health and wellness.  The goals are common for the Center, but my function with the Center as well as for my research, which is to look at ways that we can reduce injury and improve sport performance."