T Nation


I’ve been talking to some people on the forum such as Eric Cressey and others. I have grade 2 spondylolisthesis of my L5 vertebrate. He says i should probably do away with box squats and move to normal back squats. What max effort exercises could i do for lower body with a condition like this, because i’m not so sure i should be deadlifting? And could i still do dynamic squats without a box?


If you’re going to quote me, I’d appreciate it if you quoted me in full. You make it sound like I think box squats are a bad exercise, when in reality, I’m a huge proponent of them.

Actually, Binford, here’s how it went down; I think others might benefits from some of this information, too.


I was wondering if you could give me some guidelines on how to train with grade 2 spondylolisthesis in my L5 vertebrate. I know you can’t make a diagnosis over the net cause that would be irresponsible, as i’ve heard all trainers and doctors say. My spondy has acted up twice in the last year and this recent time i think may have come from doing heavy box squats. I was just wondering if you could give me some good exercises to help stablize my spine? And also i like to train using the max effort method and was wondering if you thought i should still be using max effort and what exercsies i should not do?
Like i said i know you can’t make a diagnosis, but my chiropractor knows nothing about weight training and i was wondering if you could just give me some general guidelines on how to handle this and try to keep training as injury free as possible.”


"Without seeing you in person, I can just give you some general recommendations:

  1. Hit the core HARD. Unlike other lifters, you probably won’t be able to get away with a few sets of pulldown abs at the end of a workout. Everyone should train the core for all its functions (stability, lateral flexion, rotation, extension, and flexion), but this is especially important for you. Hit them hard and with good form (NO ANTERIOR PELVIC TILT) for more sets, more frequently.

  2. On off-days, do some light abdominal work: dead bugs, prone and side bridges, pelvic tilts, cat-to-camels, etc.

  3. Stretch your hamstrings, hip flexors, and lumbar erector spinae like crazy.

  4. Consider going to conventional squatting instead of box squatting. Spondy is an extension-based injury, and you get a lot more hip extension with box squats. It’s not to say that they’re bad for healthy trainers, but in your case, all the hip extension that is included in your program (assume you’re doing deads, etc.), it could just be overload. Then again, I don’t know your goals (PLing?, general fitness?).

Good luck!



“I’m not a powerlifter, I am an athlete hoping to improve my speed, power, and performance. I think i’ve already decided to stop box squating and deadlifting. What are some exercises that I could subsitute for those that either dont use as much load but work my lower body almost as good or somethign with less spinal flexion.”


"I wouldn’t go so far as to say that you have to eliminate exercises with significant hip extension altogether; you just need to be cognizant of excessive volume, loading, and (as always) poor technique. You’re going to get hip extension in pretty much every athletic movement you do; you just need to learn how to move and train properly (i.e. good posture).

If it’s at L5, there’s going to be a lot of benefit to activating/strengthening the glutes to prevent the misalignment that can contribute to your symptoms. Hammering the core (as I stated before) will also do this.


In other words, there are risks and benefits to every movement; they’re just found in different proportions in different athletes. That said, even Olympic squats are going to have hip extension, so you’re going to have learn to work around the injury. Consider that 60-70% of NBA players have degenerative disc disease, and 30-40% of NFL players have spondylolisthesis just like you, it’s possible. Like I said, avoiding aggravation of the injury comes down to understanding the interrelationships among volume, loading, and exercise selection during different points in the competitive year (in-season, off-season).

Not trying to be anal-retentive; I just wanted to set the record straight.


Do you have to follow a westside type of template? If not, don’t worry about dynamic-effort squats and max-effort exercises. Work around it and do what doesn’t hurt your condition! You have to be the judge of that, no one else.

When I first herniated my disk, I couldn’t hold 135 pounds on my back! It didn’t matter if I box squatted, Olympic-squatted, etc. What I did to give my low back a rest was I performed 2 bodyweight lower body unilateral movements and then one movement for the posterior chain. I then finished with abs. (This format actually turned out to be a great workout - even if I were healthy!) It took a long time before I could hold a bar on my back and squat. Ironically, box squats are better on my back than regular squats. This is because when I perform regular squats, I have a tendency to drop way below parallel. This would aggravate my back the next day. With box squats, I can set the box height so that I’m performing a pain free ROM on every rep.

My point is that do what is better for YOU! If free squats are better in your case, do free squats. And don’t think that you always have to start your leg day with squats or deads. Start with step-ups or single leg squats. Believe me, your health is much more important than how fast your dynamic squats are. There are also MANY different ways to design your routine so that you’re still able to build strong, muscular legs.

I hope my 2 cents helped.

Joe and Eric,
I’m sorry eric i didnt’ mean to sound like u were against box squats because i know they are good thing if u are healthy enough to do so. But i’m an not that lucky to be so healty, but i’m glad u boys will help me out.