Saturday, November 27, 2010

Kids Benefit from Strength Training

An NYT article on kids and weight training:
The Benefits of Weight Training for Children
...a major new review just published in Pediatrics, together with a growing body of other scientific reports, suggest that, in fact, weight training can be not only safe for young people, it can also be beneficial, even essential.
Other research has shown that exercise helps children with cognitive development and preventing obesity.  Usually weight lifting isn't considered appropriate, but this study shows that idea to be false.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The Tennis Ball Roller

An excellent way to apply some self massage to the low back is with a tennis ball roller.  Here's how to make one from two tennis balls, a sock, and a wire tie wrap:


This is great for easing tension in the muscles running along the spine. The spinal processes(the bony bits you can feel) go into the notch between the two balls and keep the roller aligned.  To use it, lean against a wall in a partial squat with the roller between the wall and your back.  Now squat deeper and stand taller to roll over the muscles.  This is especially effective for the low back(lumbar) muscles, which need the pressure without moving the vertebrae underneath.  It will also feel good on the upper(thoracic) spinal muscles, but they don't benefit as much and don't really need relaxing.  In general for most people, the lumbar area needs muscles relaxed but joints steady, the thoracic area needs the joints loosened but muscles strengthened.

Also see Managing Low Back Pain with Exercise if you have more than just tightness.

To address mobility limits in the upper spine, try this.  Lie on the floor on top of the roller, starting at the mid-back.  Please note that this requires good core strength to do safely.  Keep the roller still as you raise one shoulder diagonally up and over toward the opposite hip, with a slight abdominal crunch, about 5 times.  Bend toward the other side, then roll the ball an inch or two closer to your head and repeat.  The point here is to get the spine moving, just a bit, where the tennis balls are pressing.

Worth mentioning is the more familiar "foam rolling" for self massage, using a long cylindrical piece of foam.

My opinion is that, yes, it can be helpful.  It just isn't quite as essential as some folks say, and not always for the reasons assumed.  There may be some benefit from the pressure, but I think the real benefit is from mobilization.  You put your body in unusual positions and move around in a strange ways, and that means bending joints and using muscles in ways that they don't usually get.  The pressure of the roller is just a plus.  If you think it helps, go for it.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Fixing One Problem & Cure for Colds

A common thing I encounter is people seeking to improve just one thing with their body.  In my massage practice, someone will ask me to work on the one spot they feel pain.  With personal training, someone will have one set of muscles they want stronger/bigger/less flabby, or one type of fitness such as cardiovascular, or even one type of exercise or equipment they think is best.  It could be the one goal of weight loss or it's the one place they want to have less fat.

The truth is all these things are important- and they are all needed together to create optimum health and fitness.  There may be priorities, but ultimately a balanced and long term approach will not only be the best overall, but do the most for the individual goals as well.   Massage and other soft-tissue work needs to address not just the spot the hurts, but the areas that may be causing the pain.  Exercise should work all the muscles, and, critically, train all the muscles to work together.  A healthy diet will not only help maintain moderate weight, but help build strength, plus reduce the risk of many diseases(just about all actually.)

Here's an exercise example:  A guy want to build up his chest muscles.  However working the chest without also strengthening the back can cause the shoulders and head to pull forward, diminishing the apparent chest size.  He looks contracted instead of expanded, and may develop more serious problems than appearance, such as back pain, less shoulder range of motion, and decreased lung capacity.

Training for and participating in only one sport can cause problems too, especially for young athletes:
Young Tennis Players Who Play Only One Sport Are More Prone To Injuries
ScienceDaily (Nov. 10, 2009)
Researchers who analyzed 3,366 matches in United States Tennis Association junior competition found that players who specialized in only tennis were more likely to withdraw from tournaments for medical reasons, typically injuries.
Cross training with a general fitness program or having more than one sport can lead to more success by reducing injuries, and can develop a more rounded athlete.

Why else is general fitness important?  How about fewer and less severe colds:
Physical Fitness Curbs Frequency and Severity of Colds, Study Finds
ScienceDaily (Nov. 1, 2010)
People who are physically fit and active have fewer and milder colds, indicates research published online in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.
Working on just one bit of fitness is a great first step, now consider the advantages of a balanced, holistic approach.