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Manchester Metropolitan University’s Cheshire Campus. Exercise Sports Science and Sports centre.

Posted on 12th September, 2016

Manchester Metropolitan University is a leading University and a powerful driver of the North West economy.

As well as educating and training large numbers of the region’s legal and business professionals, engineers, teachers and creative professionals, the University is also a leader in the field of Sport and Exercise and Sport Science, and the BSc (Hons) Sport and Exercise Science degree is accredited by the British Association of Sport and Exercise Sciences (BASES).

M MU 2Manchester Met invested £10 million in 2009/10 for an Exercise, Sport Science and Sports centre at the Cheshire Campus. The project, run and built by Eric Wright Group was completed towards the end of 2010.

This investment created a state-of the-art laboratory suite with a series of large laboratory spaces; an environmental chamber, genetics and biochemistry laboratories, as well as an eight court sports hall, health and fitness suite, PC lab and sports injury clinic. There is also a 3rd generation pitch and an Olympic beach volleyball court on campus!

During the design stage of the new facility Weiss Technik UK Ltd (Formally Design Environmental Ltd) was approached to offer a solution for an environmental chamber/Sport Science Room with a hypoxic facility to become one of the corner stones within the complex. Working closely with Eric Wright Group and to a specification supplied by Prof Neil Fowler from Manchester Met, the room was installed during the build phase and commissioned in October 2010. The facility was officially opened by footballing legend Sir Bobby Charlton CBE in November 2010.

The Weiss Technik Environmental Chamber, or Sport Science Room (SSR), consists of a fully vapour sealed insulated, 50m³ room with a remote plant module located two floors above in a purpose built plant room.

The facility is capable of simulating environmental conditions from around the world, accurately controlling temperatures between -20°C and +50°C with relative humidity between 20% and 95%. The Oxygen content within the SSR can also be accurately controlled to simulate altitude (Hypoxia). This is achieved through the use of a Hypoxic module supplied by Weiss Technik’s partner The Altitude Centre. The Hypoxic module is fed with 1,500 litres/min of dried compressed air from a dedicated air compressor, which is then filtered for particles down to bacteria and pollen level as well as odours and hydrocarbons. 

The compressed air is fed into the Hypoxic module where it passes through a molecular sieve to regulate the Oxygen content before being fed into the SSR. It is able to simulate Oxygen levels from 20.9% (Sea level) to 12% (4,500m altitude).  The 12% level is pre-set as a safe operational level; however the system also has the ability to provide lower Oxygen content to simulate higher altitudes. For safety reasons, these lower levels are only achievable with special multi-level password input. 

The control system delivers rapid achievement of altitude, typically 120 minutes from sea level to 4,500m and offers precise control of Oxygen levels to 0.1% of the set point. The hypoxic module also provides the fresh air make up for the room and minimises odours and Carbon Dioxide build up from training athletes.
Keeping the distribution and fluctuation of the desired conditions within the SSR is a fine balancing act. The air entering the room is very dry and must be humidified and tempered to meet the set conditions. On top of this, any heat load present in the room from exercise equipment and, of course, training athletes radiating heat, expelling moisture and CO2 must also be taken into account and controlled.
Safety is paramount so Oxygen content is monitored by long life Zirconium sensors both inside the chamber and in the control area outside in case of leakage. In this instance, a visual/audible alarm is activated and automatic shutdown of the room occurs if a hazardous situation is detected. 

Use of the SSR at Manchester Met is varied, main uses as you would expect in a University are learning and teaching sessions in the chamber.

MSc Exercise Science (Physiology) teaching and MSc projects: Masters students are the main users of the SSR, undertaking cardio respiratory measures whilst the SSR is in hypoxic mode at -20°C to +35°C. These students look at respiratory and cardiac responses at rest and during exercise under various environmental conditions as a way of understanding fundamental concepts, like the Oxygen haemoglobin saturation curve and applied aspects of maximal and submaximal exercise.

BSc Exercise and Sport Science students: Simulated hypoxemia, to mimic the arterial conditions of anaemics undertaking exercise.
BSc Exercise and Sport Science student projects include: Resistance training responses in hypoxia - a number of students have looked at Electromyography (EMG) responses whilst undertaking resistance training sessions. Differences in VO2 max (maximum rate of oxygen utilisation) with hypoxia between male and female subjects are also researched.

BSc Outdoor Studies: Workshop sessions to illustrate the effects of altitude on human physiology (Heart Rate, SPO2, rating of perceived exertion) by comparing cycle exercise under normoxic (20.9 % O2) and hypoxic (12% O2) conditions.
The university also supports athletes in their sporting endeavours; Manchester Met was in in partnership with Cheshire East to host pre-Olympics 2012 training camps. Most notably the most successful GB Paralympian, Dame Sarah Storey DBE used the facility.

Sarah is Great Britain's most decorated female Paralympian having won 11 Gold, 8 Silver and 3 Bronze medals across an impressive 6 Paralympic Games and 2 disciplines. She began her Paralympic career as a swimmer, winning two golds, three silvers and a bronze in Barcelona in 1992 at age 14. She continued swimming in the next three Paralympic Games before switching to cycling in 2005. 

During the 2012 London games Sarah won Team GB’s first gold medal of the games and went on to win 3 more. Sarah trained at Manchester Met in the Weiss Technik SSR with trainer and husband Barney Storey MBE and offered the following statement, “In the 6 months prior to the 2012 Games I used to train in the Environmental Chamber on the turbo trainer for an hour up to three times a week in carefully scripted blocks of training – it was incredible to have access to this facility for my training”

M MU 3

Sarah Storey is currently training at Manchester Met in preparation for the Paralympic Games 2016 in Brazil. 

The SSR has also been used to help in a number of charity fund raising events. Eight members of Manchester City FC completed 5 sessions in the SSR to help reduce the effects of attitude sickness before an ascent of Mount Kilimanjaro. It has been used by others to assist in acclimatisation prior to visits to Mount Everest base camp.

Members of the public have also used the room in preparation for their own individual event preparations, amongst them, Mr Richard Balukiewicz aged 63.

Richard successfully completed the Marathon Des Sables in the Moroccan Sahara desert. This is a multi-day ‘ultra-marathon’ or ‘ultra’ run in six days over a course of between 150 and 156 miles (254km) in temperatures between +40°C to +50°C.

Dr Andrew Moss from Manchester Met assisted and advised Richard with his training regime.

Richard says “Andrew researched the event identifying the specific temperature and humidity range for the Marathon des Sables. I could not have wished for anyone better to have helped me prepare for the race. The first time I entered the Weiss Technik SSR, the sensation of all enveloping heat took my breath away. Between the first and last visit, with an agreed increase in time and speed of walking, I felt that the level of heat was a variable with which I could now cope, especially as the SSR had been set to replicate the temperature and humidity conditions of the Moroccan Sahara.”

Richard also used the SSR as an opportunity for trialing the equipment to be used to complete the event. “I discovered that some items I had intended to use in the desert were not as comfortable as I had initially thought at high temperatures. The opportunity to trial various items of clothing resulted in revising the clothing I would wear and replacing the water bottles and the rucksack. Different electrolytical drink powders were tried and what had a nice taste under normal temperatures didn’t when hot”.

Not having been defeated by the Marathon Des Sables, Richard is now in training for 6633 Arctic Ultra which is a non-stop self-sufficient foot race over a distance of either 120 miles or 350 miles. Both races cross the line of the Arctic Circle, with the longer race continuing to the banks of the Arctic Ocean at Tuktoyaktuk, Canada. Richard is sure that the Weiss Technik SSR will come in useful again for sub zero temperature training.

Apart from the SSR supplied to Manchester Met, Weiss Technik has supplied many other universities and institutions in the UK along with installations in Russia, Brazil, Australia, New Zealand, Saudi Arabia and Estonia. 

Enquiries relating to the MMU Environmental Chamber should be made to Dr Andrew Moss using the e-mail address: envchamber@mmu.ac.uk
Department of Exercise and Sport Science at Manchester Met: http://www.cheshire.mmu.ac.uk/exspsci/

Tour of the Sports Science facilities at Manchester Met: http://www.cheshire.mmu.ac.uk/exspsci/aboutus/facilities.php

'Horizon scientist goes on ‘altitude training’ at MMU Cheshire’ can be found at: http://www.mmu.ac.uk/news/news-items/1558

MMU support athlete Richard Balukiewicz in his attempt on the 2015 Marathon Des Sables: http://www.mmu.ac.uk/news/news-items/3867/