Have you ever been mistaken for a malformed Parisian who lives in a Cathedral and rings bells? If so, you could suffer from kyphosis. Kyphosis is defined as an exaggerated forward curving of the thoracic portion of the vertebral column. In lay terms it's been called "hunchback" or "slumped shoulders."
Look around your gym (and perhaps in the mirror) and you'll see many weight trainers with this condition. Correcting it could improve your physique, make you stronger, and even decrease your chance of getting an injury. As an added bonus, people won't call you "Quasi" or Igor, which is always nice!
Let me tell you a little story about how kyphosis can negatively affect your lifting. One of my first patients at the Athletic Performance Center showed up with some serious kyphosis and the worst case of shoulder tendonitis I've ever seen. This 40-year-old trained four days a week and had the body of someone half his age. However, he had a problem: his shoulders were wrecked!
He used to start his training with flat and incline barbell benches. Eventually they hurt too much so he switched to dumbbells. Soon, those hurt too much as well, so he switched to dumbbells with a hammer grip. He'd naturally been progressing to exercises that used less and less shoulder rotation, and when he came to us he had stopped doing any chest or shoulder movements whatsoever. His condition had gotten so bad he couldn't even put his arm around his wife at the movies!
His kyphotic posture had lead to an extreme amount of stress being placed on his rotator cuff muscles. It was so bad and his muscles were so beat up that his body was laying bone instead of scar tissue to stop the area from being injured any further!
Just like its good buddy lordosis (an abnormal inward curve in the lumbar spine), a small degree of kyphosis is natural; however, the more extreme it gets the more problems it can cause. A large kyphosis can lead to mid-back pain (especially between the shoulder blades), shoulder impingement, and a myriad of other issues. In other words, it's something that needs to be addressed if you want to stay healthy and keep your weight training on target.
With regards to correcting your kyphosis, a multi-pronged and holistic approach is most suitable. The three main players in improving an excessively kyphotic posture are specific strengthening, specific stretching, and an improvement in your posture throughout the day.
Before we discuss things any further, a brief overview is necessary to discuss the key muscle groups involved in kyphotic posture. Not only will this give us a better idea of what muscle groups are working, but what groups are working against us and what we can do to solve the problem:
- Hip extensors: gluteus maximus, hamstrings
- Hip flexors: psoas, iliacus
- Trunk extensors: spinal erectors
- Trunk flexors: abs, external obliques
- Internal rotators: subscapularis, pectoralis major, latissimus dorsi, teres major, anterior deltoid
- External rotators: infraspinatus, teres minor, posterior deltoid
- Scapular elevators: upper fibers of trapezius, levator scapulae
- Scapular retractors: rhomboids, middle trapezius fibers
- Scapular depressors: lower trapezius fibers
(Adapted from Anatomy of Movement, Calais-Germain, 1993)
Keep in mind this isn't an exhaustive list as there are also many synergists and stabilizers used to produce these movements, but when we're looking at developing a program to improve kyphotic posture, these are the key players.