DiscoverSTEM-TalkEpisode 156: Josh Hagen discusses optimizing performance in athletes and warfighters
Episode 156: Josh Hagen discusses optimizing performance in athletes and warfighters

Episode 156: Josh Hagen discusses optimizing performance in athletes and warfighters

Update: 2023-08-21


Today’s interview is with Dr. Josh Hagen, the director of the Human Performance Collaborative at Ohio State University and an Associate Research Professor in the university’s Department of Integrated Systems Engineering.

Joining co-host Ken Ford for this episode is IHMC’s Chief Strategic Partnership Officer Morley Stone who has a long history with Josh has and been instrumental in his career.

Today we talk with Josh about his work at the Human Performance Collaborate, which brings together multi-disciplinary teams of researchers, sports scientists, data scientists, and practitioners with the goal of optimizing human performance in Ohio State athletes.

Within the human performance research area, Josh leads two areas: Sport and Tactical Performance Science and Recovery Science. At Ohio State, Josh works with other performance-science researchers to evaluate the physical traits and capabilities of athletes. Josh and his colleagues then collaborate with coaches and athletic trainers to make adjustments in the weight room, on the field, and during recovery after training or competitions.

In addition to his work at Ohio State, Josh also is working on federally funded projects in human performance with Special Operations Command, The Air Force Research Laboratory, the Office of Naval Research and several private foundations. Josh joined IHMC in 2022 in a collaborate role as a Visiting Senior Research Scientist.

Josh is a graduate of the University of Cincinnati where he studied and earned a Ph.D. in materials science and engineering. He spent 11 years at the Air Force Research Laboratory, which is where Morley and Josh first worked together. After his stint at the Air Force Research Laboratory, Josh headed for West Virginia University as the director of the Human Performance Innovation Center at the Rockefeller Neuroscience Institute before moving to the Ohio State University.

Show notes:

[00:03:39 ] Morley starts the interview asking Josh if he played a lot of sports as a kid.

[00:03:54 ] Morley asks if it is true that in addition to being a bit of a jock, Josh was also a nerd growing up.

[00:04:34 ] Josh talks about the high school chemistry teacher who got him excited about science.

[00:06:05 ] Morley asks how Josh ended up at the University of Cincinnati.

[00:07:06 ] Morley mentions that after Josh earned his bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering, he worked for a private company before deciding he did not want to spend his career in chemical engineering. Morley asks about the advice that one of his professors gave Josh at the time.

[00:09:03 ] Ken mentions that it was at the Materials Directorate at the Air Force Research Lab, where Josh first met Morley. Ken asks Morley what he remembers about the young Josh.

[00:11:19 ] Ken turns the question to Josh and asks him about his first impressions of Morley.

[00:12:12 ] Ken mentions that after Josh completed his graduate work, he again went to work in the private sector, and again found it unfulfilling. Josh talks about calling Morley to see if he had a job opening.

[00:13:51 ] Morley mentions that in 2018, Josh left the Air Force and went to work at West Virginia University, where he became the director of the Human Performance Innovation Center at the Rockefeller Neuroscience Institute. Morley asks Josh how that job came about and what sort of work went on in that lab.

[00:15:46 ] Ken mentions that after Josh’s time at West Virginia, Morley offered Josh a job at Ohio State University, where Morley was, at the time, the senior vice president for research at Ohio State. Ken asks what this time was like for Josh.

[00:17:17 ] Morley mentions that in Josh’s role as the director of the Human Performance Collaborative, he works with a multidisciplinary team, and largely worked with two populations, sports athletes and the military. Morley asks Josh to give a sense of how Josh’s lab works with both groups.

[00:20:18 ] Morley asks Josh to explain what he means by “the need to understand performance on a system level.”

[00:23:14 ] Ken asks Josh about the use of Heart Rate Variability monitoring on Ohio State’s wrestling team.

[00:26:34 ] Morley references a video in which Josh talks about using training load monitors in work with athletes. Morley asks Josh to explain how they work and how one uses them to get more insight into an athlete.

[00:29:13 ] Morley asks Josh what the biggest change he has seen in how athletes approach the off season.

[00:32:03 ] Morley mentions that Josh was part of a longitudinal study that looked at changes in a baseball player’s maximal strength as a result of resistance training. The study focused the impact the exercise had in terms of total home runs per game across three years of training in four competitive seasons for four teams. Morley asks Josh to talk about this study.

[00:33:40 ] Morley switches topics to Josh’s research and studies on wearables and other technologies related to enhancing human performance. Morley mentions Josh’s 2020 paper that examined the use of commercially available heart rate devices to derive an estimate of core body temperature in division-1 NCAA football players, The goal was to find a viable tool to identify heat stress in players. Morley asks Josh to talk about the findings of this study and their significance.

[00:38:18 ] Ken mentions Josh’s 2020 paper on monitoring neuromuscular performance in military personnel. Ken goes on to mention that there is a high standard that elite tactical forces must meet in terms of physical readiness. He asks Josh how he conducted this study, as well as the importance of closely monitoring neuromuscular performance in military troops.

[00:43:08 ] Ken asks about Josh’s study on popular commercial off-the-shelf wearables that give health data for consumers.  Ken asks about their accuracy.

[00:48:57 ] With respect to Josh’s sleep study, Ken asks, which of the nine devices tested was more effective.  Or, Ken wonders, did they all have about same level of accuracy and effectiveness.

[00:50:16 ] Ken mentions some of the problems with sleep monitoring devices, particularly their inability to accurately track sleep staging. Ken asks Josh if he has any advice for people on what sleep device they should use and how they should approach using it.

[00:53:12 ] Morley brings up the case of first responders and mentions that firefighters are three times more likely to die on the job than any other occupation. Morley goes on to mention that while there is a great deal of attention paid to developing better equipment and gear to protect firefighters, not as much attention has been paid to understanding the physiological and biological processes that firefighters experience as a part of their job. Morley asks about Josh’s study conducted on firefighters titled “Biomarker and Biometric Indices of Physical Exhaustion in the Firefighting Community.”

[00:57:52 ] Morley asks Josh about his work with the Air Force’s 711th Human Performance Wing, particularly Josh’s project that he has led for the past decade called STRONG (signature tracking or optimized nutrition and training) which aims to develop physical training routines and nutritional approaches that can enhance a warfighter’s performance and resilience.

[01:01:09 ] Morley asks what are some of the technologies Josh has explored in the STRONG lab.

[01:02:59 ] Ken asks if there is a difference in the error bars between more and less expensive bio impedance measurement devices in comparison to dexa scans.

[01:04:01 ] Ken asks Morley to give an overview of IHMC’s research project that involves Josh, Ohio State University, and the STRONG lab, called AAPEX (Assessing and Augmenting Performance in Extreme Environments). Ken explains that this project aims for real time assessment of a special operator’s cognitive performance over long-duration missions, often in extreme environments, as well as developing wearable devices and an integrated system that will help warfighters overcome fatigue and stress by continually sensing and assessing their performance.

[01:08:28 ] Ken asks Josh about his use of the Smartabase platform, which is a commercial human performance optimization platform used for sports teams, military, and other organizations. Ken also asks why Josh is a fan of this platform and what it offers.

[01:12:45 ] Morley closes the interview by asking Josh how someone goes from working for a private company developing spearmint and other flavors to working with elite warfighters and athletes.


Josh Hagen bio

Learn more about IHMC

STEM-Talk homepage

Ken Ford bio

Ken Ford Wikipedia page

Dawn Kernagis bio

In Channel








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Episode 156: Josh Hagen discusses optimizing performance in athletes and warfighters

Episode 156: Josh Hagen discusses optimizing performance in athletes and warfighters