The practical aspects of utilizing electrically stimulated leg cycling (ESLC) to counteract alterations in body composition were investigated in five tetraplegic subjects with long-standing complete spinal cord injuries (C5-C7). After a 2-wk adaptation period, the subjects performed seven ESLC sessions per week for 8 wk. No adverse reactions were noted in response to the ESLC program. The ESLC sessions were accompanied by higher lactate concentrations compared with arm exercise. Heart rate and blood pressure response revealed clear, but not serious, signs of autonomic dysreflexia in the beginning of the ESLC sessions. Body temperature increased moderately during the ESLC sessions. Peak oxygen uptake (Vo2) during an ESLC session increased by 70% (P < 0.05) after 8 wk of training. Body composition, evaluated by dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry (DEXA), demonstrated an increase in lean body mass (LBM) from 66.2 +/- 2.6 to 68.2 +/- 2.1% (P < 0.05), with a concomitant decrease in whole body fat (BF) content from 29.7 +/- 2.6 to 27.8 +/- 2.1% (P < 0.05) after training. The cross-sectional area of quadriceps, hamstrings, gluteus maximus, and gluteus medius muscles, measured by computer tomographic scans, increased from 267 +/- 27 to 324 +/- 27 cm2 (P < 0.05) after the training. In conclusion, daily ESLC sessions during a 2-mo period resulted in increased LBM, decreased BF content, and increased muscular endurance in tetraplegic subjects without any noticeable adverse effects.
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