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Seeking_help
2nd January 2008, 08:47 PM
Just wondering if there are any specific weight training exercises we should avoid if we have wonky backs (scoliosis,kyphosis)? By weight training, I mean exercises like deadlifts, row machine, etc...

Writer
3rd February 2008, 03:27 AM
I'm not a healthcare or exercise professional, but I have the problem and have trained with weights and machines. I think they can help or exacerbate scoliosis, depending on how appropriately used. If you can find a lower back machine (the MedX lumbar flexion-extension machine in particular), it can help reduce back pain a lot -- if used properly.

But there is a caveat. Imbalance of musculature in the back is a major component of scoliosis, and the abnormal configuration differs from case to case. The thing to be careful of is not to strengthen your already too-strong muscles at the expense of the weaker side, lest you make your curves worse.

For instance, the classic rowing exercise is designed for a normal, balanced back. Since scoliotic backs are by definition twisted, you could easily fall into the trap of pulling more with your convex-side muscles than the weaker concave-side groups. It would be tricky to adjust so you pull equally, or ideally more with the weaker side.

The Schroth method and likely other non-surgical treatments use at least isometric exercise strengthening as part of the routine, but they're carefully prescribed by a physical therapist and tailored to the individual patient. Before starting a weight-training program, I'd consult a physical therapist or someone well versed in kinesiology who can diagnose which groups of muscles in your back are stronger than the opposing ones.

Also, some leg and abdominal and other muscles are often imbalanced, contributing to the malposture. Nasty problem, scoliosis.

titch
3rd February 2008, 01:07 PM
Oh goodness! I'd meant to reply to this - sorry!

Anyway, Writer has given you some useful info :-) A few things I'd add are firstly, if you can find a gym that has Nautilus brand equipment, do! The machines were originally designed by the same guy who went on to develop the MedX machine :D The interesting thing about them is that many of them are split - for example, the chest press machine at most gyms has a single arm motion (ie press either side and both move, as they go to a single bar which is attached to the weights), whereas on a Nautilus machine each arm moves separately, so you can absolutely see when you are using more force with one side than with the other.

It's probably best to avoid compressive exercises - for example, most shoulder press machines (probably all, as all the ones I've ever seen are) are compressive, which encourages you to shorten and curve more. You can get the same muscles by doing a free weights exercise - the way that my instructor taught me is to stand with feet shoulder width apart, and with a bench set so that I could rest my forearm in front of me at chest height and use a dumbbell in the other hand, raising that arm up to shoulder height (there's more to it to get it right, I'll describe it more fully in pm if you want to get an instructor to help you do it right). Lat pulldown on the other hand is a good exercise as it encourages you to lengthen and stretch - you'd need to get an instructor (one who can think laterally at that) to help you get the best posture, because it is generally accepted now that it is better to pull the bar to the top of your chest, rather than down behind your head, but of course it could be that until you've had surgery you're better doing it behind the head - with your kyphosis, that could well be a better way to do it. A machine that you absolutely should avoid is one that I'm not sure the name of, but basically you sit into it, raise your arms above your head to put into the cage so that your triceps rest against pads and you have grips to rest your hands on, and the exercise then is to press with the rear of your arms to bring the cage over and down, so that your arms are by your sides. It's a good exercise for some, but even someone with no problems, if they go too high on the weights, will find that they hyperlordose, and can cause themselves significant pain and inappropriate muscle development, in quite a short length of time.

The most important thing, whether you are doing free weights or weights machines is to work *well within* your capacity. Do little girly weights if that's what it takes to start and feel no shame over it - with an existing postural imbalance it's really important not to do anything that will encourage you to increase it, and weights that are too high will do that. The moment you're actually straining, you need to stop - you may be able to come back for another few reps at a lower weight after you've gone off to do a different body area, but don't be bound to *having* to finish a set just because you've started it.

Regarding rowing, I've actually been banned by my consultant as it stands because apparently it puts a lot of stress on your facet joints. I can certainly see why it would in many cases, but I actually think a lot has to do with technique. Assuming I don't find it totally impossible once I'm fused to the sacrum (which I may), I intend to get my brother to teach me how to do it properly and well. I would absolutely not trust a gym instructor - even Craig, whose virtues I've extolled here before on several occasions - to do this, given the problems that I have as almost all will not actually know how to really do it properly. My brother however is a competetive rower who a couple of years ago was within a whisker of the times needed to qualify for the British team!! So I think I can trust him to spot me on it ;-) More importantly, because I'm quite self aware I can trust myself to know whether it is still not working for me even with such good training. That's the reason for staying well within your capacity with weights as well - makes it much easier to develop that self awareness.

The other thing I'd suggest, especially if you can't find a Nautilus gym, or don't want to do machines, is to find a proper body builder's gym. You don't have to want to be muscled up like some of the guys you'll find there, but what you will get there is a massive amount of knowledge especially regarding good form. I've used quite a few gyms over the years, and really find that the fluffy gyms like Cannons and LA Fitness and the like are just not up to scratch as regards the instruction. They're fine if you know what you're doing (although they tend to be full of LifeFitness machines, which are really not the best out there although they're certainly the most common), and they generally do decent classes if that's what you want, but I wouldn't recommend them if you're wanting to develop a program. The amount of extremely poor form I've seen at them has been scary, and leads to chronic injury. You see a fair bit of injury at bodybuilders gyms as well, but it tends to be acute injury and there tends to be a well spring of knowledge on how to work around an injury, and how to avoid too much imbalance despite it, which I'm sure you can see the use of :-)

Anyway, major essay over, hope some of it has been useful :glee:

Sealy
4th February 2008, 02:10 PM
Originally posted by Writer@Feb 2 2008, 08:27 PM
Imbalance of musculature in the back is a major component of scoliosis, and the abnormal configuration differs from case to case. The thing to be careful of is not to strengthen your already too-strong muscles at the expense of the weaker side, lest you make your curves worse.

For instance, the classic rowing exercise is designed for a normal, balanced back. Since scoliotic backs are by definition twisted, you could easily fall into the trap of pulling more with your convex-side muscles than the weaker concave-side groups. It would be tricky to adjust so you pull equally, or ideally more with the weaker side.


I'm a little confused as to how rowing exercises could make the muscles on the convex side stronger at the expense of the concave side. Wouldn't the weaker side have to work harder to pull?

titch
4th February 2008, 05:08 PM
Actually, it's natural to just pull harder with the stronger side - because it's a single bar, you don't notice that you're doing it. Um - don't think that helps, so I'll go off and think about it again to see if I can work out how to explain it better :P

Sealy
4th February 2008, 05:45 PM
I think I see what you mean :-D

Writer
11th February 2008, 11:15 PM
As I understand it, if your spine is twisted, then the spinal erector muscles on the convex side are going to fire first when you lean back. The weak-side muscles will likely fire later and incompletely, so the strong side does most of the work.