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Jun

How strength training has saved me from a crippled spine.

I was a pretty scrawny little kid.

I was always skinny and athletic. Never sat still.

You could count my ribs pretty well throughout my whole childhood. My mum and dads grocery bill however would prove that I ate like a horse. I just didn’t sit still for too long.

As I reached my early teens however my mum started to express concern around my spine and my under developed musculature of my upper back.

I had extremely winged scapular so physiotherapy was sort out for me to begin the process of strengthening my scapular and the muscles of my upper back and shoulders to better hold my posture in place.

Later on it was noted that I had some significant scoliosis as well. Nothing serious enough for drastic intervention to be made but enough for some treatment to be had.

Personally, I was never too concerned about either and went about being my healthy, happy, million miles and hour kid/teen. I played a lot of sport, my focus particularly on footy.

When I turned 16 I got my first gym membership. I’ve always had a part time job since I was able to work, so getting myself into the gym was something that if I made a priority, it was my call and my parents would always support my decisions.

Beach weights were the flavour for a 16 year old teenager. Naturally! I trained with one of my closest childhood friends.

We seemed to make a bit of progress in the gym and although we were working our hardest on our ‘Beach muscles’, through some good guidance we managed to stay pretty well balanced with our bodies.

As time progressed I actually ended up starting my career in the fitness industry at that very gym!

15 years later (wow!) I am now focusing predominately within my own training on Olympic Weightlifting. This is actually a sport where being mobile, yet strong is a huge benefit. I have some aspiration on competing soon and have started to post some numbers that I am a little proud of after around 2 years of focusing on this style of training as my priority. Here are a couple of recent PB’s I have managed after working closely with my coach, Lester Ho, on my individual strengths and weaknesses.

I am a washed up local level footballer with an injury list longer than I should bore you with here. The most serious of which being a shoulder reconstruction after a series of football related dislocations.

I train hard, but also look after my body regularly with massage, physiotherapy treatment when needed and regular visits to my osteopath, particularly over the last 18 months.

Recently my Osteopath and I were discussing my joint hypermobility. I am and have for most of my life been quite flexible. Something that I thought my time in the gym focusing on this type of flexibility work had brought about. It was not something that I thought was typically un-common. Just something I thought I had brought about with diligence.

This is kinda how I feel after a solid strength training session. 😉

However, my spine in particular is very mobile.

This is not necessarily a good thing.

So, what is hypermobility?

Joint hypermobility syndrome is a condition that features joints that easily move beyond the normal range expected for a particular joint. The joint hyper-mobility syndrome is considered a benign condition. It is estimated that 10%-15% of normal children have hypermobile joints or joints that can move beyond the normal range of motion. Hypermobile joints are sometimes referred to as “loose joints,” and those affected are referred to as being “double jointed.”

Being more mobile and having more range of movement means your joints are also more unstable. When you are working toward snatching more than your body weight over your head, you must do this with the right preparation and caution as it can create issues with your shoulders, hips, spine and even elbows if done incorrectly.

However I now know that my time in the gym and my active lifestyle since I was young has probably prevented me from being a crippled mess at the age of 33.

Whilst I have suffered the odd impact based injury like my shoulder reconstruction my spine is in incredible shape (according to my osteopath anyway) for someone as mobile as I am.

You see, all of the resistance training I have been putting my body through since I was 16 has helped to transform myself from a skinny kid with winged scapula to a reasonably well developed strong father (#dadstrong not #dadbody).

In fact, the joint trauma injuries and hypermobility might make a little more sense retrospectively. If my shoulders weren’t as mobile as they were, traumatic injuries brought about by impact like my shoulder dislocations might have been a little less likely.

So after this very long winded introduction to my condition and where i’m at now, if you’re someone who suffers from a similar condition should you just hit the weights hard and stiffen up?

Hell no!

Should you you start yoga and stretch out a heap whenever you’re stiff and sore?

Double hell no!

It’s about finding a balance between your mobility and building strength in the areas that you are lacking, especially strength in your end range/weakest point of the rep.

Many people with hypermobility natural are putting their bodies at more risk of joint related injuries as their connective tissue doesn’t provide them with as much rigidity as that of others. So many of them get stiff and sore regularly. Generally if people are stiff and sore regularly the common held belief if that something along the lines of yoga will assist to to stretch out… This is, in isolation, one of the worst things you can actually do.

It will only cause to further loosen of your slack connective tissue and put you at a greater risk of a ligament or joint injury through weak or sloppy support structures.

Yoga can be effectively added into a training regime for someone with hyper mobility but only if you are doing the things you need to do to become more stable in the areas of need. This can be a very individual thing.

Adding in more spine strengthening work such as pilates or any structural strengthening work can be the key. The more you learn about your body and the more aware you can become of how you move and where your restrictions and weaknesses lie, the better you can address them.

This little guy is now the main reason I want to keep myself fit, healthy and injury free.

For me, my shoulders, ankles and spine are both incredibly mobile, my hips however need a bit of work.

So for me, doing all I can do to strengthen my spine and a unit and the retractors of my scapular works well for me to become less prone to injury. Supporting the stabilising structure of my ankles is also a focus.

The exercises you want to look at mastering as a minimum are:

  1. The Deadlift
  2. Barbell Back Squat
  3. Strict Press
  4. Pendlay Row

Diligently focusing on what you need as an individual is the key to being fit, healthy and strong as you age no matter who you are. This can be incredibly individual. So if you’re wondering what you might need for yourself, specifically seek out the advice of a strength and conditioning coach who can first assess where you’re at and then design a structured training program to have you progress towards your goals.

Or get in touch. I can point you in the right direction and would love to hear from you.

Luke

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