T Nation

My Comeback

Hi everyone, hoping to get some advice. I was a very dedicated lifter for about 15 years, about 18 months ago I had to get spinal fusion surgery. I’ve recovered well however I desperately want to get as close as to where I once was in terms of power & size.

I’m a former personal trainer so I know diet & routines pretty well. I’m 5’9 & used to weigh 185ish, due to the HELL/medication i’ve endured over the last year I now weigh around 160.I used to bench around 290 & could squat & dead over 400. I realize my heavy leg/back days are done, has anybody out there ever trained legs successfully after back surgery?

To me squats were the ONLY leg exercise however I’m open to any suggestions. I used creatine in the past with good results, would it be a good idea to start a cycle to kind of “jumpstart” my comeback? I’m 40 years old & really want my size/power back-any thoughts would be vastly appreciated.

My first few workouts back have been VERY depressing as I can barely bench 185 for a few reps. I’m hoping muscle memory will still work at my age! Thanks in advance for any advice anyone might have!


No advice from me just to say good luck.

I’m in a similar boat, I hurt my back 2 years ago and am coming back slowly but surely. Have you tried front squats?

I’m just doing a 1 lift a day thing at the moment (Squat, Chins, Push-press, Deadlift, Dips) and everything’s going well allbeit with very low weights.

What exercises can you do without pain?

I too am in the process of making a comeback at 35. I started back seriously back in February of this year after laying out several years due to shoulder surgeries and then just got lazy.

I started lifting at 22 and 139lbs soaking wet and by the time I hurt my shoulder, I was 27 at 185 @ 7%BF. I tried to come back several times over the years and even have had a sweet home gym for the last 3 1/2 yrs, but I never had the discipline and focus that I had earlier in life. Mainly I think because I honestly didn’t believe that I could ever get back to where I was before and that was just depressing.

Then back in January, a young 23yr old buck wanted to start using my gym and I agreed and started lifting with him. At first I just lifted easy like I had every other come back attempt and ate junk the whole time.

Then after much verbal abuse from him (in a good way) which is what I needed, I decided I was going to start doing the things that I needed to do to get where I wanted to be. That was on a Friday. That last weekend I ate all kinds of junk and told my wife and everyone else that the diet started Monday. Unfortunately everyone said “Yeah, right!” It was just more fuel for the fire!

We went shopping on Sunday for good clean foods and threw away all the junk food that night. My wife was in by choice and was very excited and so were my kids by default. I have two boys - a 4 yr old and a 1 yr old at the time.

I wouldn’t dare step on a scale for about a month. My diet was simply eating 6 clean meals that consisted of 2 shakes, 2 protein bars with fruit, and 2 whole food meals. I finally stepped on a scale around the 1st on March because I was starting to see a difference. I was stunned.

After a month of dieting and exercising I was still 191 at 28%BF. However, I didn’t get discouraged I just kept pressing on. I keep dieting until around the middle of June when I finally was down to 170lbs and about 15%BF. I then decided to start a clean bulk.

As of this morning I am 184lbs at about 9.5%BF and I feel GREAT! I know now that not only can I get to where I was before but can surpass it and my new goal is 215lb at 7%BF. And you know what? I will get there!

So here is what I have learned over my journey so far:

  1. I am not too old to be in great shape.

  2. I am a smarter lifter now because I now take the time to learn and read about everything from lifting to eating to supplementation.

  3. I can do heavy compound exercises and not get hurt. I just need to lift in strict form and with a weight that I can handle. It is not about pride any more, it is about me getting to where I want to go. I am still not to the weights that I used to could lift, but I am getting close and have all the time in the world to get there. It is no longer about numbers.

  4. I can work around my shoulders and not hurt all the time. No I can’t overhead press anymore with a barbell, but I think my shoulders are better now than they ever were. There are still tons of shoulder exercises I can do.

  5. I must train smart if I don’t want to get hurt again and but that doesn’t mean turning into a sissy in the gym.

  6. I can train with more intensity than those around me because I want it more and am very strong mentally.

  7. I will not give up. I will stay consistent in the disciplines (training, eating, sleeping, and supplementation, etc.) and if I do then I will get to where I want to be.

  8. Nothing can stop me or make me give up except myself.

I hope this motivates you and encourages you to just stay consistent and take it one day at a time. You know what you need to be doing, now do it! Just don’t get discouraged with not being where you once were today, but just try to be better than you were yesterday and before you know it, all the hard work will pay off.

If you ever need a word of encouragement, want to share a victory, or just need a swift kick in the pants after you have failed, feel free to PM me any time.

Good luck and stay strong!


Dryseeker, I had a friend that had rods put in his back and he did a come back in powerlifting. It can be done but you have to be brutaly honest with yourself with the pain part of it. It took him 2 years to get back to a 405lb bench press but he did get there! I also tore my quad pretty bad in 1994 and I had muscle atrophy but I still got my size back in my leg and I can squat again around 661 to 685 so, it can be done .

You just got to be smart and don’t hurry it up to soon. Talk to a physical therapist and work around the movements that could cause you harm for now. Never, never give up, stay focused and keep perfect form.

Thanks Guys
I kindly appreciate all your insight & encouragement. I know I will be successful if I can rekindle the focus & discipline required, I initially couldn’t seem to get inspired as the road back to where I once was seems so LONG! The past few days I’ve been feeling far more encouraged, I’ve stopped worrying about not being able lift what I could & worrying more about my form & eating clean. I have had to rethink my routines, I always loved to squat & do heavy rows & deads, all of these moves are offlimits, Im also avoiding heavy overhead movements as well. Im glad I joined this forum & would like to thank you all of you for taking the time to share your thoughts & experience-I’ll keep you posted-Take Care!

I am not sure what I can add here, except been there. My list is pretty long and includes knees, shoulders and other stuff. FWIW, I am 50 and was a dedicated liter. Things started breaking and I laid back. I am back into it big time now. Here is what I learned:

  1. I am not 20 anymore; training needed to be adjusted accordingly.

  2. I can not lift anywhere near what I was pre-injuries. But I am definitely stronger than I thought; and so are

  3. Slow is fast. In other words, start slow, learn what you can and can not do. When you find something you can’t do, learn to adapt. There are more than one way to twitch a muscle. Jumping in like a madman will only get you hurt again.

  4. Be methodical in your come back. Set reasonable goals. When you attain a goal treat it like a major success, no matter how small the goal.

And to that, good luck. Remember you’ll get there.

What a great series of responses. Some of the old T-Nation feel here.

I also have a couple of injuries, and have to ehco the above. I am only a couple of months from being in the best shape of my life, after tearing my r shoulder and a chronic lumbar injury.

It’s all about recognizing reality, and adjusting your workout to acomodate it. Reality won’t adjust to fit your workout for damn sure.

If you can find a copy of Bill Pearl’s “Keys to the Inner Universe” you will have just about every variation of every exercise ever, with illustrations. Putting together a program that generates progress without a re-injury or pain is possible -go for it and good luck.