The mystery and myths of muscle cramps

Many myths surround the how and why we get sudden cramps.

You’re not alone in jumping in the night because of one. Muscle cramps happen suddenly and often excruciatingly, leaving a palpable knotting of the muscle. They can happen to anyone, with or without a history of nervous or metabolic disorders. Cramps can occur during sleep, strenuous activity, or pregnancy. It’s not clearly understood why we get these sudden cramps, but research shows that the likely causes of these types of cramps are multifactorial and caused by changes in the neuromuscular system. One hypothesis is that nerves malfunction. Overly excited muscle neurons go a little haywire in a feedback loop either from the receptors in the muscle, or spinal nerve pathways.

Other causes of cramping are straining or overusing a muscle, or not enough blood getting to the muscle. Sometimes this malfunction is related to metabolic disorders, or a health problem such as a spinal cord injury, medications, or a pinched nerve in the neck or back.

But still, many myths surround the how or why. Regarding exercise- associated muscle cramping, 92% of athletic trainers and most people believe that dehydration or electrolyte imbalance is the cause. Or, perhaps eating more bananas is the answer? If you have a family history of cramping, it’s a good idea to consult your doctor for any possible calcium or potassium supplement recommendations. If you are healthy, there are few well-designed experimental studies supporting dehydration or electrolyte imbalances. First, the best immediate response for cramps is gently stretching the taut muscle. It’s been argued that since static stretching quickly relieves cramping, then how could it be that dehydration is the problem, as no liquids or electrolytes are added to the body with simple stretching. Second, cramp- prone athletes often drink more fluid than athletes without a history of exercise- associated muscle- cramping, ( EAMC ) and it’s found that even when sport drink consumption matched sweat loss, EAMC still happened 70 % of the time. The most interesting argument against dehydration being the culprit is that dehydration affects the whole body, not just the calves, quads or hamstrings, the muscles that are more prone to cramping.

Myths 2 and 3 : Sports drinks and bananas for electrolytes.

If you’re active, you need to drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration. But you don’t want to overdo it, whether you are simply gardening, or playing two and a half hours of tennis. If you did play tennis, or any other sport for that amount of time, you would need the equivalent of approximately six and half teaspoons of salt replaced. Keep in mind that a typical sports drink contains only 0.44g/L of sodium. That would mean you’d be drinking gallons of fluids, which can be deadly. It’s not uncommon, sadly, that sports enthusiasts and athletes can die from water intoxication, called hyponatraemia. Rather than relying on sports drinks, it’s important to replace electrolytes at meals. Drink enough water throughout the day. As we age, we sometimes forget to drink enough because the thirst impulse becomes weaker.

Another myth about cramping is to reach for a banana, as the potassium in bananas can relieve cramping. Bananas are a healthy snack, but it takes at least 30 minutes to see an increase in new potassium ions in the blood after eating one. So far, there isn’t any evidence that eating bananas effectively prevent or treats EAMCs.

Because immediately stretching a cramp helps it subside, another factor may be in play. Tiny fibers, myofilaments, in muscle may overlap each other when muscles are already tight, and can bunch up even more, resulting in a sudden cramp. I’ve often experienced hamstring cramps going into an advanced yoga lunge if I haven’t previously stretched them enough beforehand. Though the cause of muscle cramps is still a bit elusive, recent evidence suggests that muscle overload is a factor. Stretching still appears to the the best treatment for those sudden cramps.

Click on the link for an effective calf stretch . https://vimeo.com/230657677

Published in the Idaho Mountain Express August 25, 2017.

Are fitness trackers motivating ?

Fitness trackers can be a good tool for helping you move more.

The Fitbit is sleek and novel, as are many of the new fitness trackers and apps, such as the Adidas or Human App, with gorgeous images, charts, and graphics. What’s not to like being called a hero for walking 30 minutes? Graphs and feedback in fitness trackers are fun and motivational. This year, activity trackers and wearable’s retained their number one ranking by the American College of Sports Medicine’s Worldwide Survey of Fitness Trends, and an estimated 485 million wearable devices will be in the market by 2018. But do they really make a difference in terms of long-term lifestyle change?

As with any new trend, going way back to Jane Fonda workout videos, Cooper Aerobics, Jim Fixx and running, or today’s P90X, the initial novelty wears off. Dr. Michelle Segar, Ph.D., a motivational scientist at the University of Michigan’s Sport, Health, and Activity Research Center says that they are still just tools, not the holy grail of motivation. Yes, some people love graphs and charts, but it is your relationship with physical activity that counts in the long run. Is exercise a chore, or a gift?

Studies are mixed and ongoing in showing how effective tracking apps are to help people lose weight. Research shows that only some types of trackers can help. For instance, a study of inactive postmenopausal women found that a standard pedometer didn’t help increase their activity, while the Fitbit did. Another study published in the Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology showed participants increased their physical activity by 16 minutes per week. However, by 6 months, 40% of the participants stopped wearing their devices, and at the year’s end, only 10 % of them were still wearing them.

The Right Why

If only a small percentage of people wear trackers after a year, where is the missing motivational link? Human nature dictates that we all want to have positive experiences and ownership of our behavior. Is your underlying reason why you would want to include more exercise is because your doctor said so, or societal pressures to be thin? When I set up exercise programs for new clients, I always ask what is the specific number one goal that they want to achieve. Your reason for initiating a behavior change has to be compelling enough that you would want it in your life. Feel better. Have more energy. Be in a better mood. All these reasons have a domino effect and can positively influence your motivation, says Dr. Segar. In her book No Sweat: How the Simple Science of Motivation Can Bring You a Lifetime of Fitness, Dr. Segar points out that physical activity that is enjoyable and makes people feel good right now is more motivating than a noble far-off goal such as “ better health “. When you focus on an immediate pleasure, like an evening walk around your neighborhood, moving more then becomes a gift. This is what Dr. Segar calls the right why.

When you enjoy something and do it willingly, you are highly motivated, autonomous. Within this theory, you’ve created a sense of ownership. Regarding exercising, you also develop a sense of self-care. The rewards are instant- perhaps your headache is gone, or feel better for doing some stretching. By taking these little steps, you reinforce the rewards of being more active. The brain begins to associate sweat with a surge of endorphins- those feel-good chemicals. Keep using your tracker. It’s a good partnership for staying motivated.

Published in the Idaho Mountain Express July 25, 2017

http://www.mtexpress.com/wood_river_journal/features/fitness-guru/article_5421f864-7312-11e7-afcb-dff831782410.html

 

 

Extend your spine~ The Roman Chair for back health

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Our spines need to be subtle and strong

When it comes to musculoskeletal pain, the lower back reigns as king. About 80 to 85 percent of people will experience some sort of low back pain in their life. According to the National Health Statistics Survey in 2012, more than 28 percent of Americans live with lower back pain. Back troubles are the No. 1 reason people under age 45 miss out on activities.

Ironically, most people with low back pain overuse their backs, exacerbating the trouble even more. It’s better to use your legs to bend or squat down, or to use your hips in rotational sports like golf or yoga to spare stresses on your lower back.

Our spines need to be supple and strong, as daily tasks demand that the vertebrae bend, flex, rotate and side bend. The spine does an amazing job of handling loads straight down the back, but over time, poor mechanics repeated hundreds of times in daily life and activities can cause low back pain. Even more problematic is our forward bending posture, especially with aging. It seems we’re all forgetting to stand up and extend our spines. Our preference for slumping, sitting or driving is very hard on our back ligaments, and at worst, it becomes structural, resulting in bad posture or back problems. The end result is that greater compressive forces are placed on the intervertebral discs.

If you go to a gym, there is an overlooked piece of gym equipment to help strengthen your back. Typically used as a place to hang your gym towel, the Roman chair, looking somewhat like a stand, can isolate and strengthen the spine extensor muscles.

Exercises such as squats and deadlifts help strengthen your back, but the larger hip extensor muscles do much of the work. The lumbar extensors, multifidi (the deepest muscles near your spine) and the quadratus lumborum are the important muscles for spine health, as they help provide stability in the area of the spine most prone to injury. Think of your spine as two stacked boxes, called the vertebrae, with lots of padding between them—the discs, where most back problems begin. The natural curves of your spine help the discs cushion compressive forces.

Any exercises you do should keep spine stability in mind, and be done with muscle control rather than momentum. Avoid excessive range-of-motion movements that damage spinal ligaments or discs. End-range extension, or forceful hyperextension, places the posterior elements of the spine at risk of damage, especially with spinal stenosis or sports hernia.

 To use the Roman chair, you lie face-down, with the back of your ankles supported, and your navel in line with the edge of the pad. Round your back over the pad, slowly extend your torso parallel to the floor so that you are horizontal from your heels to head, hold for one second and lower for three seconds.  ( View video IMG_3055 )
Published in the Idaho Mountain Express June 30, 2017

Deep sleep for glowing health

    Starting as early as 30, improving the quality and quantity of sleep can eliminate future risk of memory loss and a wide range of mental and physical disorders. UC Berkeley researchers think that nearly every disease killing us in later life has a causal link to lack of sleep.

    If you have trouble sleeping more now than when you were younger, don’t worry that this is how your nights will be from here out. Generally, you will be able to fall back asleep as fast as you used to with a strategy. Researchers find that the aging brain has trouble generating the kind of slow brain waves that promote deep restorative sleep, called deep non-rapid eye movement. This time-out for the brain helps sort the unimportant to important information from the hippocampus, to the prefrontal cortex, which consolidates information into long-term storage.

Here are some suggestions to how you can get the sleep you need:

Daytime routine

 Caffeine: Generally, caffeine lasts for five to six hours in the body. Try to not have caffeine later than mid-afternoon.

  Naps: Naps are great, but no later than mid-afternoon.

  Late-night eating: Try to avoid eating less than three hours before bedtime or overeating at dinner.

Evening routine

 Minimize screen time: Turn off your iPhone, iPad and TV to minimize screen time.

Bedroom: Have your bedroom quiet and dark, and a cool temperature. Core body temperature drops with the onset of sleep, but then increases because of a greater blood flow to the skin, so have comfortable bedding. Around 9 p.m., your body produces melatonin, which helps control your sleep-wake cycle. Melatonin is a natural hormone made by the pineal gland, located just above the middle of the brain. When the sun goes down, the pineal turn on signals in the brain that controls hormones, body temperature and other functions that play a role in making us sleepy or very awake. Its transmission is better promoted in a dark environment. Melatonin level stays elevated typically throughout the night, and drops before the light of a new day. When traveling, pack an eye mask and earplugs.

    Meditate in bed: Promote relaxation by relaxing as much as you can once you get into bed. It takes practice, but focus on slow, quiet breathing. A simple breathing practice can consist of only a few minutes to reconnect to mind, body and spirit. Keep focusing on your breath, and let any thoughts go. If you start to think about things, give yourself credit for noticing that your mind has wandered, and return to gentle breathing.


 Connie Aronson is an ACSM-certified exercise physiologist at the YMCA in Ketchum. Learn more at www.conniearonson.com.

Published in the Idaho Mountain Express May 5, 2017

More good news for coffee drinkers


More good news for coffee drinkers

Caffeine could protect against dementia

    Caffeine is one of the strongest of 24 compounds that Indiana University scientists recently identified that can protect against dementia. Caffeine boosts an enzyme in the brain, called NMNAT2, that guards neurons from stress and combats the formation of plaques due to aging. Plaques, tangled and oddly folded proteins, called tau, have been linked to debilitating neurological  disorders  such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, Huntington’s and Lou Gerhig’s diseases. Alzheimer’s disease, the most common condition, affects 1 in 9 people over age 65—almost 5.5 million people—and the numbers are expected to grow as our population ages. As scientists continue to identify compounds that could play a role in halting the deterioration of proteins in the brain, don’t feel bad about your coffee fix.

 Golf performance, fatigue, and caffeine

    From an intensity perspective, the physiological demands of playing 18 holes are half the energy expenditure of running. But competitive golfing can be mentally and physically exhausting. Critical shot-making decisions, hand–eye coordination, high-level motor and biomechanical skill and numerous maximum-effort shots all play a role in competitive golf. Caffeine is one of the most common go-to ergogenic aids for elite athletes, and that extra jolt of caffeine might help improve concentration, energy, reaction time, fatigue and overall confidence during an 18-hole round. A recent study in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise suggests that caffeine-containing supplements before or during golf can improve iron club accuracy, drive distance and overall golf scores.

The buzz on health risks and benefits

    Coffee keeps us awake or makes up for inadequate sleep, and has been revered for just that as far back as the sixth century. However, caffeine’s ability to stimulate the central nervous system doesn’t hide the fact that it is still a drug. Some people are genetically more susceptible and don’t enjoy the jittery effects of it.

    But the good news is that it can be a good habit. Recent scientific studies show that coffee shines from a cardiovascular standpoint in that it can decrease the onset of type 2 diabetes and reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke. More so than fruits and vegetables, coffee is the No. 1 source of antioxidants in the U.S. diet, having more antioxidants than blueberries, raspberries or green tea. Your morning joe (or tea, coming in second) contains large amounts of several powerful antioxidants, including phenols and polyphenol compounds that help neutralize free radicals and prevent oxidative stress.

    The bottom line is that if you enjoy it, moderate caffeine use offers much from an overall cardiovascular standpoint and numerous health benefits.


 Connie Aronson is an ACSM-certified exercise physiologist at the YMCA in Ketchum. Learn more at www.conniearonson.com.

Published in the Idaho Mountain Express April 7, 2017

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Breathe out to lose fat?

Breathe out to lose fat?When you stand tall and lift your chest, don’t you feel much better? You look better also, as your posture improves. Breathing capacity improves, as your diaphragm lifts to help expand your lungs. We need to breathe to live. Breathing sustains us and can also teach us about our current physical and psychological state. You get some great news, hold your breath in anticipation, or exhale out to relax more. Our wavelike breathing is our life force, but did you know that breathing out makes you lose fat?

    The rate and depth of breathing is influenced by changing levels of carbon dioxide, oxygen and hydrogen ions in our blood. When it comes to losing weight, why is breathing so important? And where does the fat go? Does it turn to energy or convert to muscle, as commonly thought? The process is all about biology, as fat mostly converts to carbon dioxide and leaves the body through breathing. Scientists, in a report published in the British Medical Journal, explain how our lungs unlock the carbon stored in fat cells. Replacing one hour of sitting with jogging, for example, raises the metabolic rate to seven times that of resting and removes an additional 39 grams of carbon stored in fat cells. Our lungs are responsible for weight loss, via our inhalations and exhalations. The diaphragm, like a big parachute, contracts and relaxes nonstop, drives respiration and is the central breathing muscle.

Get good at breathing

  Running up a flight of stairs is one of the best ways to improve cardiovascular fitness. It’s a practical, quick and easy way to breathe hard, and gain some fitness in a busy day. But for the rest of the time, what if you became really good at breathing?

     It helps to understand just how much space the diaphragm needs to expand and fall with inhalations and exhalations. The diaphragm sits beneath the lungs and is above the organs of the abdomen. It is the major muscle that drives respiration. Respiration consists of moving gases in and out of the lungs, and circulation is the transport of these gases to the tissues.

    Like a lopsided mushroom, the diaphragm is attached to the sternum and the lower six ribs, and to the first three lumbar vertebrae, via two tendon-like structures called crura. The crura, like strings, extend down to the psoas and lower back muscles. The joints of the lumbar spine and upper back also play a part in how well the diaphragm expands and contracts, and therefore the quality and depth of breathing.

    At the top of the diaphragm, a central tendon attaches in front of the pericardium, the covering of the heart. Equally, the muscles of the abdomen and the external and internal intercostal muscles assist in drawing the ribs in and out. Normal breathing is rhythmic, driven by neuronal networks within the brain. Breathing also depends on the elasticity of the lungs; they have to lift and fall back. Breathing needs a lot of space, from the heart riding up and down on the lungs, to the spine stretching to accommodate inhalation, as well as the stomach muscles and pelvic floor. So it comes as no surprise that posture, standing or sitting tall, with the chest lifted, stomach in, can help you breathe and move better. Worth a big exhale.

Parachute breathing exercise

  Imagine the diaphragm to be a parachute. As you breathe in, the center of the parachute drops downward, the sides billow and the cords loosen. As you breathe out, the canopy expands upward as the cords become taut and anchor down toward the pelvic floor. (Adapted from the Franklin Method )

Published in the Idaho Mountain Express March 10, 2017

How weight-lifting can keep you young

 

One of the secrets to a longer life involves steel, rubber or your bodyweight.

One of the secrets to a longer life involves steel, rubber or your bodyweight. The steel is in the form of dumbbells or barbells, and rubber is what resistance bands or stability balls are made of. No equipment handy? No worries, because exercises such as pushups, squats, planks and lunges, exercises that you can do anywhere, all build muscle.

    New research all points toward strength training as a key factor in longevity and an extended life, and you need to lift or push weight to build muscle. Biking, running, walking and moving more are all important for cardiovascular health, but if you’re not hitting the weights, now is a good time to start a program. Strength training, or resistance training, is the use of progressive resistance exercises to increase your ability to exert or resist force.

    Starting as young as 7, when the nervous system is almost completely mature, strength training can lay down a lifelong regime that promotes increased bone density and muscle mass and decreased age-related body fat. By our early 40s, most adults achieve peak muscle mass, but after that point, a gradual decline begins. People typically lose 8 percent or more of lean muscle each decade, a process that accelerates significantly after age 70. However, the good news is that you can become stronger at any age. But can lifting weights keep you young?

There is a clear connection between strength training and a longer life, says Dr. Jennifer Kraschnewski, an assistant professor of medicine and public health sciences at Penn State College of Medicine. A recent study she led found that seniors who did strength training two times a week were 46 percent less likely to die from any cause. They were 41 percent less likely to die from heart disease and 19 percent less likely to die from cancer. The research was published in the journal Preventive Medicine. No one is immune from any unwanted condition, but consider this: If you suffer from obesity, diabetes, heart disease or arthritis, the decrease in strength is significant. What this means is that even if you think your muscle mass is adequate, if you have any of these underlying medical conditions, your strength is much less than someone without them, says Judith Wurtman, Ph.D., founder of a Harvard University hospital weight-loss facility. Adding resistance training also improves insulin sensitivity, improves cholesterol numbers and revs up your metabolic rate—more reasons to take action.

    I’ve worked with many older clients who say their balance is terrible, but it’s more that their legs are weak. On average, we have a genetically determined amount of both slow-twitch and fast-twitch muscle fibers in muscle. As we age, our fast-twitch muscles shrink in size and number, as does the speed of transmission of impulses from the brain to the working muscles. Are your legs really as strong as you think? Consider this: Decreased leg strength, not dementia, is the biggest predictor of loss of independence in older adults.

    For beginners, the most important aspect of strength training is to find a program you can do consistently. Essentially, aim to use eight to 10 large muscle group exercises, perhaps starting with the legs. Go slow and perform the exercises with good form. For trained individuals, new studies suggest that for both men and women, if you want to get stronger, exercise with heavier loads. Keep your program progressive and varied, and don’t keep it a secret that you’re getting younger every day.

Published in the Idaho Mountain Express 2/10/2017

A single rep can change you.

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We’ve watched the incredible skill and beauty of human physicality at the Rio Olympics. In all sports and in everything we do, it takes the coordinated activity of the nervous system, consisting of billions of nerve cells working together. Of course anything performed effortlessly takes years of dedication and practice. That only happens when we repeatedly stimulate and strengthen neurons with repeated use. Our circuits fire better together. But it’s not just in sports that repetition is crucial for skill development, but in all learning. In Beautiful Practice, Frank Forencich suggests that every moment of human life is a rep.

Turns out we are always etching grooves in our brains and nervous system, Forencich says.We are always practicing something, and that very practice helps us become more of that very thing he says.

So this month, whatever you find yourself doing, be it cognitive, spiritual or physical, keep doing your reps.Start with the small stuff, like cleaning up your desk, or walking with better posture. Maybe it’s running like the wind, like Bolt, grace and beauty in every step.

Every rep you do counts for a better , more alive you. Photo|| SQNSport.com

Every rep you do counts for a better, more alive you. Photo|| SQNSport.com

A single rep is where it all starts.

Enjoy being at high altitude by staying hydrated

Enjoy high altitude & high desert trips by staying hydrated

Enjoy high altitude & high desert trips by staying hydrated

 

Trust an Exum mountain guide to describe a day where the air looks good enough to gulp. Author and guide Jack Turner has a myriad of words to describe high altitude peak and meadow air: sharp, raw, crisp, and, yes, thinner. Most of us living here are used to the altitude, but there are some things you can recommend to friends and family while they are here to ski this March. Likewise, if you’re lucky enough to travel to Peru or Zermatt this spring, simple pre-cautions can prevent a lot of altitude-related illnesses. Ketchum, like Denver or Flagstaff, Arizona, is actually moderate altitude, (greater than 5,280 feet),and high altitude is defined as elevations above 8, 500 feet (  Baldy, Colorado ski resorts, North Rim of the Grand Canyon, the Matterhorn, and of course, the highest summit, Mt. Everest at 29,028 feet.)

Nobody wants to start out their ski vacation with a splitting head-ache, and Dr. Keith Sivertson, Blaine County Emergency Medical Service Medical Director, has some good advice for visitors upon arriving here. Firstly, because we’re not sleeping above 8,000 feet, we are not technically high altitude; Ketchum is high desert. But altitude as low as 3000 feet can impose physiologic limitations on the body, and even mild dehydration can compromise performance during exercise. Add to that increased sweating and quick evaporation of that cold dry air, and you’ve lost up to 1-2 liters a day.  Most people, especially those over 60, are sippers, and are not drinking enough to replace their sweat losses, furthering their risk of dehydration. A simple way to tell you are dehydrated, Dr. Severson says, is that you’re not having to get up in the night to pee (and that your pee isn’t clear in the morning).The American College of Sports Medicine suggests drinking two glasses of water two hours before exercise, and to drink during exercise at a rate that matches your sweat losses. In other words, as Dr. Silvertson says, much of the symptoms ski patrollers see at Seattle Ridge, like nausea, headaches, weakness and a heavy feeling are signs of dehydration, not high altitude sickness.

Getting off the mountain is important if there are any indications of any feeling of fullness in the chest, or a shortness of breath, as these can be serious health matters. Mike Lloyd, Baldy Mountain’s ski patrol director, has his staff trained to take no chances that it could be something of a more serious nature.

Evangelista Torricelli, in the 1600’s, was the first person to realize that the atmosphere above us create pressures that could support weight. At higher elevations, there’s less pressure of oxygen moving from the air into our blood, resulting in less oxygen to help our muscles & heart function. Many people experience high-altitude illnesses when they rapidly ascend to elevations above 8,000 feet. The most common of these is acute mountain sickness. Being in shape,( a good idea no matter what), or age seems to have no bearing on if you will develop symptoms either. More life –threatening are high-altitude pulmonary edema and high altitude cerebral edema. Descending to lower altitudes and medical care are a must for these three illnesses.

While you may not know your susceptibility at high-altitude, there are some things to do for your next trip or a longer trek. Try to go a few days earlier, or if you can’t, try to pre-acclimatize by planning several week-end hiking trips to a similar target altitude in the month prior to departure, to judge whether you are susceptible to mountain sickness. While at attitude, stay hydrated, and consume enough calories.  If you are skiing, trekking or climbing at altitude, you can be using up to 300-500 calories extra calories a day The energy used to support body functions, basal metabolic rate, burns up 200 of these calories, so it’s important to eat enough calories.  Savor it all.

Printed March 6, 2009 Idaho Mountain Express

 

 

 

Trade sit-ups for partial curl-ups & planks

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Partial curl-up are a better way to get strong abs than sit-ups. Courtesy photo by Connie Aronson

Partial curl-up are a better way to get strong abs than sit-ups. Courtesy photo by Connie Aronson

My friend Claire is helping whip her new beau into shape, hitting the gym five days a week. Claire also has him doing dozens of sit-ups so he’ll get a movie-star six-pack.  For most people the first thing that comes to mind when you say “abs” is one muscle—the rectus abdominis. She means well, but doing hundreds of sit-ups are hard on your back because of devastating loads to your spine. In 2008, there were 3.4 million emergency room visits—an average of 9,400 per day, for back problems, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Back problems are the fifth most common reason for all doctor visits in the US.  Trading the sit-up for safer and more effective abdominal work can help spare this outcome.

Dr. Stuart McGilll, a professor of spine mechanics and chair of the Department of Kinesiology at The University of Waterloo, points out that spine disks only have so many bends in them before they become damaged. Keep the bends for essential tasks, such a tying shoes, rather than using them in ab training, he recommends. The Army agrees. In 2011, after 30 years, the Army’s Physical Readiness and Combat Tests deemed the sit-up test as an ineffective assessment of a person’s core in relation to their battle strength.In sports that require repeated hyperextension—like gymnastics, diving, volleyball, weight lifting, golf, football, tennis and rowing—the incident of back injury is 11 percent, according to the International Journal of Applied and Basic Sciences. In football lineman, it may be as high as 50 percent. The types of injuries vary with age. In adolescent athletes, nearly 70 percent of lumbar spine injuries occur when forces are exerted on skeletally immature spines, whereas the majority of adult back injuries are related to muscle strain and disc disease.

If you want a stronger, tighter core, instead of full sit-ups, try the traditional crunch or many variations of a curl-up. Lifting your head and shoulders a few inches (around 30 degrees) off the floor and holding briefly is a good exercise to challenge the abdominal muscles while imposing a minimal load to the lumbar spine

Muscle  function
The four layers of abdominal muscles are like a woven basket encompassing the belly. The long vertical rectus abdominis runs vertically from the sternum to the pubis crest and is trained when you do an exercise such as the crunch. The external and internal oblique muscles rotate and side-bend the trunk. The deepest layer, right below your belly-button, named the transversus abdominis, plays a significant role in stabilizing the trunk, specifically the spine, during all movement. All the abdominal muscles hold in our organs and help us in forced exhalation, as in coughing, urinating or giving birth. But the most critically important function throughout the day—writes Judith Lasater, Ph.D., P.T., author of Yoga Abs Moving From Your Core—is stabilization, to keep the back free of pain and the abdomen strong.

Very few sports require fully flexing the spine, as in a full sit-up. Rather, the core transmits power from the hips through the torso as in pitching a ball or running. Here, the abdominals work together with muscles in the lower back, hips and pelvis, known as the core, stabilizing the spine. The core and spine can handle large forces vertically, but not in extreme flexion, as in sit-ups, twisting or bending.

For example, a 154-pound man standing upright has 154 lbs. of pressure on the L3-L4 disc, which the spine can easily handle. Sitting and bending forward 20 degrees, the pressure on L3-L4 bumps up to 264 lbs. In the bent-knee sit-up the pressure almost triples, up to 396 lbs. Simply modifying the sit-up to a partial curl-up, with the head and shoulders lifting a few inches off the floor, eliminates these huge compression forces on the discs.

In a June 2009 New York Times article titled “Core Myths”, the marginalized view of the core being “abs “was challenged by McGill. He compares the spine to a fishing rod supported by muscular guy wires. If all the wires are tensed equally, as in the whole lumbo-pelvic-hip complex, the rod stays straight. A core exercise program should emphasize all the muscles that girdle the spine, not just the abs, to ensure balanced strength. In his lab, he’s demonstrated how an average sit-up can exceed the limit known to increase the risk of back injury in normal American workers.

The full sit-up is three muscle actions: neck flexion, spine flexion and hip flexion. It’s important to be able to sit up, no doubt, but repeated sit-ups do place hundreds of pounds of compression on the lumbar disks. Hooking or holding the feet down stresses the low back even more. Ironically, the bent-knee sit-up has been taught to minimize the action of the hip flexor in the sit-up, though it is not correct. The abs can only curl the trunk. The sit-up is a strong hip flexor exercise (used in climbing stairs or skipping), whether the knees are bent or straight.

McGill says that the following three exercises, done regularly, can provide a well-rounded, core-stability program: practice the curl-ups, learn how to do a side-plank (lie on your side and raise yourself in a straight line) and try the bird-dog (kneel on your hands and knees, legs hip-width apart, raise an alternate arm and leg to hip height and hold for four or six seconds).

Claire tried all three, smitten over both the planks and her slim new guy.

http://theketchumkeystone.org/2014/05/29/health-happiness-trade-sit-ups-for-partial-curl-ups/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=