I’ve been dealing with lower back issues (on top of a plethora of other additional issues cause by years of wrestling and lifting). I’ve sprained my lower back twice. Both times were a nightmare to recover from (hard time laying down, bending down, sitting etc) although I did recover both times, it is a legitimate crux in my life. Preventing any heavy lifting for legs, which I love. Not to anyones surprise, both occured during deadlifts. The first occured deadlifting 315, after losing 20 pounds for a wrestling competition and approaching the weight as if I still had the muscle and strength to lift the weight with the same ease.The second happened trying to deadlift without warming up. Both stupid ideas. Has anyone dealt with similar lower back issues? I’ve been trying to strengthen my core to add support to my overall core so when I do lift, my lower back is much more protected. I guess my ultimate question is if anyone has dealt with this issues and what would be reccomended to decrease chance of injury/ increase core strength in the context of preventing lower back injuries.
Not an expert, and personally I have never dealt with any back injuries, but I have worked with a few people who have dealt with very severe back pain.
The worst of them was my best friend, who broke his back in elementary school. Had back pain his whole life, went to PT on and off for 2-3 years during high school, and never was able to make it through a full football or track season due to taking breaks to allow his back to rest.
Here’s what he did for 5 workouts over a 2 week span this May, before he promptly stopped lifting and started partying and working after we graduated:
A: BW Glute Bridges - 1x10 w/ 5 sec squeeze at the top of each rep
B: Bird Dogs - 1x10/side w/ 5 sec. hold at the top of each rep (do all 10 reps on one side before doing the other)
C1: 20 Leg Abductions
C2: 20 Clams (do 20 reps of C1, immediately followed by 20 reps of C2 on the same leg, before switching sides on doing 20 rep of both movements on the other leg)
Rest 1:00 or so and repeat once more. Do this every single day. When you wake up is smart - that way you just get it done. It’s not about being really intense, it’s just about activating your glutes and keeping them healthy. I’ve always felt that a strong butt does more for a lower back than even having a strong lower back does. Obviously, both should be strong, but it’s your butt that really matters.
For ab movements, I’d limit spinal flexion stuff. You know, situps, crunches, etc. Do stability movements like planks, ab wheel rollouts, side planks, suitcase holds, pallof presses, landmines, etc.
Read this for good ideas:
Spend some time strengthening your posterior chain without a ton of spinal loading before getting back into deadlifting.
You can do hip thrusts:
Back Extensions (maybe):
The reason I say maybe is because there is some movement at the spine here which may bother you. I always felt that when I first started lifting, when my hams/glutes were weak, this killed my lower back. Now that my hams/glutes are much stronger, I feel this movement there, in a good way, and nothing in my lower back.
This one will give you some good variations of those above movements:
And do reverse hypers if you have access to the machine. It’s great. My friend thinks that’s what helped him. The first day he did it, he was in pain, but after a couple days he felt great. I’ve heard a theory that since an injury hurts as it “enters” your body, it will hurt as it “leaves” the body. No idea if this is true or not but this seems to be what maybe happened to him.
Anyway, I’d encourage you to actually read those articles, to ensure you know what the experts recommend. Even if you’ve done these movements before.
Spend some time devoting two workouts a week to these movements. I think your knees and lower back will feel great after 1-3 months of this. You can do some sled work as well for conditioning and extra leg work. Stretch your hip flexors, quads, glutes, and hamstrings daily. Do them during your rest periods.
Once you feel good, and your hamstrings, glutes, lower back, and abs are strong, try to get back into squatting and deadlifting. Maybe do front squats and RDL’s (make sure you feel your HAMSTRINGS on these!!!) first, and once you feel confident in your back, jump on to back squats and conventional deadlifts. I think at this point you should experience no trouble. My above-mentioned friend worked a hard farm job all summer and has had no pain since doing that stuff.
This is a very slow, safe progression, and maybe you don’t need it, but I’m pretty confident if you followed this and spent some quality time building up your posterior chain before easing into the big barbell movements, you will experience no problems from them. Remember, lifting is a life long sport. Don’t let your ego or hurry to progress make you rush this and hurt yourself even further. Not saying you would, but just letting you know.
I sprained my SI joint once and it sucked. I also discovered that I had a bulged disc during that ordeal.
I took it slow coming back to deadlifts and similar movements but I’m stronger now than before my injury (low back strength and all around strength).
I find that I tweak my back a couple times a year. The part of the SI joint that I sprained tends to slip back to that spot. It happens at strange times like warming up with 2 plates. Sometimes I can adjust myself and correct it and others require a trip to the chiropractor. Once I’m back in place I’m sore for a day or so but back in action quickly.
Part of being able to return to things like deadlifting is learning to feel potential injuries as they develop. There are days where I’ll feel a slight shift in my SI joint and I can either shut it down or push through. Pushing through obviously elevates the risk of injury. Some days I feel strong and pull beltless up to 400+ lbs. And then I’ll have days where I feel weak/tired so I throw on the belt at 315.
It’s the little observations and adjustments that lead to injury free lifting.
Apprwciate the thorough reply JS, i’ve been doing these exercises and have noticed an improvement in stability and overal solidness in my lowerback. I think years of wrestling really stressed my lower back to the point of frailness. However, I think my neglegence of this has been the result of my previous injury. Thanks a ton
Your story matches mine practically word for word.
The first time I had pain, I didn’t know what was going on, its retrospect, I think I injured my SI joint.
Also the second time, but I went to a chiro who adjusted me and got it fixed.
I was also putting my back heavily into extension when I would squat and deadlift, as opposed to being neutral.
Both of my injuries, I had neglected to stretch for a long period. Stupid, i need to learn my lesson.
The second SI pain came from SUPER tight hamstrings after RDL. Deadlifting caused it to knock out of place, chiro fixed me up and i’ve been taking it easy for now. No pain now, was adjusted on Tuesday.
Had severe back pain over my SI joint too before. Too much jumping in my sport when I was clearly not in good conditioning anymore after graduating from varsity. You know, ball is life. What helped me a lot was proper stretching of the hamstrings and low back. Strengthen your hamstrings too, because when they’re weak, the lower back has to compensate more for it.
For hamstring stretching, this is what helped me a lot.
If you don’t have a partner, use a band or a belt (but with a partner makes it so much more effective. It’s a bit hard to do it correctly by yourself). Make sure knees are locked, and that your butt doesn’t come off the floor, as well as your other leg. Take it really slow. The flexibility won’t come overnight. For more stretch, have your partner flex the foot towards the shin.
Quick backstory, I was working at a plant nursery (dont let the term “nursery” fool you, that was the most physically demanding job I’ve ever had) and my back was already pretty toast from unloading an 18 wheeler of plants. Decided to unwind that night and tie one on with my friend. Well, that turned into a party, got cocky, wrestled friend who’s part grizzly bear. Slammed my lower spine into the ground 3 times. Couldn’t walk for a week. Gave me trouble for years. (Got fired, dont recommend)
After years of making excuses and constantly straining my lower back, I started investing in a home gym. Somewhere I could focus on myself and take it slow, with no outside pressure of needing to get home, or dealing with other people. Forced myself to deadlift again with 135, with excruciating effort put into form, every lifting day. Spent a few weeks on that, making sure the motion was ground in. Then spent another several weeks still at 135, re teaching myself how to move it quickly, without losing form.
That was about… 6 or 7 years ago.
After that my back felt a thousand times better. I still throw it through the ringer about once a year. In which case I force myself back into 135 mode, and keep the motion going. Maybe super light rack pulls if I cant stand a full deadlift.
At this point I can pull 400 without a belt. And I’ve never injured my back on deadlift. I’m not saying “just deadlift more” is necessarily the answer, but that’s my story.
That’s a good story man. I’d almost always recommend getting back into the lift - maybe you need to do a few movements before hand to work up to it, but I believe most people are doomed to never be able to squat, or deadlift, or whatever. Now, do they need to? No, but I think most people always could do them, if the work is put in.
I’ve been dealing with on and off lower back injuries (also from deadlifting) for roughly 7 years. Most people say ‘‘it’s your form!’’ which is only partially true. You can have flawless form for 99.9% of the time, but that one rep can fuck you up. The one where you went a bit past your limit, etc. and it’s going to happen to most people.We all do it on Chin Ups, Press, Squats, etc. but the consequences aren’t the same. With that being said, here is what helped me tremendously, to a point where I was back to where I was pre-injury:
-Replacing Conv Deadlifts for Trap Bar DL, GHR and Back Extensions; unless you compete in powerlifting, this one is a no-brainer. Those lifts also translate better to sports.
-Spinal decompression; it can be done almost anywhere: laying on your back on the floor, ‘‘dipping’’ on a kitchen counter, hanging off a pull up bar, hanging off an ab station. Anything that allows your lower back to ‘‘release’’ really helps. I’ve done this up to 5-10 times a day for a little as 10 seconds to as much as 2 minutes.
-Stretching (this is something I’ve neglected a lot); hip flexors, hips and hamstrings being the crucial three.
-Prevention exercises; core/abs (leg raises, ab roller), lower back (bird dog, back extensions) and glutes (bridges).
-Posture; be mindful of how you sit, how you sleep and how you stand.
Solid advice. The last time I tweaked my back was during warm ups. I wasn’t as serious as I should’ve been about having two plates on the bar because it’s less than 50% of what I can lift. It only takes a split second.