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531 and Back Injuries

I’ve been lifting and lurking here for several years. I keep a log at Pendlay Forums, and have been running 531 for most of last year. I have a recurring back injury, which I think is a SI joint sprain. I love to Deadlift, and it’s my strongest lift, 440 being my 1RM several months ago pulled on a Joker set.

This last 6 weeks started with a week of illness, 10 lb drop in weight, then the last 4 weeks trying to work back up to snuff. In that period, I aggravated my back and it’s not getting any better. I’ve cleaned up to 225 recently. I tried to DL yesterday and stopped at 280, my back was not having it. I can squat(for now), press and bench. My question:

What should I fill the DL slot with? Cleans(not convinced I can do these w/o injury) or another bench day, light BB type back work? Or just a 3 lift rotation?

You could try clean deadlifts.

Both sumo or hex bar deads should be a little easier on the back

When I first hurt my back I couldn’t deadlift or squat without pain. I had to let it heal and then started with tons of swings and core work until it felt better and then I just used a linear progression to get back to where I was before doing 5/3/1 again. If you said you hurt your SI joint; did you try icing it? That worked better for me than steroids and prescription strength NSAIDs and pain killers.

[quote]factsaboutrats wrote:
I’ve been lifting and lurking here for several years. I keep a log at Pendlay Forums, and have been running 531 for most of last year. I have a recurring back injury, which I think is a SI joint sprain. I love to Deadlift, and it’s my strongest lift, 440 being my 1RM several months ago pulled on a Joker set.

This last 6 weeks started with a week of illness, 10 lb drop in weight, then the last 4 weeks trying to work back up to snuff. In that period, I aggravated my back and it’s not getting any better. I’ve cleaned up to 225 recently. I tried to DL yesterday and stopped at 280, my back was not having it. I can squat(for now), press and bench. My question:

What should I fill the DL slot with? Cleans(not convinced I can do these w/o injury) or another bench day, light BB type back work? Or just a 3 lift rotation?[/quote]

Cant say a ton for back injuries, but I use to work in a back to work rehab program where I tightly worked with occupational therapists and physiotherapists and a daily basis so have picked up a few things. Now if there is anything degenerative or structurally impaired for life then I would clearly avoid any lift that causes pain and do what you can do. But a simple test to see if your “core” is sound for lifting is a test by stuart Mcgill. See if you can hold a perfect plank for two minutes, a side plank on each side for 1 minute and a back raise at peak contraction for 2 minutes. At the very least this can identify a weakness you might have. Also id look into work by Gray cook and Kelly Starrett who both have some great ideas on physio/rehab. In the mean time do what you can do, if you cand do deadlifts maybe make it a front squat day, whatever deosnt hurt. All the best

I noticed you said that you think it’s an SI joint sprain. Have you been to a specialist? You don’t want to muck around with back injuries.

Thanks for all the replies, everyone. My deal is, I’m 43, I found Starting Strength at 38, and felt like I was born again. The Squat and Deadlift were like the Son and Holy Ghost, but it took me a while to get consistent with training, then I think I ran the SS LP into the ground, squatting 3 times a week. Originally, I didn’t like 531 because I felt like it was lower volume, but with Beyond, FSL and Joker sets, it feels just right.

I have 2 com pressed discs in my lumbar, and originally squatting and DLing HELPED my back pain tremendously. I have been to orthopedics, sports medicine DRs, and chiros. The reason I say SI joint is that whenever I aggravate the injury, it’s with a heavy/fatigued Deadlift. It’s far off the the left of the spine, maybe 3 inches, and when it happens, I can actually feel it move. Like George Costanza. So now I’m in a cycle of moving up until I get injured, then having to lay off for quite a while. Last year, I front squatted on 531 exclusively because of a hip issue, and laid off Bench Press for 6 months out of the year for Weightlifters Shoulder.

I’m sure that many people on here have had a similar experience, but between “ice, rest, and stop doing that” and “surgery”, I don’t find Drs that much help. I’ve had xrays and MRIs(2), they show smashed discs. Ok, great, now what? Don’t Deadlift? I can’t get my head around that.

This test I can do, and I can Squat without too much problem, as long as I set up properly. Any type of lateral movement, wood choppers say, is what does it, along with the half bent over row/Deadlift position.

[quote]nkklllll wrote:
You could try clean deadlifts.[/quote]

Meaning? Like clean hi-pulls?

[quote]SKman wrote:
Both sumo or hex bar deads should be a little easier on the back[/quote]

This may be the best answer. I’ve never tried Hex bar DL, and my sumo is very weak. Thanks!

[quote]factsaboutrats wrote:
Thanks for all the replies, everyone. My deal is, I’m 43, I found Starting Strength at 38, and felt like I was born again. The Squat and Deadlift were like the Son and Holy Ghost, but it took me a while to get consistent with training, then I think I ran the SS LP into the ground, squatting 3 times a week. Originally, I didn’t like 531 because I felt like it was lower volume, but with Beyond, FSL and Joker sets, it feels just right.

I have 2 com pressed discs in my lumbar, and originally squatting and DLing HELPED my back pain tremendously. I have been to orthopedics, sports medicine DRs, and chiros. The reason I say SI joint is that whenever I aggravate the injury, it’s with a heavy/fatigued Deadlift. It’s far off the the left of the spine, maybe 3 inches, and when it happens, I can actually feel it move. Like George Costanza. So now I’m in a cycle of moving up until I get injured, then having to lay off for quite a while. Last year, I front squatted on 531 exclusively because of a hip issue, and laid off Bench Press for 6 months out of the year for Weightlifters Shoulder.

I’m sure that many people on here have had a similar experience, but between “ice, rest, and stop doing that” and “surgery”, I don’t find Drs that much help. I’ve had xrays and MRIs(2), they show smashed discs. Ok, great, now what? Don’t Deadlift? I can’t get my head around that.

[/quote]

Funny - we are the same age, and I am a fellow disciple of 531 (not quite as long as you, but a few years now).

I once hurt my lower back stubbornly trying to perform good mornings as an accessory lift. After three separate attempts with light weight and injury each time, I have (at least for the time being) given up on them.

What worked for me was:

  1. Substituting conventional deadlifts for sumo. It was actually an interesting experience for a few months and I felt like I was able to at least come close to maintaining my conventional pull weight afterwards.
  2. Substituting the squat for front squat - again, an eye-opening experience as I SUCKED at them. But after getting at least a bit better at them for a few months, I now incorporate them as accessory work and feel like I learned something. I am back setting PRs on the squat, so I think the experience was beneficial.
  3. I sought treatment from a chiro for a few months. Can’t say for certain if it was this that cured me, but in combination with the other changes for a few months - problem solved.
  4. I began performing a thorough warm-up for lower body days and upper body days that includes self-myofascial release with a tennis ball, foam rolling, and mobility drills. 15 minutes worth before I touch a weight. Currently using Jordan Syatt’s upper and lower body routines, but I’ve seen Defranco’s Agile 8 or Limber 11 as highly recommended routines as well. Knock on wood - I have been injury free and setting PRs regularly for over a year now and I attribute this as a main reason. This is the only permamnent change I made (the others were just for a few months to rehab the injury).

Best wishes.

[quote]Souldozer wrote:
Funny - we are the same age, and I am a fellow disciple of 531 (not quite as long as you, but a few years now).

I once hurt my lower back stubbornly trying to perform good mornings as an accessory lift. After three separate attempts with light weight and injury each time, I have (at least for the time being) given up on them.

What worked for me was:

  1. Substituting conventional deadlifts for sumo. It was actually an interesting experience for a few months and I felt like I was able to at least come close to maintaining my conventional pull weight afterwards.
  2. Substituting the squat for front squat - again, an eye-opening experience as I SUCKED at them. But after getting at least a bit better at them for a few months, I now incorporate them as accessory work and feel like I learned something. I am back setting PRs on the squat, so I think the experience was beneficial.
  3. I sought treatment from a chiro for a few months. Can’t say for certain if it was this that cured me, but in combination with the other changes for a few months - problem solved.
  4. I began performing a thorough warm-up for lower body days and upper body days that includes self-myofascial release with a tennis ball, foam rolling, and mobility drills. 15 minutes worth before I touch a weight. Currently using Jordan Syatt’s upper and lower body routines, but I’ve seen Defranco’s Agile 8 or Limber 11 as highly recommended routines as well. Knock on wood - I have been injury free and setting PRs regularly for over a year now and I attribute this as a main reason. This is the only permamnent change I made (the others were just for a few months to rehab the injury).

Best wishes.[/quote]

Forgot to mention - I also stopped doing barbell rows altogether. I found it aggravated my condition, and instead used heavy dumbbell/Kroc rows and one-arm barbell rows instead. Much easier on the back and, now that I am back to squatting normally and conventional deadlifting (along with RDLs for accessory work), I feel like my back is getting enough stimulation.

[quote]Souldozer wrote:

[quote]Souldozer wrote:
Funny - we are the same age, and I am a fellow disciple of 531 (not quite as long as you, but a few years now).

I once hurt my lower back stubbornly trying to perform good mornings as an accessory lift. After three separate attempts with light weight and injury each time, I have (at least for the time being) given up on them.

What worked for me was:

  1. Substituting conventional deadlifts for sumo. It was actually an interesting experience for a few months and I felt like I was able to at least come close to maintaining my conventional pull weight afterwards.
  2. Substituting the squat for front squat - again, an eye-opening experience as I SUCKED at them. But after getting at least a bit better at them for a few months, I now incorporate them as accessory work and feel like I learned something. I am back setting PRs on the squat, so I think the experience was beneficial.
  3. I sought treatment from a chiro for a few months. Can’t say for certain if it was this that cured me, but in combination with the other changes for a few months - problem solved.
  4. I began performing a thorough warm-up for lower body days and upper body days that includes self-myofascial release with a tennis ball, foam rolling, and mobility drills. 15 minutes worth before I touch a weight. Currently using Jordan Syatt’s upper and lower body routines, but I’ve seen Defranco’s Agile 8 or Limber 11 as highly recommended routines as well. Knock on wood - I have been injury free and setting PRs regularly for over a year now and I attribute this as a main reason. This is the only permamnent change I made (the others were just for a few months to rehab the injury).

Best wishes.[/quote]

Forgot to mention - I also stopped doing barbell rows altogether. I found it aggravated my condition, and instead used heavy dumbbell/Kroc rows and one-arm barbell rows instead. Much easier on the back and, now that I am back to squatting normally and conventional deadlifting (along with RDLs for accessory work), I feel like my back is getting enough stimulation.[/quote]

I had similar issues with BB rows, so now I do them off pins in a squat rack. This way the bar is supported on the pins at the bottom of the lift. Basically a dead-stop BB row. This serves two purposes: unloads the low back/hamstrings at the bottom and allows me to focus on stability and form before the next rep.

I’ve never had a back injury, but I’ve had hernia repair surgery. The injury is different but some of the pre-hab/ rehab and program changes are the same.

That said, I recommend switching to Trap Bar Deadlifts but supplementing with back hypers (if you can do them) and leg curls. Trap Bar DLs are less lower-back dominant than Traditional DLs – likewise they leave a little on the table in the posterior chain department.

Before my injury my Deadlift Day looked like this:

Deadlift: 5/3/1
Deadlift: 5x10
Ab Work: 5x

After my injury it looked like this:

Trap Bar DL: 5/3/1
Back Hyper SS Leg Curl: 5x10 ea.
Ab Work: 5x

When I say “after my injury” I mean after I completed formal rehab and felt ready to ease my way back into training.

[quote]factsaboutrats wrote:
I have a recurring back injury, which I think is a SI joint sprain.

I love to Deadlift, My question: What should I fill the DL slot with?
[/quote]

I had some fairly significant SI joint stuff going on a couple of years ago. I have copied links to some exercises that really gave me some relief and get the hips in proper position before lifting.

If you can keep your hips in a good position and are basically ready to start all over on technique, you can (and should) deadlift again!

#1 - stop arching your back (I don’t know if you are doing this or not, but on my end, it’s a safe bet). Think “brace,” so you should still stay tight and lots of tension, but it needs to be with more of an abs focus than a concentric back arch.

#1a - This applies to both squat and deadlift. I’m not saying let your chest dip when you come up on squat, but don’t actively lift it either. This means you’ll need to stay more upright on the way down instead of sitting very far back, but as long as you can keep your heels down, your knees coming a little forward isn’t a bad thing (think front squat). There are plenty of people who can get away with an extreme arch and never get hurt, but you obviously aren’t one of those people, so adjust your form to survive and lift another day. Strength is a lifetime adaptation - I actually squat and deadlift more now than when I arched.

#2 - get lots of volume with lighter weights on deadlift and squat. 3-5 x 10 (think boring but big) can help to build muscle and strengthen lagging glutes and hamstrings to help keep that SI healthy.

#2a - If you have trouble picking what light should be (ego gets in my way sometimes here), limit yourself to what you can do for reps with a double-overhand grip, no straps, no hooking the thumb. You won’t be able to hurt yourself with only what your hands can handle, and you’ll get some crazy grip work from this.

#3 - 3-6 weeks of volume at that grip, and you can go back to a mixed grip for your rep work. Do high volume for another 3-4 weeks, then re-test your 1RM with the new, no-arching, form. After that, the general rule of start “too light” applies to your training max.

#4 - kick some ass! no better way to do that than to find a way to keep deadlifting!!!



I-Bomb, 2A is super important. Coach Matt Rhodes calls them “double-over deads” and prescribes these to football players. They are an excellent tool for non-powerlifters… And limit your ability to hurt yourself while working on weak points like grip.

Clean deadlifts aren’t the same as clean high pulls. It’s still maximal weight, but with the movement pattern of a clean. Lower hip position when starting, double overhand, etc. Or you could do clean pulls, wouldn’t recommend high pulls though, I just think they’re awkward.

[quote]GraniteJack wrote:
I-Bomb, 2A is super important. Coach Matt Rhodes calls them “double-over deads” and prescribes these to football players. They are an excellent tool for non-powerlifters… And limit your ability to hurt yourself while working on weak points like grip.[/quote]

How much can you pull double overhand vs mixed or hook grip?
I’ll try this tonight, I think 275-300 would be max DOH.

My deal with these is, how useful are they if you can pull 440, 405x5 or 315x20, then you go down to 275 or 300 DOH?

@factsaboutrats -
Sorry about your back. I am 46 and been doing 5-3-1 since '07-'08 - close to when it was first released. I have also been dealing with low back pain and injuries for decades - which probably means you should not listen to me. AND…I recently tweeked my back AGAIN and am working around it. Two reasons to stop reading.

But here you go - if squats are fine - just squat. Use 3 workouts per week - 2 uppers and 1 lower. Or just use the 4th day as sq/dl accessory and do what you can do. I personally know bunches of strong lifters that do not dead lift at ALL. They squat and do DE squats and only pull in comp. Squats build the dead lifts. But… if you are like me and feel your total worth as a man is defined by your deads - you gotta do something, right? My advice is to drop the weight until you can do it without pain/ minimal pain. That is the beauty of Jim’s program. Go light, set rep records with the light weight, and rebuild it the right way - with perfect form. It is an opportunity to get it right with the ego out of the way - this happens to all of us - some of us often:) If you reset and go real light - loose your belt if you r using one and build the abs.