T Nation

Dealing with Crippling Lower Back Pump


Okay team, I’ve suffered from CLBP for years when I was lifting originally and now I’m back to training it’s come back with a vengeance. I know sometimes that it’s due to overuse such as today (I spent Saturday as a loader at a super busy meet and got quite the lower back workout) and as a result today I didn’t get past 365lbs on my deadlifts before I had to call it quits due to clbp.

Sometimes though it can be an issue in any leg/back workout.

Things I’ve tried that help:
Laying on my back
Sitting on something in a way that levers my hips into an anterior pelvic tilt

Things that don’t help:
pulling my knees to my chest
Any sort of ab or hanging work

Things I’m not doing:
Taking orals.

So. . . any thoughts? It’s annoying as fuck.


Tight hip flexors are a very common cause of back pain, try stretching them and doing some myofascial release stuff. Also look up Stuart McGill, he has a lot of useful information and several books on back issues. I haven’t read his book “Back Mechanic”, but I’m willing to bet it would have exactly what you are looking for.


Have you ruled out anything structural?

I went to a sports doctor last year for a piriformis issue, and an x ray revealed a small degree of scoliosis. This explained a lifetime of recurrent right side lumbar back spasm, a rotation in the bottom of the squat, and different degrees of foot turnout in the S and DL (I was forcing my feet into a symmetrical position).

Turned out to be the solution for me. It may not solve your problem, but if there isa structural issue, you should be aware of it before you load up.


It’s worth giving jbackos’ suggestion a shot.

What you perceive as crippling low back pump could be muscle spasm or trigger points as your body tries to protect underlying structures to prevent further injury.

A history of back pain/issues or if you’re a bit on the older side, which is when degenerative changes to the spine seem to catch up with people, may mean you are at a greater risk of problems and it could be worth getting screened.

As for CLBP I think I can relate. If I’m in a rush and do all sets of stiff leg assistance work with low rest times I end up with a terrible low back pump.

What works best for me is allowing more rest time between sets by super setting with ab crunches on one of those decline bench set ups where you can lock your legs in.

Even if the pump is real bad I can have a 5minute rest like a real power lifter or do something else for 5mins and come back.


Have you tried the reverse hyper?

Direct, focused, high rep work, specifically for your lower back.

You get a hellacious back pump at first, but that goes away as you get stronger.

At the same time, the bottom of every rep stretches you out.

According to the dude who sells them, you get strength and restoration from 1 exercise.


Unfortunately don’t have access to one within about 1.5 hours of where I live. . .

The gym I work out at is pretty decent but no GHR and no RH.


They’re not as tight as they used to be but I can definitely do more work on them.

I have a few of his books and I’ve read through them but this hasn’t been addressed exactly.


Yeah, I’ve had this since my 20’s so it’s not a recent or degenerative thing. Just a part of powerlifting for me and it does get worse if I take orals which is largely why I avoid them.

I think perhaps I need to learn to use my lower back a little less, maybe start being one of those guys who works on a flat back rather than an arch.

Plus I think today was just overwhelmed from all the loading on the weekend.


For once I agree with chris_ottawa. It may not be your issue, but I’m always cramped and have to take my time getting up from a sitting or laying position after a lower day. It’s always tight and overactive hip flexors and abdominals. Stretch them out and I’m fine. Breathing techniques will also help you release tense/overactive abdominals.


You mean we don’t get to fight anymore? I’m disappointed.


Yeah its a spasm. I get them everytime I back off the back work. The other thing that helps me (because of the slight scoliosis) is a lot of lateral back work (lats, shrugs, upper/mid back). The lats and the traps pull on each side of the spine. When they are being used the stabilize the spine in addition to positioning the arms in the deadlift.

Also I work my back by either light weight/hgh reps or heavy singles (max effort work). If I try to do heavy 3’s, 5’s or 8’s (linear type work)my back is fried after two weeks. On ME days one week I use a squat variation, the other week I pull from blocks. I no longer do any deficit pulling or deadlifts from the floor without bands. The scoliosis tends to twist my back in the low positions of the squat and deadlift. I work the push off the floor with front squats/hi bars off a high box (3" above parallel) and one leg presses.

You first hav eto diagnose what’s going on, then tailor your training around your situation. There are many ways to skin the cat.


Well the first two things are stretching my hip flexors and more direct ab work. I know I need both of those regardless.


Just do good old fashioned flat legged situps of cable crunches to strengthen the hip flexors.


About the ab work, doing things like situps and crunches could possibly make things worse. As you probably know, Stuart McGill (who is he world’s leading expert in back issues) is not a fan of them. That’s not to say that they are bad for everyone, but the “sitting up” action is done mostly with the hip flexors, while your abs are dynamically contracting and flexing your spine. Spinal flexion is not usually a good thing if your back hurts, and working your hip flexors will make them tighter and possibly cause more back pain. Look up the “McGill big 3”, these are basically bracing drills that will help strengthen your abs. Other exercises that can be useful are planks (particularly RKC planks), ab wheel rollouts, and “stir the pot” and similar exercises where your abs are working statically. It’s also more specific to powerlifting, last I heard you don’t want to bring your ribs towards your waist on any lift.


Hip Flexors don’t just lift up the leg. The Iliopsoas attaches to each of the Lumbar vertebrae and also functions to assist in maintaining the lumbar arch in its proper position.

Even McGill said that flexion is not necssarily a bad thing but that loaded flexion is no good. If you do situps by holding a weight at your chest (not behind the head) and contract your abs before you rise up the situp becomes a pure hip flexor exercise while the abs maintain a static contraction. McGill also said that by putting a pillow under the low back, bending the knees and performing a crunch with only the shoulder blades coming off the floor is safe.

As usual its not the exercise that is the problem, it’s the incorrect execution. If all we do is listen to the doctors and the PT’s then squats are bad for you, pulldowns behind the head are no good, deadlifts are dangerous, behind the neck presses will wreck your shoulders, bench presses will destroy the shoulders as will dips etc. The bigger picture here is to try the exercise correctly, then if it hurts you don’t do it.

Oh and don’t forget to tell Wendler and dave Tate that their both wrong in recommending hanging leg raises as the number one ab exercise for squatting heavy.


Yes, that’s the McGill curl-up, doesn’t necessarily need to be done with a pillow and the idea is to hold the position for several seconds. It’s not a partial situp.

Yes, but situps put compressive and shear forces on the spine, if you have no back issues then you could do them if you want.

Yes, and also not every exercise is appropriate for everyone.

Again, it’s not the exercise that is wrong but rather that it’s not appropriate for everyone. If you have low back issues then there are better ways to train your abs that won’t aggravate your back.

You know Ed Coan didn’t do ab work, right?


@Sturat: you can watch me and jbackos argue, or you can look into this for yourself. My advice is to avoid ab work that involves spinal flexion and mostly trains the hip flexors.


Holy crap you actually read my post. Not much to disagree on.


Come on man, I read all your posts. You just seem to take issue with some of my opinions that contradict yours.


Just breaking balls.