T Nation

Help - Leg Atrophy!

I am slowly rehabbing a lower back injury which is taking its toll on my legs. Since I cannot go heavy on squats, deads and presses, I am losing some size. Does anyone have any experience or ideas on how to grow or maintain legs while dealing with low back pain?

11 -1/2 years ago I herniated L5 and S1 and tore my right sacral joint.
I actually lost use of my legs for over a week…Talk about atrophy!
It took more than a few years to gain back normalcy…My legs looked
so pathetic that all my practitioners(chiropractor, myotherapist and physical
therapist) said they felt sorry for me!..Well, no one feels sorry for me now!
Yep, no matter where I train, people always stop me and ask “How the hell
did you ever develop such an incredible pair of legs, especially those
hamstrings!” The funny thing is my hamstrings were the part most
atrophied by the injury!..Well, muscle memory is not a myth!..once I got the
ball rolling (after more than a few years of pain and misery and total failure)
I look and feel better than I could have ever imagined!!!

My advice is “Believe!”…Oh, it takes time, but it can and will happen!
The first real exercise that started the ball rolling for me 7 years ago was
1 legged squats on the Smith-machine (with the rear foot elevated).
This is a highly underrated movement… Next was lite dumbbell
stiff-legged deads…This eventually progressed to heavy stiff-legged
and regular deadlifts which I do today… My next big piece of advice is
to ice your lowback sciatic nerve after exercising or riding in a car.
(This is crucial!) Good luck and have faith!.. Joey Z.

Thanks Joey! I have been working at different movements to see what might be effective with less discomfort. I am doing some lighter DB deads which I like. Did some lighter slow leg presses with feet positioned higher and medium wide, bending forward at the hips until I felt support in my low back as I brought the weights down. Those seemed to be OK. I did do some lighter regular squats which thrashed my low back for several days. I have been considering single leg movements, but haven’t gone to the Smith for those. Did you do full or partial ranges, or just use common sense and stop short of discomfort? Right now, my weights are lighter, rest is longer, stretching the lower back and psoas muscles heavily before workout and between sets. Any more wisdom or insight? I would love to come back better and stronger. It is humbling to work with the weights I am using right now. Thanks for sharing your experience, and yes, I am keeping the faith. I love this stuff! And I am fascinated with how the body works and responds to diet, exercise, injury…and plan to keep mine in good working order for as long as I can.

try some high intensity stationary bike. preferably the sit down version where you peddle horizontally not vertically. do a hard core hill routine. Make sure that you are getting full extension with your legs. If you can manually control the intesity level do a workout where you go from low intensity to very high/ max intensity for a certain time period, then rest. vary your peddle speed. You will feel a big difference when you peddle slow at a mx intensity. let me know your results. laters

go over to elitefts and check out the belt squat belt (not the machine, its WAY pricey). It may work, as i dont think there is a whole lot of back involvment. Also you could ask dave, at his site, elitefts.

Joey Z., here again with some more low back rehab thoughts… “Ironic,”
the legpress technique you are imploying is perfect!!!.. I, too, have used a
“slow - mo” method for legpress while rehabbing…The caveat here is you
really “learn to feel the weight!”…And, if you’re mindful enough, you will
establish a mind/muscle link that you never knew before!..which will be carried
over to your other leg movements and then to the rest of your training!
(VERY ZEN!)…An added note: make sure the backrest is at a 35% angle or
higher, otherwise your low back is forced to roundout too much at the bottom
of the rep, which exposes L-3,4,5 + S1 to great injury, plus it over stretches the
sacral joints. And yes, FORGET squats for the time being!..They will cause your
support muscles to go into spasm in order to protect themselves, which will pull
on your lower back, causing a nasty cycle of pain and spasm…Yes, stretching the
psoas is a wise move…Along with stretching your groin, which connects a long chain.

This chain starts at the knee, sews thru the pelvis, and ties under the ribcage
and into the spine…(My injury has forced me to learn much about the body’s
mechanics!) Next: Reverse hypers are just the ticket for low back recovery!
But, read up on these first… Then add slowly… I first did reverse hypers while
lying on the floor, then progressed to doing them draped over a stability ball,
next, hanging over a flat bench… Now, I do them hanging from an incline bench
with a 35 lb dumbbell between my feet for 3 sets of 15 reps… (what I wouldn’t
give to use a real rev. hyp. mach!!!.. I’ve heard they are unsurpassed for
conditioning and reconditioning the low back ! )

Well, I have to run. For now, “Your Brother in iron, Joey Z.”

(Try these, I got this from "Cyberpump" last year.)

Ball Squats

Find yourself a ball that is not too hard nor too soft. A basketball would be too hard. The same for a soccer ball. I bought one of those red “fun” balls that I remember using in grade school when I was a kid for dodge ball. This ball is medium sized and is not hard nor soft. Find yourself a wall, which shouldn’t be too hard! Put yourself in the low squat position such that your lower and upper legs are perpendicular i.e. the perfect lower squat position. While in this lower squat position, your back should be up against the wall. In between your back and the wall should be the ball. The ball will we rolling on your back as you rise up and down. Do them with a 10/10 cadence, i.e., 10 seconds up and 10 seconds down. You can use dumbbells in your hands for added resistance. Do them until you can’t stand up anymore.

“Ironic,” The key is to not lock out at the top! Use the
“Weider continuous tension principle” ha, ha, ha!
These damn things work and can used for a warm up
or as an afterburner…or, on your lite day, as part of a

Thanks for the ideas. I am open for any others that you might remember. A benefit of this has been a better mind/muscle connection as I am VERY aware of each movement. I am more careful with form and making sure my pelvis does not rotate under during a rep. It will also benefit me to include single leg movements as the Smith squat. The ball squat also makes very good sense. I like the idea of a recumbant bike with varied intensities to warmu-up and pre-fatique my legs. I forgot yo mention I was doing some reverse hypers and I will continue to improve my range and strength in that movement. I will experiment with these and try to incorporate other movements that make sense as progress allows. I believe this challenge will ultimately add to my workout arsenal and my discipline, and I will be the better for it in time. Thanks to all, and thank you Joey Z for sharing your first hand experience. It’s encouraging to hear with your mind and persistence, you can come back better than before. That will be my goal. I am not shy to ask for more ideas if they are out there. What a resource! Thanks again.