About Low Load Exercises


What are low load exercises?

Specific low load exercises are used to improve the function of the deep spinal muscles.

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What is the low load exercise approach?

The unique approach of low load exercise is best understood when comparing muscle fiber types. Basically there are fast and slow muscle fibers. When loads (free weights, weight machine, Pilates) are added to a movement there are predominantly fast motor units recruited. For optimal spinal stability and posture, it is better to use low load, or minimal (less than 25% mean voluntary contraction; most exercises are done using your own body weight) to primarily recruit slow motor units.

Can I get low load exercises at a health club?

Exercise programs in health clubs, boot camps, and those provided by most personal trainers often go close to the point of fatigue or add load in excess of 25% mean voluntary contraction. Even an appropriate exercise may not be beneficial because this will encourage the recruitment of fast motor units. It is only a small portion of the day that our body actually uses a high load.

What about Pilates?

Core stabilization as taught in Pilates does not 1) primarily recruit slow motor units. Because of adding load fast motor units are primarily recruited and slow motor units may be recruited along with them. This is non-specific for slow motor unit recruitment. 2) It may not differentiate between muscles that are used to stabilize the spine and muscles that move the spine.

How do you know if you need low load exercise?

If your perception of doing low load exercises is being perceived as high load or hard work, you may have a slow motor unit efficiency dysfunction.

Does stretching count?

Dr. Tucker recommends that home stretches or active lengthening of short muscles comes after learning and doing the low load exercises program. Stretching may pull on the bone tendon junction or pull the ligaments apart and this may reproduce or cause pain if done repeatedly.

How do low load exercises affect me?

They target the muscles that support the trunk. Muscles with long levers (multi-joint) are very efficient to produce range of motion. We call these the global muscles. They are responsible for the production of movement and the control of high loads. Muscles with short levers (one-joint) are not efficient to produce movement. We call these local muscles. They are the deepest layer of muscles that originate and insert segmentally on lumbar vertebrae. Local muscles are responsible for increasing the segmental stiffness of the spine and decreasing inter-segmental motion and maintaining muscle control during low load tasks and activities.

Muscles crossing one joint only and classified as monoarticular muscles have close associations with joint stabilization. Their individual contraction affects only one joint or, in the case of the spine, one region. Examples of such muscles are the vasti at the knee and the gluteus medius at the hip. In most cases their action is ideal for antigravity function; they control the movement of the joint when it comes under the influence of gravity.

In contrast, muscles capable of moving us around are less able to provide individual joint support. Examples include the rectus femoris acting on the hip and knee, the tensor fasciae latae executing various movements of the hip as well as the knee, and the latissimus dorsi, which is involved in both scapular and shoulder movements. In the spine, muscles include the thoracic erector spinae, the tendons of which span the lumbar area to insert into the ilium and sacrum and anteriorly, the rectus abdominus. Both groups influence thoracic and lumbar movement simultaneously.

Local stability muscles do not usually take part in the movement of the underlying joint, but rather directly support it while movement is occurring. Local stability muscles are usually deep and located close to the joint. They control joint stiffness, not the same thing as when you are feeling stiff and can? move. Examples of muscles involved in stabilization of the joints include: the muscles of the rotator cuff in the shoulder, which act to control the humeral head position; the vastus medialis at the knee, which controls patellar position; and the posterior portion of the gluteus medius in the hip, which controls the femoral head in the acetabulum. In the spine, muscles such as the deep longus capitus, longus colli, semispinalis cervicus and segmental multifidus are well designed to provide stability to the cervical segments, while the lumbar multifius and transverse abdominis are capable of controlling joint stiffness in the lumbar region.

High muscle stiffness in muscles surrounding a joint has been considered a very desirable feature to ensure good stabilization. Muscle stiffness protects and supports the joints. The muscles that optimally can control the spine and help keep the back stable are the local stabilizer muscles. These local muscles are exercised in every Progressive Movement Therapy class and are also taught to you during your office visits with Dr. Tucker.

    • All human muscles have both slow (tonic) and fast (phasic) motor units.
    • Functionally, recruitment of slow (tonic) motor units will optimize postural holding/anti-gravity function.
    • Functionally, recruitment of fast (phasic) motor units will optimize rapid/accelerated movement and the production of high force or power.
    • Low load training and exercise optimize tonic recruitment training (not high load or overload).

Most injuries and pain occur from repetitive faulty movements, including walking slightly off, repetitive lifting, repetitive bending, repetitive twisting. and poor posture. The most common dysfunctions from faulty repetitive movements present as:

    • Poor recruitment under low threshold stimulus
    • Delayed muscle recruitment timing
    • Altered recruitment sequencing

When a low load exercise feels or looks like hard work?his usually indicates motor recruitment dysfunction (not weakness) and needs therapeutic assessment and specific treatment.

Indications for Low Load Exercise Training:

    • Pain with certain movements.
    • History of recurrent pain, multiple prior episodes of low back pain.
    • Pain in the region of the low back, hips, sacroiliac joints.
    • Pain associated with simple normal daily functions.
    • Pain associated with static postures (sitting, standing, lying down).
    • Tight muscles.

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