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    Flexibility, Strength, and Endurance: The Three Keys to Good Balance and Posture

    Excerpted from
    Back Rx: A Fifteen Minute A Day Yoga And Pilates Based Program to End Low Back Pain Forever
    By Vijay Vad, M.D.

    Most body movements, like bending down to pick something up from the floor and standing up again, involve a series of linked isometric and plyometric contractions. No muscle in the body works in isolation. Both individual muscles and muscle groups work together in pairs.

    Muscle strength is not primarily a question of muscle size. A large, healthy muscle will, of course, be stronger than a small one. But far more important is how fluidly and efficiently the nervous system can recruit both individual muscles and paired muscle groups to produce muscular force. Full recruitment of a "weak" muscle can produce more force than partial recruitment of a "strong" one.

    Back health requires not only that individual muscles in the trunk, hips, and thighs be strong, but also that core muscle groups work together properly. Thirty-one muscles tic into the pelvis, for example, and they all need to act in harmony. The stronger the trunk muscles are, and the more balanced they are in strength, the less pressure there will be on the spine's intervertebral discs and facet joints and the more resistant a person will be to disc herniations, facet arthritis, and other back problems.

    Endurance to Withstand Stress

    Life is a marathon, and we all need endurance to stay in the race. Luckily, we can train for neuromuscular endurance, increasing our energy reserves so that we never run out of gas. A high level of endurance enables the body to bounce back supple and erect after a strenuous ordeal, whether that ordeal is a twenty-six-mile run or another typical day of juggling family, work, and relationship stress.

    Competitive athletes devote a lot of time to endurance training. A professional tennis player with a booming 125-mph serve must be able to repeat that serve without tiring all the way through a five-set match. Sure, top competitors do get tired in hard-fought contests. They may be physically and emotionally drained at the end, but if they have achieved a sufficient level of endurance, they will not have fatigued their bodies to the point of injury' or beyond.

    Most people don't tax their core muscles with explosive physical forces over and over again, the way competitive athletes do. But the prolonged stresses of normal living can be equally hard on the back, especially given the well-documented role of emotional factors in low back injuries and chronic pain. And unlike professional athletes, most of us can't devote full time to recovering from an injury, and we don't have elaborate support systems of nutritionists, trainers, and therapists to help us heal. Our lives just don't stop and wait for us when we get sick. Endurance training can play a big role in preventing injuries and in shortening recovery times if we do get injured.

    The Right Amount Of Endurance Work For You

    Although everyone can benefit from appropriate endurance training, the right training for an elite athlete and a working mother probably won't be the same (unless the working mother is an elite athlete). Depending on your fitness level and lifestyle, Back Rx Series A, B, or C can provide all the endurance training you need. Over time, the slow, steady, moderate stresses and focused breathing of each series can build very healthy levels of endurance along with core strength.

    Guided imagery can enhance this process enormously. For example, if you imagine that a warm golden light is filling your body, focusing on that image can help you to control your breathing better and thus hold the proper posture longer, which in turn builds endurance. Or you might imagine yourself doing the exercises in some favorite place where you feel secure and at ease emotionally, like a forest glade or a pristine beach. In addition to making your back feel better, guiding workouts with your own positive images will heighten your powers of concentration, which can add clarity and creativity to problem solving of all kinds. Choosing your own images also builds confidence, and that, too, makes you better able to meet all sorts of challenges successfully.

    Balance Brings Ease

    An appropriate mix of flexibility, strength, and endurance training, like that in Back Rx, will put you well on the way to building a strong, healthy back. To reach that goal, and maintain it with consistent good balance and posture, however, requires putting the mind and proper breathing at the center of everything.

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