It’s no secret that we lose muscle as we age. While muscle loss is easily noticeable, it’s degenerative effects are often less so; it’s not until limitations in flexibility and movement begin to cause pain and discomfort that they are recognized. And where back pain is concerned, weak core muscles are often at the root of the problem. The weaker the core, the less able it is to support the body as intended, hence the onset of pain.
The truth be known, I had never before considered, or felt it necessary to have my core strength evaluated. But with the Exerscience Clinic directly opposite my place of work, and proclaimed as the “first medically-focused exercise rehabilitation clinic of its kind in New Zealand,” it was inevitable that I’d eventually learn more about them and what they offer. Included in their list of services, is a test that uses the MedX Lumbar Extension Machine to assess lower back strength, and it was with a slight “air of arrogance” that I went ahead and took the test.
Shockingly, my assessment results revealed that my actual, versus self-perceived strength, differed significantly. I learned that in comparison to other healthy women of my age, my lower back strength was considerably less than average (it’s a wide gap in age, mind you; 36 to 59). But even when the data was skewed to further break down the comparison of other women similar to myself in size, I still fell slightly below average on the measurement chart – by 3% – across all angles tested. The Exerscience Clinic recommended a 12-week programme involving twice weekly dynamic sessions on their MedX machine, with mid and post-programme strength testing.
I decided to follow through with the programme, as each session takes only 5 minutes and no more than one set of 10 to 15 repetitions on the Lumbar Extension Machine. I think I should also emphasize that if you’re someone who includes core work in your regular exercise routine, you might falsely assume, as I did, that you’re already doing enough to maintain overall strength.
One more thing to consider, the term “core strength” elicits for most people thoughts of strong – and quite visible – abs! But the core is much more than that; it’s the transverse abdominals (the muscles that lie deep beneath the waist and form a protective and stabilizing belt around the spine); the obliques (that help to rotate the trunk, as well as perform other vital functions), the rectus dominus (the long muscle in the front abdominal region, or the ever-elusive six-pack, that enables flexion of the torso and spine), and the erector spinae (the muscles that run the length of your neck down to lower spine). All of these muscles work in conjunction to contribute towards ease of movement, injury prevention, and protection of the inner organs and central nervous system.
With all of the above in mind, take a look at the progress I made over a period of 12 weeks and a total of 20 sessions:
- Initial Test Results – maximal amount of force produced over a series of angles from 0 to 72 degrees: 75 ft-lbs of force at the fully extended position of 0 degrees, and 133 ft-lbs of force at the fully flexed position of 72 degrees.
- End Of Session Results – 118 ft-lbs of force at the fully extended position of 0 degrees, and 166 ft-lbs of force at the fully flexed position of 72 degrees. The chart below also shows an increase in the amount of force produced across all angles.
That’s an increase in isometric lower back strength by 29%, and a huge jump from being – on average – 3% weaker, to 26% stronger than healthy females of a similar age and size! Also, about halfway through the programme, I suffered minor whiplash from a rear-end car accident and temporarily saw a chiropractor for relief. At the initial consultation, after assessing an x-ray, the chiropractor was impressed (considering how long I have been running), at how well-hydrated my spinal discs are. What he meant, is that because I have great range of motion in my lower back region, my spinal discs are able to more adequately receive nutrition and hydration, and that in turn leads to a slower rate of age-related degeneration and greater odds of avoiding chronic pain and disease.
Now, moving forward, I am following an on-going maintenance programme that involves just two 5-minute dynamic workouts a month on the MedX Lumbar Extension machine.
If you would like you to have your lower back strength tested, or if you suffer from back pain and/or arthritis, go see the girls at The Exerscience Clinic in Grafton, Auckland; they’ll take great care of you and get you on the right path! Call them at 09 393 8500, or email them at firstname.lastname@example.org