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Noooo... not my back, again...!

All I did was bend down to pick up my damn water bottle, and there it was, “twang…” that little pressure in my lower back that’ll turn into pain when I cool down.
Sure, a few seconds earlier I was making all kinds of noises and faces on a work set of leg presses (4 rep set), but that wasn’t directly the problem, it was that damn water bottle on the floor.

I was just wonder if any of you out there have had lower back problems before, and what you’ve done about it to overcome the training inconvenience? And speed recovery?

The only direct training my lower back gets is from front squats, and I always warm up thoroughly. Here’s what I think may have caused my back to go (and I think it’s only connective tissue, as the Doc said last time it happened…) :

  • Increased frequency of leg day from once per week, to once every 5 days,
  • Mixing around of the leg exercise order for the first time,
  • Jumping into training to quick after a “slow” period, and
  • Not “squating” down to get that friggen’ water bottle!

Some other questions for you all : => Do you think it's worth while using a weight belt during leg day? I've read articles before where Charles Poloquin recommends "not" using them... [shrug] => Any ideas on what I can do to speed up the recovery process? Even little tips can make a difference.

Oh, and I take ECA every leg day too. My legs were always an embarrasment through school, so now I’m determined to get them huge! They’re probably my best part now… and I can only do front squats as my back won’t take back squats any more. I get my form regularly checked and don’t feel that it’s a problem.

Any help/advice/input appreciated,
Cheers fellas,
Mark

When I used to do leg presses it always put a strain on my lower back. I no longer do them. No reason to use a belt, UNLESS you have a chronic back problem or, on very heavy singles or doubles while squatting and deadlifting. Definetely get your back checked. No reason you should no be able to do regular squats. Leg presses, leg curls, etc… are for the birds and an injury waiting to happen.

I myself had a lower back problem a few years ago and mine was caused my just bending over to tie my runner. Like me the water bottle was just the final straw for you probably. My doctor figured it was years of wear and tear playing hockey and other sports. For me it was a weakness in the small muscles in the lower back. Like a lot of people when they are young I only only worried about the larger muscles and didn’t concern myself much with the smaller supporting muscles in my lower back.

As for recovery I was laid up for 10 days with my feet elevated and did a lot of strecthes the doctor gave me to loosen up the muscles that went in to spasm. One of the exercises he gave to help strengthen the lower back muscles was the hyper extension but done differntly. He had me concentrate on fighting gravity on the way down and then push myself back up to the starting position. This really help me personally and I haven't had another episode since then. I know do Deadlifts along with these hyperextensions using very strict form. On his advice I also stopped relying on a weight belt for most exerices and he feels like others do that they stop the stabalizer muscles from growth.

Nothing scientific here, but I have had back problems before and have found that doing light cardio on a recumbant bike for about 20 minutes gets the blood flowing there and speeds recovery. I always fold a towel and put it behind my lower back on the bike.

A wonderful piece of equipment is gravity boots. I probably wouldn’t squat at all if I didn’t have 'em! It gives me such a wonderful stretch, and I haven’t had any back problems since using it.

Mark, I use to have terrible lower back problems, I could barely sleep at night sometimes because it hurt so bad. I tried everything, chiropractor, rehab, belts, none of it worked. Then one day a saw a Louie Simmons article about his Reverse Hyper machine. He built it to rehabilitate his lower back. The thing really, really works. My back was fine after using it for a couple of weeks. I never use belts when I squat either because I think it is important to develop strong core strength, and I never do leg presses because I know alot of people who have hurt their backs doing them. Try using high reps on your lower body workouts until you rehab your back, dont do leg presses. Work your abs and lower back and get them really strong. Good Luck

Thanks for the input so far fellas.
It’s given me renewed hope for doing even back squats…! Not sure what gravity boots are though. Perhaps someone could explain?

I’m going to start (after some decent rest) doing a lot of specific core strength work (always though hyper-extensions were bad), and ease back into leg training. Then when all’s well once again, I’ll launch into a “12 Weeks of Limping” program! Whatever it takes to get legs the size of a horse!!!

Oh, I've upped my Vitamin C intake to 4 grams a day, still take lots of multi-vitamins, drinking Flax-Oil like water (man that stuff makes me wanna chuck!) (And the flax calories "are" taken into account), and have started using a glucosamine/chondroitin sulphate supplement. All that should speed up the recovery process.

Is it possible to have a strong lower back, or not to ever encounter lower back injuries, cause the job i work at i’m constantly lifting, and i mostly lift incorrectly, but it doesn’t bother my back, the only thing that happens sometimes are just little pains, which are nothing and nothing to complain about.

Shit, man, sorry to hear about your problem! I don’t have any advice as far as rehab because, thankfully, I have not had the same problem (and I hope/pray I never will). Please, read Paul Chek’s 3-part series “Back Strong and Beltless” posted on the t-mag web site. That article series, although quite technical, is really cool. I started having a bit of back problems, got all worried, and then I remembered that I saw those “Beltless” articles before and dismissed them as technical blabber. Reading them helped me understand my problem. Please, do yourself a favor and read them too (I believe Paul Chek also talks about rehab there). The main conclusion of the articles is that when doing exercises that heavily involve lower back you have to suck your abdomen in, thereby stabilizing the lower back. Ian King refers to this technique when he instructs to “suck your tummy thin” when doing squat, deadlift, shoulder press, etc. In any case, good luck!

Mark,
Without actually examining you I can’t say for sure but I would guess that you have a muscle imbalance that is causing your hips to rotate anteriorly out of alignment with your spine. I don’t think your low back is the weak link but rather a weak tranverse abdominis and tight hip flexors. Work on stretching your hip flexors by lunging forward with one leg while keeping the rear leg semi-straight. Lower yourself while keeping your body upright and flexing your glutes. To strengthen your transverse - lie flat on the floor with your legs bent and your feet flat. place your thumbs on your upper abs and your fingertips just below your waistline. Now concentrate on sucking in your low abs while keeping your upper abs somewhat relaxed! Ian King calls these “thin tummys” and they work great. Steadily increase the time you keep your tummy tight. Then you can add movement of the legs to make it even more difficult. With this flexibilty and strengthening routine you should be able to get your muscle imbalance corrected - BUT you must keep it! When you squat, deadlift, leg press etc you need to remember to use your “thin tummys” as your built in belt and will keep your hips properly aligned with your spine!
Hope this long-winded response helps and if you need me to re-explain these movements don’t hesitate to ask. (it is far easier to show these than to write them out!)
Matt

Hy guys, great input! Mark, I agree with everything everybody’s said so far. One thing more to consider though. You don’t say exactly what the doctor found, but it sounds like you have a soft tissue injury instead of a true ortho injury, i.e., disk hernia, joint degeneration, etc. If this is the case, and it probably is, you should go see an ART practitioner ASAP. ART can help resolve the symptoms in short order, restore function and keep you from getting re-injured chronically. As far as everything else goes, some rehab and stretching would be a good idea AFTER YOU GET THE CURRENT SYMPTOMS RESOLVED, not before. Soft tissue injuries can easily become chronic, and then generalized, and then recovery is problematic.

I myself did back hyperextensions for a long time before I tried to do any squats/deadlifts/presses, and it really made a difference. Having a pronounced scoliosis, I also a little yoga before bed every night and never have problems.

when i do heavy leg presses over 1000 lbs, i feel pressure on my lower back due to the fact that my knees are hitting my chest so there is an arch on my lower back. a belt does not help. try changing the angle of the back support on the leg press and use less weight. How good is your form if you are doing high intensity low reps (4 reps). Do more deadlifts to increases the strength in your lower back. Don’t fotget to stretch your muscles.

Hi Mark. I just went through this 2 months ago, when I herniated a disk during a set of squats. I understand that this is a cumulative damage problem and once a disk has been damaged to the nth degree, the simplest motion makes it pop.
My problem was a lifetime of poor bending posture. I was bending over at the waist instead of the hips and didn’t realize exactly what this meant until it was too late.
Another symptom of this problem is poor hamstring flexibility and imbalanced leg development. That is, plenty of quad and almost no ham showing.


Try this flexibility test: sit on a mat with your legs together, straight out in front of you. Reach forward and stretch like you are trying to make a diver’s pike position and see how far your fingers reach. If you can’t reach your heels before your hams pull tight, you’re probably like me and bending at the waist without enough hip rotation.
When you bend over properly using only a slight bend in your knees (see the past articles about technique for ‘good mornings’), your hips have to rotate, your butt sticks out, and your hamstrings have to stretch.


All these things have to happen to keep your spine relatively ‘flat’, and to preserve the proper reverse lumbar curve. This is also crucial for squats, bent over rows, and seated rows if you have no chest pad to support your torso.
My herniation finally occurred once I started taking my squats deeper. My hips were not rotating far enough, and the lumbar curve started reversing at the very bottom of the exercise. This is precisely the position I was in when I felt mine let go.
Fortunately, mine was not too serious, and the sciatica stopped after a few days and I was back to full mobility in just a few weeks, minus exercises that compress my spine.
Good luck!
Nylo

I had the same problem.A chiropractor and a massage therapist both agreed it was poor flexability in my hips and especially my hamstrings.Also I failed to warm-up properly before I worked out.Five minutes of flexability work before and after leg workouts have helped significantly.Hope this helps.

Good Point Nylo,
I forgot to add hamstring flexibilty in my post!
Matt

Mark, here’s a followup reply with some exercises and stretches that I now believe are crucial for lower back health and rehabilitation.

Hamstring stretch, 3x a day. Place your heel up on the bar of the bench, chair top, or table top, with your leg straight and bend forward. Hold for 30 seconds, alternate legs for 3 stretches each. This is also called the dancer's stretch. No joke about it, hamstring flexibility is crucial.

Practice using proper form every time you bend over to pick up anything, at home, at work, at the gym. If it's a light object, rotate your hips and use the opportunity to stretch your hams. If it's a heavy object, squat with your legs, rotating your hips as far as possible to preserve the most erect spinal posture you can, including the all important reverse lumbar curve.

Squat using a semi-sumo stance, where your feet are wider than shoulder width, and toes are turned out to match the angle your thighs make. This keeps your spine more in line with your heels and promotes a more erect spine.

Hyperextensions. Actually, this is a misnomer since my upper body never comes up past horizontal. I have noticed a huge difference in my torso stability since I started these and good mornings.

Good mornings. Start very light and work your way up.

Ab work. There are all kinds here. My current favorite is leg raises with slightly bent knees, performed on the roman chair/dip station. See the current T-mag hardcopy #3 for Paul Check's article with some new complex movement ab training ideas.

Proper warmup and stretching before lifting, consisting of about 5-7 min of light cardio, followed by stretches on a mat.

A twist stretch. Lying on your back, legs extended, pull one knee up and cross it over your body. Push it down with the opposite hand while keeping both shoulders down flat. Alternate sides 3 times. Most of the time when I do this, my back ‘cracks’, much like getting an adjustment from the chiropractor. I do this frequently throughout the day. This can also be done in a chair by keeping your legs straight and grabbing the chair frame to rotate your upper body, but it’s hard to describe.

As per advice here in T-mag, don't bother with a weight belt as a general rule, so you don't develop a muscular and neurological dependence on artificial support.

Sorry for the length, but I feel strongly since I just went through this experience that I feel could have been avoided. If my post saves just one back for somebody, it was worth the time. I just turned 39 (yeah, getting old) and wish someone had taught me all this when I first started lifting at age 17.

Good luck!
Nylo

here are a few suggestions that may help. 1) To heal the muscle faster buy a few massages, apply heat and take some BCAAs between meals. Take it easy and streytch the area slowly and gently for a while. 7 days.

  1. to prevent it stay with the massages once every three week, but look for a Muscle Release or Active Release practitioner in your area. The Release techniques will lengthen the muscle belly to a place where it will unlikely that it will tear like that.

Good luck,

Rob

Mark, have you ever seen Deuce Bigolo with Rob Schneider? Well if you haven’t then don’t (its a terrible movie) But if you have, remember the boots with little hooks on them that Deuce puts on and clips himself to a metal bar with in order to hang upside down? Well those are gravity boots. And, oh man, do they stretch the spine! They used to be a very common piece of training equipment (Arnold called them a staple,) but these days people have just seemed to forget about them.