T Nation

Back In The Squat Rack

I hurt my back about a month and a half ago. The medical-ese term for what I did was micro-tear trauma.

I could barely walk, much less consider leg/back workouts. Which is really a bummer since this was my ‘Summer of Squat’ - I PR’d 415 about 2 weeks before the injury. Not huge weight, but enough to keep me motivated to squat.

I was back in the gym a week after the injury but doing only exercises that kept my back/legs out of play.

For the last 2 weeks I have felt no pain at all - so this past Monday I thought I would try to squat. I started with stretching, then squatted with the bar - no pain whatsoever. I put on the 25’s - still no pain.

I put the 45’s on and…well…I got scared. I was scared of stepping under 135. I never got under it. I didn’t squat at all this week.

Because I quit/pussed-out, my motivation is shot to hell.

How can I get it back? Has anyone else ever gone through this…this 'workout depression" before?

I’ve been there before. If you need to, squat with 25s for a couple sessions. Eventually you’ll be bored with it, and you’ll need to move up. When that happens, start adding weight slowly. Add 2.5s, then 5s, keep going. You’re only psyching yourself out, you just need to find a way around that. Take small steps, and you can overcome this. Jumping from 25s to plates is a 40 lb. jump, that’s a lot when talking about a tweaked back. Be patient, small steps.

Good Luck

Hey man,

I am in the process of recuperating from a back injury, only I have had mine for almost 6 months, on and off. As soon as it felt 100%, I was back doing deadlifts and squats. The problem was I was going to heavy. When it feels better, I don’t necessarily think that it IS better, the muscles or tendons are still weak. Build it up slowly…by you “wussing” out on that squat workout, you could have just saved your self a re-injury. Work it up real slow man, cuz you don’t want to hurt it again.


Like most who’ve been training for any length of time, I’ve also experienced my share of pulls and strains. Most of these were minor, healed quickly and resulted in only a short interruption in my training. A (thankfully) small number were more serious however, and took time, careful planning and hard work to rehabilitate.

As a career trainer, I’ve also worked with numerous clients who’ve come to me looking for help rebuilding after a serious injury; and I’ve seen the same type of situation you’re describing with regard to squats when someone has experienced a back injury, time and time again.

So my first suggestion to you is to cut yourself a break; at the best of times stepping back and dropping into the hole with two to three times your bodyweight in pig-iron across your traps can be scary. Normally the confidence we have developed in our ability (with time and experience at performing the lift) enables us to turn the fear involved in performing a heavy squat, and use the adrenalin rush that comes with it to our advantage; but your current situation is by definition, abnormal for you. You have experienced a sudden and dramatic change in your situation, having recently suffered an injury, and you have reason to be unsure how much your body is ready to take. Properly managed, the fear you have of re-injuring yourself can be a valuable tool in your rehabilitation though. It can be used to prevent you from training recklessly when caution is appropriate.

That said however, you have to know that it isn’t reasonable to think that six weeks of downtime could have degraded your physical capacity to produce force to the point where you are going to be incapable of handling less than a third of your previous personal best. You know you have more in the tank than 135 (otherwise you wouldn’t be asking the question you are). The question is how much you are ready to handle without pushing too far too fast, and how to make sure you don’t cross the line and do something stupid that will create a further setback.

Experience (both personal and professional) has taught me that the best way to deal with this type of situation is to be systematic about it. By that I mean sit down and plan your recovery training. Set out a reasonable length of time based on sensible increments in training load, and plan what you are going to do during each training session. Begin as you have, with conservative loads and higher repetitions per set. Over the course of time increase the loads and reduce repetitions to ease yourself back into heavy squatting. Use the time to work on your technique and supplemental exercises, and become a student of squatting. If you play this right, take your time, and focus on perfecting your technique as you rebuild your confidence, you could very well come out it a far more capable squatter than before.