Currently viewing the tag: "endurance"

When it comes to strengthening the lower back, Pilates swimming mat exercises beat straight back extensions every time.  So says a recent study out of Brazil, which looked at Pilates mat exercises to distinguish which was the best exercise to increase strength and endurance of the lumbar spine paraspinal muscles (multifidi to be exact).  We know that by strengthening the spinal stabilizers of the low back–paraspinals and abdominals (the core)–chronic low back pain can be resolved and prevented.

The study involved measuring muscle activity during three Pilates mat exercises with surface electromyography (sEMG).  The three exercises were (all done face down):

  1. swimming (great video here)–essentially a cross-crawl pattern of lifting opposite side arm and leg while extending the back, alternating sides through several repetitions
  2. single leg kick–the subject’s back arched, supporting herself with forearms on the floor, flexing one foot then the other in a repeating pattern
  3. double leg kick–the subject moving from head and shoulders down and knees bent, to her back fully arched and arms extended behind her, and then back to head down/knees bent in an alternating manner

The results showed that the greatest activity of lumbar paraspinal muscles (an indicator of more efficient strengthening and stability) occurred in the swimming or cross-crawl pattern.  This study confirms that, at least for strengthening and stabilizing the low back, a cross-crawl pattern is superior to same-sided (ipsilateral) movements, or contracting both sides together.  Why?

Cross-Crawl Pattern

It’s because the cross-crawl pattern actually simulates the way we move.  Muscles of the low back and pelvis fire in an alternating pattern, going from glut to opposite side paraspinals to same side paraspinals, in that order.  When we become lax or de-conditioned in this region–watch out!–chronic low back pain.  In fact, studies show that weak paraspinal muscles are a good indicator of future low back pain.

This study’s upside is that we have a good indication of which movements of the lumbar spine are most functional–again, the cross-crawl.  The downside is, we don’t know if Pilates mat exercises are more effective than using the Roman chair or machines.  My feeling is they are–Pilates mat exercises most closely resemble our natural movements; this leads me to believe that the exercises done in the natural lumbar range of motion will have the greatest contractile strength, and thus the greatest increase in the endurance of the muscles.  Although the Roman chair and machines undoubtedly strengthen low back muscles, the very nature of their low-functionality (we don’t really do those movements naturally) probably makes them poor endurance building exercises comparatively.

Probably no surprises here, but regular exercisers have more lift to their libido.  So says a recent study out of the VA medical center in North Carolina.  According to the research, men that worked out regularly (and quit or refrained from smoking) reported better sexual function.  This was true even after adjusting for age and race.  Nice. A related Finnish study showed that women who exercised regularly and quit or refrained from smoking had better urinary health.  These findings are scheduled to be released tomorrow at the annual meeting of the American Urological Association in San Francisco.

photo-1427384906349-30452365b5e8 (Copy)Although the benefits of exercise and disadvantages of smoking are pretty evident for most people, many do not realize how quickly they can benefit by just getting started now.  I’ve done it, quit smoking after twenty years.  I loved tobacco; but without a doubt, my greatest gains have been in my cardiovascular endurance, and that alone was worth quitting. I do not miss the feeling of being out of breath on the slightest brisk walk or run.  Sure, I continued to work out, play sports and be relatively active, but I was entirely aware of my cardiopulmonary limitations, simply because I’d get winded.  However, since I was smoking from a very early age, I didn’t realize how much it effected my endurance until I quit.  To this day I say it’s the greatest effect I’ve noticed, and that benefit alone keeps me from ever restarting.

When it comes to sexual health, the cardiovascular system is everything.  For men to get and maintain an erection, receiving proper blood flow to the penis is imperative.  That’s how Viagra works, by increasing penile blood flow.  But you can do it naturally: Kick the nicotine habit, and work out, both anaerobically (resistance training), and aerobically (treadmill, bike, hiking, elliptical, etc.).  I guarantee if you do both these actions (keys #2 and #6 in my book The Six Keys to Optimal Health), you’ll feel results almost immediately.  You know they say a hard man is good to find…well, it’s good for the man, too.

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