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Help Your Back and Enjoy Your Life!

I have just returned from my biannual pilgrimage to the national Exercise Physiology Conference and would like to share some research.


Dr. Stu Magill a spine bio-mechanist from Waterloo shared both clinical and practical evidence regarding how to build the ultimate back. Firstly, he shared that posture is the magic pill that we all need to take to have a fighting chance at a healthy spine. Where have you heard that before?


He has data that suggests an instant 23 to 43% loss in spine stabilizing strength when we lift with a hunch back posture. Stop slouching!


He and his research team have also found that the fastest way to herniate a disc is to perform repeated forward flexion cycles with accompanying compressive load. What that means is if you want to hurt your back do sit ups, or worse use those seated ab machines. The compressive load that the discs are subjected to in performing just one of these exercises exceeds the maximum recommended load capacity for workplace health and safety. Stop doing sit ups!


Yet another tough movement for the spine to handle is repeated isolated rotations where the lumbar spine twists independently of the hips. Add load at the end of the arms and you have a substantial shear force. What that means is that when we are shovelling that demon white stuff we need to move the hips and the back together rather than just the delicate spine alone. (better yet get your kids to do it)


Another area where Magill has stirred up some controversy relates to when trainers try to get people to engage their core prior to a lift. For years many trainers have told you to “suck it in” based on an Australian study that seems to have missed the mark. Magill has always held that “bracing” the core provides better stability and is much more of a natural response. 4 other labs that have the technology to measure this agree and most top level trainers are changing their tune. So, don’t suck it in, engage your core by visualizing someone about to elbow you in the guts. Sounds silly but it is what most of us do subconsciously in anticipation of a hockey check, football tackle, or heavy lifting. Brace your core, its good for you.


On the lighter side of the news I would like to take this opportunity to encourage all of us Hatters to find more room in our hearts for enjoying the days we are blessed with. My father was a pilot in the Second World War and this time of year I try to watch war documentaries with my sons in an attempt to fathom the sacrifices made by soldiers of yesterday as well as today. ‘Band of Brothers’ is a powerful HBO doc that always succeeds in helping that understanding, and reminds us to appreciate what we have. Additionally, I have a dear friend in the ICU in Kelowna struggling to survive. One day he was a healthy 47 year old father of 3 awesome kids and the next he is in a coma, with a collapsed lung and surviving on a dialysis machine.


Family friends lost their 9 year old son in a tragic accident back in October… listen folks you can choose to complain about all kinds of things everyday and share your dark cloud with the world, or choose a different path, count your blessings, share your light, and appreciate every awesome day you get to spend breathing free air.


Ed Stiles BPE, Certified Exercise Physiologist is a member of the Alberta Sport Development Center’s Performance Enhancement Team and operates Peak Performance Fitness Services. He can be reached via email at asdc@mhc.ab.ca or at peakperform@hotmail.com