Can I Lift Weights If I Have Scoliosis?

The doctor just told me I had scoliosis.

He’s a nice enough guy, but he could have picked a better present for my 40th birthday!

I was shocked at the diagnosis.

I already knew my back was screwed up. I also figured the two doctors who had previously told me it was just a muscle pull were just a bit… presumptive, to put it tactfully. In retrospect, I should have insisted on more than 30 seconds of discussion with either one of them, but I kinda figured they knew what they were talking about.

Lesson learned.

Once I got over my initial surprise about the diagnosis, I asked the second most important question: can I still train with weights?

Fortunately, the answer is a definitive “yes!”

Although only about 5% of the U.S. population have scoliosis, accomplished powerlifters such as Lamar Gant and Amanda Harris are included in their ranks.

Lamar Gant and Amanda Harris Beating Scoliosis

If they could achieve such incredible success, there’s nothing stopping me from reaching my goals, either. Scoliosis didn’t appear overnight! It’s not like I didn’t have it on Sunday. Or the day before.

I have no plans to freak out and turn into a wuss. I will continue to pursue a level of mental, physical, and emotional fitness that enables me to be the best man, husband, and father that I can be.

My doctor told me to avoid conventional deadlifts, (overhead) presses, and bent-over rows. While that contradicts some other recommendations I found, I’ll accept his advice for the immediate future. There are two reasons for this:

First, my diagnosis is just one day old. My research is in the nascent stages at best, so it’s prudent to defer to his judgment unless and until I have additional data and information to consider.

kettlebells for scoliosisSecond, after failing to break through plateaus in my deadlift and squat a few months ago, I switched to kettlebells. I started training with kettlebells after listening to Tim Ferriss interview Pavel Tsatsouline. My original goal in making the switch was to correct some imbalances I discovered with a Functional Movement Screen.

It turns out that kettlebell work strengthens the back and abdominals, two areas critical for long-term physical health in everyone, not just those diagnosed with scoliosis.

Kettlebell swings in particular work the hips, glutes, and spinal erectors. Abs are also engaged when the kettlebell is“paused” correctly at the top of the movement. The Turkish Get Up is a fantastic full-body movement, and especially benefits the abs, glutes, and shoulders.

I plan to continue Pavel’s Simple & Sinister training program until I achieve my near-term goals. You can find the basics of the program below. If you want to get the most out of Simple & Sinister, grab a copy of the book at StrongFirst or Amazon.

Obligatory disclaimer: I am not a doctor or licensed physical therapist. Consult one before beginning this or any exercise program.

The Program

Warm up with three circuits of the following:

A1. Prying Goblet Squats x 5 *
A2. Glute Bridge x 5
A3. Halos x 5 each direction

* Note: If you don’t have the flexibility to do these, start with bodyweight squats, holding on to the power rack or other sturdy object as necessary. Stay in the squatted position for 5-10 seconds per rep. Do these barefoot or in your socks whenever possible.

Following is the program. It’s very simple but can get very… well, sinister.

A. One-arm Kettlebell Swings: 10 sets of 10. Rest only as long as necessary between each set.
B. Turkish Get-Up: 5 sets of 1 get up for each arm. You’ll do 10 total get-ups. Rest as long as necessary between each “set.”

Take Action

Remember, you define your life. Choose what’s important to you and do whatever it takes to accomplish your goals. Personally, I try every day to move closer to the finish line in whatever endeavor I’m engaged in.

What are your goals? What have you done to overcome scoliosis or other physical disorders? Let me know in the comments below.

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