Mascenic School District

What’s in a breath?

Mascenic High: Sophomore Briana Boulerice is learning to push herself, and her fellow athletes, to the maximum oxygen threshold

  • Briana Boulerice of New Ipswich is conducting a physical study of young local athletes as part of an independent study class she designed.
  • Briana Boulerice of New Ipswich is conducting a physical study of young local athletes as part of an independent study class she designed.

Mascenic Regional High School sophomore Briana Boulerice is getting down to the nitty gritty of what makes athletes tick.

As part of an independent study she is conducting under the supervision of science teacher Mike Smith, Boulerice will be putting multiple athletes through their paces this summer and next year, gathering raw data about their agility, flexibility, muscular strength and their VO2 Max — meaning the amount of oxygen the body is capable of utilizing in one minute.

Boulerice is interested in pursuing medicine, particularly sports medicine, as a career. Her independent study will gather data from student athletes across multiple sports. Smith noted that the track team — which he coaches — will be offering up their services for a start. Boulerice, who herself is a swimmer and a cross-country and track runner, said she designed the study to help athletes develop their performance and identify their areas of weakness and strength.

Boulerice has already tested one athlete — herself. This February, she and a partner took a trip to the University of New Hampshire to measure her own VO2 Max. Now, she’s developing a more comprehensive fitness test, which she will begin to use on other athletes this summer. One portion of the test will be the Cooper’s Method of determining VO2 Max — 12 minutes of hard running while hooked up to a mask which measures oxygen intake. Oxygen is fuel for the body, so the higher your VO2 Max, the better performance you can display, explained Smith. Building off that experience, Boulerice is currently in the midst of developing a more comprehensive fitness test. This summer, she hopes to begin gathering data from both student and adult athletes. She will use that data in another independent study next year.

“I think it will be good for the athletes, because it will tell them what areas they’re weak in. Who knows, maybe they’re doing one sport, but are better suited for another, and this will tell them that. And they can use it to improve their weaknesses. Even if you’re perfectly physically fit, there’s always room for improvement,” said Boulerice, about what she hopes to achieve with her study.

“I’m really interested in seeing where this goes,” said Smith. This is really the most student-driven and data-driven study I’ve been involved in as a teacher here. The opportunities for a high school kid to do this kind of research-based science doesn’t come along every day. On a secondary note, I’m interested to see how the data reflects in my athletes in particularly. I’m pretty confident in the training methodology we use, due to our performance, but it will be interesting to see if there are some individual differences athletically.”

Boulerice received a $200 scholarship from the Souhegan Lion’s Club to purchase apps and other equipment she needs to correctly measure and record her data.

Boulerice and Smith are seeking student athletes as well as adults willing to participate in the fitness study. To participate, contact Smith at msmith@mascenic.org.

How to improve your performance through breath

“The upper limit of your ability is strangleholded by your VO2 Max,” said Smith.

Physical performance is only one aspect of what breathing correctly can do for physical and mental health. Breathing has been an integrated part of health maintenance in both Western and Eastern medicine — used in child birth (Lamaze breathing), asthma relief and pain control, as well as in to treat panic attacks, anxiety disorders and emotional trauma.

Breathing, by definition, is an automatic function of the body. It’s something that the body does without the person having to direct it to. But not everyone breathes the same, and how you breathe can affect the amount of oxygen taken into the body.

Place your hand on your chest and take a breath. Then, place your hand on your stomach and take a breath. If your chest moved up and down more than your stomach, it means that the entirety of your lungs are not being used, which means you are limiting your oxygen.

Lisa Jones, who is certified as a breathwork therapist with the Global Breathworker’s Trainers Alliance, said in a telephone interview on Thursday that changing the way you breathe can have profound effects on physical, mental, and spiritual health. But many of the clients she works with who come to her to reduce stress or anxiety and learn to breath more deeply, immediately notice a rise in energy levels, said Jones.

“We get our energy from the oxygen we take in,” said Jones.

Seventy percent of breathing is diaphragmatic, said Jones. The diaphragm expands into the abdominal cavity. When people breath mostly in the chest, not only are they not taking in as much oxygen, but they are also over-using the muscles of their chest and back, which are not meant to take on the added pressure of supporting the respiratory system.

“We’re holistic beings. When one system is off, everything is off,” said Jones.

She sees a lot of young people, particularly young girls, breathing from their chest instead of their stomachs.

As a breathing exercise to begin breathing correctly, Jones recommended lying down, placing fingertips to the top of the pubic bone and allowing a full breath to enter the body in a gentle way. Then, move fingers to the belly, ribcage and chest, to feel breath moving through the body. This helps to connect people to the action of breathing and their bodies, said Jones.

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