The Center for Health and Human Performance (CHHP) looks a lot like your typical gym—that is, if your gym is gleamingly clean, flooded with natural light from floor-to-ceiling windows, and fitted out with state-of-the-art equipment designed to calibrate the effects of exercise on human health. Consider yourself extra lucky if your gym includes a Bod Pod, which would be right at home on a Star Trek set. Shaped like an elongated egg on a tilt, with a windshield at the top, the pod measures changes in air displacement to offer a remarkably accurate assessment of body mass. “It’s probably the easiest test you’ll ever do—you sit quietly inside it for 45 seconds to a minute and that’s it,” says Michelle Arent, CHHP’s director of training and conditioning.

She and Shawn Arent, the center’s director, have taken a turn in the pod and no doubt emerged with impressive numbers. She’s a faculty member at the School of Environmental and Biological Sciences with a master’s in public health who also happens to be a marathon runner and former professional physique competitor. And Michelle was recently appointed the strength and conditioning coach and sports nutritionist for the Scarlet Knights women’s soccer team. Shawn’s fitness bona fides are equally impressive. Before earning a Ph.D. in exercise science, he was a strength coach at the University of Virginia and now directs the Kinesiology and Applied Physiology graduate program at the School of Arts and Sciences. Named the 2017 William J. Kraemer Outstanding Sport Scientist of the Year, he is also the president of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. The Arents have wedded their disparate but complementary backgrounds at the center, where they work—sometimes together, sometimes separately—to help determine and put into practice the latest advances in exercise science and nutrition.

They also happen to be wedded to each other—a positive, both agree. “We tend to approach things from two different angles,” says Shawn, “and I think that affords us a broader perspective.” As a scientist, he’s focused on research; she’s intent on putting that research to practical use.

In fact, CHHP—part of the New Jersey Institute for Food, Nutrition, and Health at Rutgers University–New Brunswick—was initially conceived as a pure research center, but Shawn quickly realized, he says, “that we had a unique capability to apply the research.” To that end, the couple developed a science-based training and conditioning program that’s open to the public and, since the center’s founding in 2015, has benefited youth athletes from as far away as Delaware, Pennsylvania, and upstate New York, as well as the Rutgers staff and faculty who come to the center for the kind of individualized, research-based workouts they’re unlikely to get anywhere else.

Many, if not most, of the research subjects also come away with benefits. The women’s soccer team, for instance, participated in a study on the use of biomarkers in the blood (like cortisol, testosterone, and iron levels) to prevent injury. “Since we’ve been testing them,” says Shawn, “they made the [NCAA’s] final four in 2015 and they’ve had no season-ending injuries.” Other research efforts have helped children with autism reduce stereotypic behaviors through exercise and improved the health of adolescent cancer survivors with a new fitness app. In addition, a study in conjunction with the U.S. Army developed novel ways of detecting exercise stress.    

The center also benefits graduate students studying kinesiology, applied physiology, and nutrition, who come to apply classroom knowledge in real-life situations. They may discover, for instance, that the best workout isn’t necessarily the one that uses the most science but, as Shawn puts it, “the one someone will actually do.” Watching a married couple work together is also part of their education. “We don’t see eye to eye on everything,” Shawn admits. But the takeaway from their sometimes spirited discussions, says Michelle, is that “if you don’t agree with something, ask questions. It helps you grow and learn.”