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A prescription for hands-on learning and lifting

By Jessica Moes '14
December 27, 2011

Dean of Students Greg Kneser lifts weights while receiving encouragement and guidance from Wesley Lynch '12, one of the students in the new Exercise Prescription course who served as fitness trainers for members of the community.

Dean of Students Greg Kneser wipes his brow and picks up the free weights for another set of lifting. He is focused not only on the weight of the dumbbells but, more importantly, on the muscles he is using. Directly behind him stands Wesley Lynch '12, who encourages Kneser to remember the conversation they had just moments ago about focus.

"Just a few more, Greg. You've got this," says Lynch. "I know you do."

Kneser, along with other members of the St. Olaf and Northfield communities, worked up a sweat this semester as part of Associate Professor of Exercise Science Chris Daymont's new course, Exercise Science Theory 376: Exercise Prescription. The class, a new requirement for the exercise science major, pairs each senior student with two community members. The students effectively work as fitness trainers for the community members, meeting with their "clients" twice a week and creating workout regimens that meet the individual's needs, goals, and abilities. Students then come back to the classroom and share what they learned. They also lead workouts for one another during class time, expanding on their knowledge by exploring new and interesting varieties of exercise, including body-weight exercises and water aerobics.

"It's basically like an internship," says Lynch. "It's an excellent way to build off of what we've already learned and apply it to an everyday situation."

Kneser, too, realizes the benefits of being involved in the program. He has lost a significant amount of weight, and his flexibility has improved tremendously. "The healthier I am, the better I am at my job," he says. "Wes is incredibly meticulous and professional in his approach."

The professionalism the course requires is especially pertinent, considering the majority of the students in the class are planning on pursuing careers that will require regular interaction with clients or patients. "This class helps us learn how to get someone else to follow our directions," says Gina Collins '12. "It's an excellent lesson in leadership."

Daymont reached out to friends, St. Olaf faculty and staff, and the Northfield Weight Watchers community to find potential candidates to work with the students. She tried to give each student two very different clients. Some clients have more athletic experience than others, and all come from different backgrounds, ranging in age from 16 to 79. One client is an all-star cross country runner in college, trying to get back into shape. Another is building muscle to get into a military academy. Yet another is simply trying to regain her balance, and is working on upper body strength in order to do simple tasks, such as opening a jar. Some have suffered from devastating illnesses or heart conditions, and others are simply trying to shed some pounds.

"I think it's nice for the students to see their community members and faculty members in a real-world setting," Daymont says. "Everyone is equalized, everyone is working hard, everyone is pushing themselves."

Real-world experience
The Exercise Prescription course is an expanded version of an Interim course that was offered last year. It quickly became obvious that one month was too short a time period to build a training regimen and see any sort of significant achievement. So this year Daymont turned it into a semester-long class.

The Exercise Prescription students began by assessing the fitness of each of their clients, testing their body mass index (BMI), fitness levels, height, weight, balance, and flexibility. Students then prepared an exercise program for each client that they felt would suit their ability and goals, and they continue to update this plan each week as fitness levels change. These exercises had to be simple enough for community members to do on their own (either at home or the gym), seeing as they only met with their student trainer twice a week. Students offered advice on food choices or other lifestyle changes, too. At the end of the semester, the students checked in with their clients one final time to note the progress they had made.

The exercise science program at St. Olaf is growing quickly, and the class will likely be offered every semester. "I think some of the kids have realized that they're really quite good at this," says Daymont. "It's so pertinent to where they're going and what they want to do."

"We're not simply being tested on what we know," sums up Alyssa Dunn '12. "We are being forced to apply it to the real world. We have to teach what we've been taught. It's incredibly realistic."

Contact Kari VanDerVeen at 507-786-3970 or