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Get to know Jason Cholewa, associate professor of exercise and sport science

by Rohr

When you ask an associate professor of exercise and sport science professor what is something that others might not know about him, you don’t expect to hear, “I’m a tree hugger.”

But that’s just the answer CCU’s Jason Cholewa gave.

“I think people outside of my department might not know what a tree hugger I am,” he said. “My interpretation of freedom is the wilderness, from mountains to low-lying swamps. For me, it’s an opportunity to interact freely with nature, free from the awkwardness of human socializing norms.”

When Cholewa isn’t teaching or doing lab research or training in the gym, he’s outdoors. He loves to kayak, fish and enjoy area wildlife preserves.

However, those first three activities occupy quite a bit of his time. Cholewa, who came to CCU in 2013 after hearing about it from his sister, a 2012 graduate, has been conducting research on various resistance-training methods and the effectiveness of different supplements every semester since 2014.

His long-term goals relate to prescribing the right kind of exercise for young women who wish to improve body composition. He conducted a study in 2016 to test an assumption prevalent among weightlifters – male and female alike – that if they lift heavy weights as exercise, they will “bulk up.”

“It was an important study to do,” he said. “There's a lot of research that shows young women don't meet national guidelines for resistance training or train with a high enough intensity for desired results of strength, muscle, bone marrow density. The big reason why is that fear of becoming over-muscled.”

The results of that study showed it didn't matter if women work out using heavy weights or medium weights; both weight loads resulted in improved muscle growth, body composition, strength and power. (The study was published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research in 2018.)

Cholewa says there isn’t a lot of research on resistance training adaptations in young women, nor much information documenting changes in physiology and workloads in NCAA female soccer players over the course of an entire season. With the help of visiting professor Mario Sevillio Jr., a professor from the Federal University of Sao Luis in Brazil, he’s collected lots of data on these specific metrics from the CCU women’s soccer team. His plan this semester is to analyze and publish the data in hopes of providing better information to coaches on how to best structure practice and recovery time for players.

Like many others at Coastal, he says some of his research has been delayed by Hurricane Florence. The storm last semester put a halt on a study he had been conducting to determine the difference in effects preworkout supplements and caffeine have during an exercise session. The project is on hold as the HVAC system repair in the Williams-Brice building, where his labs are, is underway.

He isn’t letting the delays slow him down, though.

“In the meantime, I am exploring a few other sport supplements and their effects in collegiate-aged participants with my colleagues in Brazil,” he said. “One, in particular, has shown some potential, and that is capsaicin, which is the compound that gives chili peppers their spice!”

Yet the part Cholewa likes most about his job isn’t the research. It’s the people.

“My favorite part about being at CCU is the people in my department I work with and the students whom I’ve mentored as research assistants during my time,” he said.

Students are crucial to his work as a researcher, and he admits he couldn’t do most of it without their help. They provide the manpower behind the hands-on research throughout an entire project, and he says they earn the right to be co-authors on research papers.

“Students need to be a part of the program,” he said. “Some semesters I sit down with them and find out what they are interested in, and we find a good study that we can do here. That’s how the preworkout vs. caffeine study came about. Other semesters, I have studies that are already in the works and I am looking for qualified people interested to assist.”

It’s not just students who benefit from Cholewa’s research.

“One of the cool things about my research is everyone who participates gets something really good out of it,” he said. “All the women who participated in that training study [in 2016] all saw improvements in body composition, and they’ve shared anecdotally about how resistance training improved their quality of life and confidence.”

Since 2014, more than 200 people from the CCU community and beyond have participated in one of his studies, and the nature of his research and its publication have widespread impacts. The more people know about how their bodies interact with various exercise equipment, methods and supplements, the better equipped they are to take health into their own hands.

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