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Leg Training w/ Herniated Disc

Hi everyone,

I herniated a disc in L4/5 back around Oct time (see my other thread for details) and did not lift until 2 weeks ago. Currently only doing BW dips/pull/chins etc, feet up flat bench and ab work.

I have lost 7" off each thigh since I stopped squatting, my jeans are falling off me now, yet I have remained the same weight due to fat gain.

I can’t seem to find the motivation to work legs, knowing that I cannot squat/deadlift. What are the best exercises (+rep range) for mass that don’t involve loading the back.
Surely leg extensions are not my best alternative?

…Many thanks in advance for any advice.

I have a herniated L5/S1, and while I’ve recovered to the point that I can do some light squatting and deadlifting painfree, until then my favorite leg exercise was belt squats, followed by step-ups, lunges and suitcase deadlifts.

Belt squat
Dbell squat

Lots of leg extensions do 10x10 timed 1 minute rests on these then go and do some bodyweight squats for reps of 20. you’ll start getting back some leg size.

how did you guys get a herniated disc?
Were you squatting with a roundback ?

dumbell bulgarian split squats
barbell hip thrusts (careful not to hyperextend your back. Control the reps, don’t jerk.)
glute-ham raise
leg extensions/curls

you can fairly beast your legs with these without loading your spine.

The best thing you could do (in my opinion anyway) though would be to drag a sled. That really hammers your legs without any load on your back. Good for conditioning too.

I herniated two discs last year, the same one as you plus one other. I did no leg training for a while, but the ones that give me the least amount of issues are front squat, goblet squat, leg ext, ham curls, lunges, sissy squats. I can do all of those pain free. i dont think I will ever be able to deadlift or heavy squat again however. But there are alternatives to those exercises that work the same muscle groups. My advice is dont push it just becuase you feel better. i have learned the back never truly heals from such an injury. I tried to rack deadlift months after the injury and re injured it. Do lots of ab work to protect the low back too.

Also as mentioned above, sled drags will be your best friend, especially in the beginning stages of re training the legs.

I have herniated a disk in my lower back, rehabbed it and subsequently re injured it a few years ago. I feel like my lower back has been healthy now since that time a few years ago but the way I approach leg training is totally different now. I focus mainly on the subjective “how hard did I work out my legs/how did my legs feel during the workout” the loads I used are a secondary issue I try not get to me.

Its also important to find out what kind of herniation it is whether it is posterior or anterior and find if excess flexion/extension aggravates it, and know that your disks also handle compressive forces much better than sheer forces.

I like John Meadows general leg outline for leg workouts. For me personally front squats are spine friendly when the load is appreciable and leg press is great as well as long as my hips are nailed to the seat to prevent rounding/flexion. How deep I can go increases as I get deeper in the workout.

Thanks everyone for your advice and replies. Its still quite upsetting to think I won’t be able to squat heavy again but only time will tell. In the mean time I will try to train with the methods you have all listed here, the equipment may be hard to come by however…

To the guy who asked how I did it, a combination of initially injuring during heavy military presses for reps and I overextended my lower back putting a lot of strain on it. The initial pain subsided and then later in the week I tried to pull a PB on deads and I think that’s what finally killed it/made it worse.

Haven’t been able to squat myself since last July when I destroyed my shoulder. 20 weeks post surgery at the moment, but still hesitant to put any real pressure on the area (squats, hacks etc). Since last Fall, a steady diet of training quads and hams separately, with a lot of single leg work, pre-exhaust, leg press, belt squats and however else I can get creative. The good thing? I don’t think I’ve lost any size at all, despite not really pushing anything even close to respectable. In fact, my jeans have been fitting a bit snugger in the legs… of course it may simply be my ass getting fatter -lol.

Best of luck brother. Look at the big picture, and be glad that you at least have options. In a year’s time, you’ll look back with a much better perspective.


How old are you? You look fairly young in your picture: in this case, youth is a benefit. When I was 16, I herniated 2 discs in my lower back: I couldn’t get out of bed for a week. Luckily, the ortho told me that being so young, there was a very good possibility that they would heal later down the road, which is not the case for older folks. I’m 21 now, and I can squat, deadlift, etc with virtually no pain at all.

The point of this story is take it slow, don’t fuck up your recovery, and you should be back in no time. In the grand scheme of things, does 6 months,or even a year really matter when you’ll be lifting for the next 20+ years or so? Not in the slightest. Good luck to you.

Hi Stu and Greek thanks for your comments. I am lucky that there’s still a vast amount I can do and my flexibility is still perfect. I guess isolation is the only answer for now. Just going to have to make it work for me!

I’m 23 by the way, 24 in a few months. So age is still somewhat on my side than if I was in my 40s.

i box squat and that is easier on my back. and i do sled drags.
if i couldnt do either of those i would probably do partial single leg squats for high reps

Just a quick question. What would be considered high reps for BW single leg pistol/partial squats. Doing around 30-40 for sets of 4 and getting a good burn.

Found a new knot tonight foam rolling. Did it for 20mind and seemed to work wonders on my left glute/lumbar region

[quote]hypertrophilly wrote:

Found a new knot tonight foam rolling. Did it for 20mind and seemed to work wonders on my left glute/lumbar region [/quote]

Get a lacrosse ball! Best investment I ever made. Lotta pain at first, but damn it’s good pain :slight_smile:


Just tried these Bulgarian Splits today. Went for 40kg total, but it was tough. No pain whatsoever so finally feeling like I might be able to properly get back to leg training.

Any recommendations for hitting hamstrings in the same respect?