T Nation

How Do I Deal With This?


I started lifting a couple of months ago after being away from the iron for some time. Last Monday I did deadlifts for the first time in awhile and woke up the next day with bad back spasms. I mean locked up and immobile. They were partials, from below the knee to upright, on a Smith Machine (yeah, I know - stay away from the @#%&* Smith Machine).

My chiro tells me to either build up my core first then return to deadlifts, or to do them super slow. By that he means lift the bar about an inch, hold it for several seconds, continue the lift taking 7 seconds to come fully upright. Then drop down an inch and hold again, and finally taking 7 seconds to lower the bar to the floor. Continue doing reps until you can't do another.

I'm thinking WTF? He swears if you do this with each exercise whether squats, deadlift, bench, rows, etc. that it builds bulk and strength and reduces the likelihood of injury. There are a lot of knowledgeable people here so has anyone heard of this? What about the issue of strengthening core before trying deadlifts?


All I can think of is it will force you to lift a light enough weight, that you won't hurt your back.


Your doctor has confused the issue. The real issue is that (1) you used the smith machine, which forced you body into an unnatural movement arc (causing you to wrench things) and (2) you probably piled on way too much weight after your lay off.

Let your back chill out for a while and when you feel better go back to the gym and do 3 or 4 high rep sets (12 or 15) with a ridiculously light weight twice a week, and do it from the floor, too, to strengthen your complete range of motion. Let's say 65# (if you're totally out of shape or never were in shape, use 15lb dumbbells instead).

What you need to do is put your ego away for now and work on building a solid base from which you can grow strong. No short cuts, no easy versions (which turn out to mess you up anyway!) Pay mucho attention to form! After a couple weeks of the low weights, work with heavier weights for fewer reps (but stay conservative!)

Good luck.


Good advice.

As someone who has also injured their back recently, I agree to put the deads and squats on the backburner for a bit. I love doing them, but when you are injured they make no sense.
At the moment I am using Ian King's 'Limping' leg workout as a way to trash my legs while not screwing my lower back. When my back gets a bit stronger I will start squatting and deadlifting heavier. I recommend this plan for you too.


Thanks much for the advice from both of you. Yeah, got to let the ego rest and remember this is a lifetime endeavor and I'm not competing with the young pups anymore. So, sounds like I need to do this is the cage or on the floor with an Olympic bar and light weights or stick to dumbells for a few weeks. I did light squats and didn't seem to have a problem other than realizing what everyone meant about the Smith Machine locking you into an odd movement pattern.

What about the core strength issue. Does it impact the ability to deadlift or do squats? Deanosumo mentioned strengthening the back first, and I assume the abs as well.


After being away from the iron a long time, you need to start out light. Lighter than you think, but you know that now.


Yes, core strength is vital for both deadlift and squat. However, they also build core strength. Focus on getting your whole body tight for each rep. If you start with light weight as an earlier poster suggested, you should have no problems with your core strength keeping up with increases in weight. Just keep adding 5 pounds every workout (or every week, if you want to be really conservative). You can probably do this for a long time.

As an extra aid to getting your core tight, practise tightening many times during the day even when nowhere near a weight room.


This is true, but I would also say this. Starting out very light and not being overly aggressive is the way to go when you are starting back up. However, you will be suprised at the strength you can regain lifting at this intensity, and when you are ready to go heavy you will be suprised.

Also, I can comment on the back spasms, when I first deadlifted, I went and played basketball the next day and I definitely had what I would call back spasms, my spinal erectors were just acting very weird, and I have never felt anything like that since, it is probably the same type of thing, but be careful. Also, do not lift slow. Dont lift fast, but dont lift overly slow either. The longer you are in a position where your back is being loaded the more stress you will take, basic time under tension.


Am I the only one who thinks taking 7 secs to lower the bar is going to make his back hurt even more?


That was my thought exactly. My chiro is usually pretty knowledgeable, but this one threw me for a loop.


So, I've been lifting about 8 weeks now doing a split routine. Fairly light weights. Is it best to continue doing split routines, or going to a complete body workout three days a week? I'm thinking the latter, but wonder what the more experienced here think.


Honestly, you will only know after you try it. Neither type is better than the other. A Change-up is good, but you might be able to squeeze out a few more weeks of progress with your current routine. If your progress is stalled, definitely make some sort of change, although this just could be rep speed or range. You don't necessarily have to change excersice order.


Also, about your back spasms- I don't think conventional chiro manipulation can offer much help. I would recommend a sports massage therapist. This type of massage has helped my lower back a lot. Make sure you use someone that knows what they are doing though.



I messed up my back several months ago doing heavy deadlifts. I pulled a muscle, and while I initially thought I would be out for a week... it slowly worked into a month! Coming back and hitting the deadlifts was something that scared me a bit since I injured myself previously. I realized during my recovery that I didn't keep my back and straight as I should have... hence the injury. Once you get back to it though, lift really light, even just the bar if necessary... just to get the motion back.

Good luck,



I agree lay off the deadlifts for a few workouts and stay off the smith machine. Make sure your gym has a good squat station and good area for deadlifts. If not find a new gym.

Start all lifts with low weights and pay strict attention to form and tempo.

Make yourself a spreadsheet with your workout for a each day for at least a month of workouts. Increase your weight each workout by only about 5 lbs and slowly build up.

Work on your mobility too. A good 15 -20 minutes of dynamic warm will help tons. Scrawny to Brawny by John Berardi has a good section on mobility and corrective exercises for posture and balance. You could also check out the mobility DVD you should be able to find a thread in the most discussed topics.

Good luck