University of Wisconsin–Madison

Exercise Physiology

Graduate Advisors: Gary M. Diffee, Ph.D.; William Schrage, Ph.D.; Marlowe Eldridge, MD;
Troy Hornberger, Ph.D.; Jill Barnes, Ph.D.

Synopsis: Exercise Physiology is the study of the biological responses and adaptations to acute and chronic exercise. Research and graduate training at UW-Madison focuses on elucidating:

  1. the physiological, biochemical and molecular mechanisms underlying these processes
  2. the influence of exercise on health and disease.


Laboratory Facilities and Experimental Approaches: Departmental laboratory facilities are well-equipped, allowing graduate students to employ a variety of state-of-the-art experimental approaches.

Dr. Diffee studies the regulation of contraction in skeletal and cardiac muscle and how this regulation is altered by perturbations such as exercise training, injury, or disease. Typical experiments involve measurement of contractile properties single skeletal muscle fibers and single cardiac myocytes and correlation of altered mechanical properties to changes in cell protein composition detected by biochemical and molecular biological techniques. Interaction with faculty and students from other departments (including Nutritional Sciences, Biochemistry, School of Medicine, and the Institute on Aging) is encouraged by ongoing collaborative research efforts. The research of William Schrage’s laboratory is focused on how blood flow is regulated in muscle and brain circulations. Specifically, Dr. Schrage is interested in how acute exercise or environmental stress like hypoxia influences blood flow and how this is impacted by obesity and metabolic syndrome. He measures blood flow using state-of-the-art technology including ultrasound and MRI. A key approach is to use pharmacologic tools to understand how blood flow is controlled, and how obesity changes which mechanisms change the ability to regulate blood flow under stress. Dr. Barnes focuses on how aging and exercise alters blood flow and blood pressure regulation.  Her current projects focus on age-associated changes in cerebral blood flow, the sympathetic nervous system activity influences cerebral blood flow, and how these relate to the risk of cardiovascular disease and dementia.

Purpose of MS: The MS with an emphasis in Exercise Physiology is designed to provide the fundamental framework for understanding and conducting research in Exercise Physiology. In addition to course work in Physiology, Statistics, and Research Methods, students pursue advanced study in Exercise Physiology. Students conduct a research project as part of the thesis requirement. Many MS students have the opportunity to teach during their training. Graduates of the MS program often pursue further graduate training, usually in a Ph.D., M.D. or D.O. program. Other MS graduates immediately pursue a career in research, educational, or clinical settings.

Purpose of Ph.D.: The Ph.D. with an emphasis in Exercise Physiology is designed to prepare students for scholarly research and teaching. Students are prepared with advanced course work in Exercise Physiology along with supporting course work in Biochemistry, Physiology, Statistics, and other areas of Kinesiology (including Biomechanics, Motor Control and Behavior, and Sports Psychology). An important advantage of graduate study at UW-Madison is the exceptional selection of elective courses (>40 departments offer graduate courses in biological sciences). Minor course work can be performed in Biochemistry, Nutritional Sciences, Physiology, Preventive Medicine, Cellular and Molecular Biology, Zoology, or other relevant fields. Students are intensively involved in conducting research throughout their graduate training and are expected to present research at national scientific meetings and publish their findings in peer-reviewed journals. Most Ph.D. students have the opportunity to teach during their training. Graduates of the Ph.D. program commonly pursue post-doctoral training and then establish independent research programs as university faculty members. Graduates occasionally pursue careers in industry or in clinical settings.

Prerequisites for admission to Exercise Physiology track, MS and PhD

Course Requirements/ Curriculum – Ex Physiology