The buzz on getting strong

Published 13 March 2006

When your knees are creaky and jogging is out of the question, being zapped with an electrical impulse might be an alternative way of keeping strong and fit, according to a Southern Cross University researcher.

Former professional Portuguese soccer coach Pedro Bezerra has used the technique successfully with athletes, now he is keen to try it on older people.

In particular, he wants to target those who are unable to exercise conventionally because of joint and ligament problems.

Pedro's PhD project involves the effects of electrical stimulation on muscle development and fat reduction in people aged over 40.

While he devises his PhD study, he is using himself as a guinea pig to test the effects of a small electro-myo-stimulation machine on muscle development.

He hopes his research will have an impact on healthy ageing and improving strength, flexibility and mobility in older people whose joints may not hold up to the rigours of walking, jogging or cycling.

The machine he will use produces an electrical impulse which causes muscles to contract involuntarily, thus exercising them in a passive way that can even be done while sitting watching TV or working on a computer.

"I had great results using this machine on soccer players I was coaching so I am keen to see what the wider potential may be," Pedro said.

Studying muscle strength and playing soccer are keeping Pedro busy during his three-year PhD project at SCU.

From the city of Braga in Portugal, Pedro has coached in professional soccer leagues for the past decade, with one team, Leixoes, even making it to the Union of European Football Associations UEFA European Cup.

"I have been missing my soccer fix so I have just taken on coaching the Lismore Workers Club team," Pedro said.

Pedro gave up his teaching job at the Instituto Politecnico de Viana do Castelo to undertake his PhD studies at SCU. He was drawn to the university after reading research by Associate Professor Shi Zhou, an exercise physiologist within the SCU Department of Exercise Science and Sport Management.

"I had no idea where Lismore was, but it didn't matter, I just knew I wanted someone as qualified as Associate Professor Zhou and Associate Professor Allan Davie to supervise my work," Pedro said.

"I am really glad I came here. The campus is beautiful, Lismore is a lovely, quiet town which helps with getting into your studies and yet it's close to the capital cities if you want to go out and enjoy city life. Plus, I am getting a lot of support in my studies."

Pedro first studied physical education at the Technical University of Lisbon and did his Masters in Sports Science studying soccer analysis at the University of Porto.

His Masters project centred on intimately analysing the movement of soccer players in the Portuguese Under 21 national team to determine what kind of mechanical movements they went through while playing a game of soccer and then determining the best kinds of physical exercises to strengthen the necessary muscles.

He also spent three years working for the Italian Soccer Federation studying the bio-mechanics of soccer players and ways to improve their strength and fitness.

Media contact: Zoe Satherley SCU Media Officer, 66203144 or 0439 132 095.