Portrait of a young woman doing sit-ups
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One reader says she really, really enjoys crunches.
By MSNBC contributor
updated 11/13/2007 6:12:45 PM ET 2007-11-13T23:12:45

How could ab exercises trigger orgasms? What makes feet sometimes go numb on the cardio machines? And why would weight-lifting give someone the shakes? Smart Fitness answers your workout queries.

Have an exercise question? To e-mail us, click here. We’ll post select answers in future columns.

Q: I have an exercise question that is a little out of the ordinary. When I'm at the gym doing abdominal/core exercises, I can experience what I call a "core-gasm" (an orgasm).  Is this unusual or do a lot of women experience this? I'm not complaining, rather I'm just trying to educate myself about this.

A: Apparently it is unusual, because the question gave pause to Dr. Irwin Goldstein, a prominent sex researcher.

But after thinking about it, he says there could be a couple of explanations that have nothing to do with a hot guy on the mat next to you.

For one, it's possible that tight gym clothes are stimulating your clitoris as you crunch and crunch and crunch, "in the context of masturbation," says Goldstein, who is director of sexual medicine at the Alvarado Hospital in San Diego.

But it may also be that "nerves are firing without her permission," he says. It's known that people can have orgasms in nonsexual settings, he notes. For instance, both men and women can have orgasms while asleep. And Goldstein is treating a woman who has been having spontaneous orgasms ever since injuring her tailbone.

He theorizes that the abdominal movement you're doing may stimulate your diaphragm, which may then stimulate the vagus nerve (which runs through the pelvis), triggering the orgasms.

A rush of feel-good chemicals that you may be enjoying after a good aerobic workout could be playing a role in this, too, he says.

But unless you're bothered by these "core-gasms," there doesn't seem to be anything to worry about, he says. "Continue the exercise if you're enjoying it."

While exercise won't feel quite so good to the rest of us, it can help boost one's sex life in other ways, Goldstein tells me as he walks on his treadmill during a phone interview. "There is now substantial evidence that exercise is associated with the prevention of sexual problems."

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Exercise helps keep arteries in the sex organs healthy, preventing impotence and other issues, he explains.

Q: My feet go numb below the ankles when doing certain exercises, such as the elliptical trainer, step aerobics and even urban rebounding. How can I make it stop?

A: Are your shoelaces too tight? That's the first thing to check. Restrictive shoes could pinch a nerve, says Matt Werd, a podiatrist in Lakeland, Fla., and president of the American Academy of Podiatric Sports Medicine.

If that's not the culprit, another possible explanation is something called "exercise-induced compartment syndrome," he says. During exercise, muscles may increase in volume and exert pressure on blood vessels and nerves, causing numbness as well as pain, skin-color changes and poor circulation.

When your feet start to fall asleep, switch activities and see if that helps, Werd advises.

"If symptoms persist, follow up with a sports-medicine specialist for an accurate diagnosis and treatment plan," he says.

Q: I've been weight-lifting for more than two years, ever since I graduated from high school. I got hooked! Now my training has intensified, and I love it that much more. But my only worry is that after a grueling workout, I feel shaky. I self-test myself by holding my hand up in front of my face. I shake. Should I get this looked at and re-evaluate my workouts? (I take a sports supplement, but even on days when I'm not taking it and I get a nice workout in, I still am a little shaky.)

A: Sports supplements are not closely monitored for safety by the government so it's possible the product you're taking may be causing these symptoms, even if you don't take it every day, says Fabio Comana, an exercise physiologist and research scientist at the American Council on Exercise.

"However, it might also be fatigue associated with a hard workout," Comana says.

To counter that fatigue, have a small carbohydrate-rich snack — such as whole-wheat crackers with peanut butter, for instance — an hour or two before your workout to fuel your body for the activity, he suggests. Also be sure to stay hydrated during and after the workout.

If that doesn't work, consult your doctor.

Smart Fitness appears every other Tuesday.

© 2013 msnbc.com


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