The leading personal trainer and researcher Brat Contreras, famous for his glute-building hip thrust exercise that earned him the title 'Glute Guy', made the following statement:
"In my experience as a personal trainer, it seems that the whole darn world is preoccupied with some sort of perceived imbalance, anatomical anomaly, or dysfunction that they've been made aware of by a prior trainer, physical therapist, chiropractor, doctor, or manual therapist. The vast majority of individuals come to me and warn me right away about their gluteal amnesia, or leg length discrepancy, or pelvic torsion, or tight hip flexors.
Upon examination, I typically find that there's nothing wrong with them and they go on to gain a ton of strength and muscle without experiencing any issues in their training. No body is in perfect symmetry; that's not the way our structures and systems are designed.
Case in point. Usain Bolt has scoliosis and a right leg that is 1/2" shorter than his left leg, which is probably why his right leg strikes the ground with 13% more vertical force (by far the largest imbalance seen so far in elite sprinters) and spends 14% less time on the ground than his left leg. Striving to "fix" this imbalance would likely slow him down and render him inferior as an athlete.
Sometimes asymmetries are worth paying attention to, but many times they are not. If your training contains a good variety of bilateral and unilateral exercises, your form generally appears sound, and you aren't experiencing pain from your training, then stop worrying so much and quit labeling yourself as "dysfunctional." You are most likely more capable and have more potential than you've been led to believe."
This bold statement made us wonder, at what point is an anatomical anomaly important enough to be taken care of and what can you do about it?
As there are so many anatomical anomalies, let's focus on the one that Usain Bolt is said to have, scoliosis. We'll also briefly discuss 2 other abnormalities: kyphosis and lordosis. What are they exactly?
All 3 afflictions scoliosis, kyphosis and lordosis are related since they refer to an abnormal curvature of the spine.
What are spinal deformities?
When the body is viewed from behind, a normal spine appears straight.
However, when a spine with a scoliosis is viewed from behind, a lateral, or side-to-side, curvature may be apparent. This gives the appearance of leaning to one side and should not be confused with poor posture.
Simply defined, scoliosis is a sideways curve of the spine that measures greater than 10 degrees. Instead of a straight line down the middle of the back, a spine with scoliosis curves, sometimes looking like a letter "C" or "S." Some of the bones in a scoliotic spine also may have rotated slightly, making the person’s waist or shoulders appear uneven.
When viewed from the side, the normal spine will demonstrate normal curves.
The upper chest area has a normal roundback, or kyphosis, while in the lower spine there is a swayback, or lordosis. Increased roundback in the chest area is called hyperkyphosis, while increased swayback is termed hyperlordosis.
What ill effects can result from scoliosis?
Back pain may be present. This usually tends to be mild and does not limit activities in most patients. However, a few patients have more back pain than the average. Patients with severe back pain should be carefully evaluated for other causes of back pain than scoliosis. Elderly patients with scoliosis may have greater back pain due to arthritis or disc disease in the spine. Severe scoliosis may be associated with diminished lung function due to distortion and stiffness of the rib cage.
What causes scoliosis?
In more than 80 percent of the cases, a specific cause is not found and such cases are termed “idiopathic,” meaning “of undetermined cause.” Conditions known to cause spinal deformity are congenital spinal column abnormalities (abnormally formed vertebrae present at birth), neurological disorders, muscular diseases, genetic conditions (e.g., Marfan’s syndrome, Down syndrome) and a multitude of other causes such as infections or fractures involving the spine.
What does not cause scoliosis?
There are many common misconceptions and incorrect assumptions. To set the record straight, scoliosis does not come from carrying a heavy book bag or other heavy things, athletic involvement, poor sleeping or standing postures, lack of calcium, or minor leg length difference.
Should you be concerned?
Scoliosis is never normal, but mild scoliosis may be harmless. Progressive or increasing scoliosis may require treatment.
Some Kyphosis and Lordosis is normal; excessive deformity is the problem.
Is surgery necessary?
Scoliosis greater than 20-to-30 degrees with documented progression may be treated with bracing or surgery. However, curves which are reasonable length (greater than 6 spinal units) and are compensated (without visible side-to-side list) do not require surgery until they reach 40-to-60 degrees.
Kyphosis of greater than 50-to-60 degrees may require bracing or surgery.
Lordosis rarely requires surgery.
What things should someone with scoliosis or kyphosis think about in the gym?
As with any issue related to your health and fitness, it is important to consult with a physiotherapist concerning your individual condition. However, if you currently don't have one and still want to do something about it, here are some tips that work to improve posture and/or diminish your chances to develop back pain.
With scoliosis you will need to stretch the concave side of the curve more and do more to strengthen the muscles in the convex side of the curve.
Someone with kyphosis may struggle with overhead exercises, in particular the shoulder press, seated triceps extension and overhead squat. THen you may benefit from low rows, lateral pull downs and hamstrings and hip flexor stretches.
Someone with lordosis will generally have weak abdominal, hamstring and gluteus muscles, which affects the ability to squat, do a Roman chair sit up and perform a standing military press. To counteract this, that person needs to do more crunches, seated leg press, leg curls and kneeling hip flexor stretches and lower back stretches.
In conclusion, it seems that whenever you are one suffering from one of these conditions, you are far from alone. While it may result in needing to pay more attention to form and recovery (foam rolling, stretching and massage), there is no reason why you won't be able to reach your personal best.. and, if the abnormality isn't too severe, even be able to outperform everyone else when you are gifted enough: Usain Bolt shows us the way.