Is Your Core Strong Enough to Maximize Mobility As You Get Older?

Jannine Myers

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 touted as the “first medically-focused exercise rehabilitation clinic of its kind in New Zealand,” it was only a matter of time before I’d learn more about the benefits of exercise science and how it can be applied to improve one’s health and quality of life. Included in the list of services offered by the clinic, is a test that uses the MedX Lumbar Extension Machine to assess lower back strength; it was with an air of presumptuousness that I went ahead and took the test.

Surprisingly, or should I say shockingly, my assessment results were not at all what I expected; they revealed that I have been quite disillusioned about my self-perceived versus actual strength! I learned that in comparison to other healthy women in my age bracket, 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 to other women similar to myself in weight and 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.

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I decided to follow through with the programme (as each session took only 5 minutes of my time and no more than one set of approximately 15 repetitions on the Lumbar Extension Machine), but I want to emphasize that if you’re someone like me who works out regularly and devotes a reasonable amount of time to core strengthening, you might have the same attitude as I did and not feel it necessary to do anything more beyond what you’re already doing. But, knowing what I do now, I am suggesting that it wouldn’t hurt to take a quick assessment test; you may be as surprised as I was to learn that your usual core routine really isn’t cutting it.

One more thing, 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.

Getting back to my testing however, the following improvements were 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.

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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 weight! Oh, and incidentally, about halfway through my treatment 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 said he was impressed (considering how long I have been running), at how well-hydrated my spinal discs were. What he meant, is that because my lumbar range of motion is good, my discs are able to more adequately receive nutrition and hydration, and thereby function as they should.

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. Maintaining my lower back strength from hereon in gives me confidence that I will have a much better chance of moving about with ease and with minimal pain as I get older.

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 info@exerscience.co.nz