T Nation

work legs w/out wearing out my back


I train my upper and lower body twice a week. I do a sort of heavy/low and lighter/higher rep days. When I train my lower body I like to do squats and some form of deadlift. But after those two exercises my lower back is so killing me that I am ready to just end my workout there.

Does anybody have any suggestions. Is my lower back just really weak? I really want to focus on my hamstrings. What are some ways to work my legs without taxing my back so much? Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.


Concerning hamstrings exercises I suggest you to read TC's No 165.
If the combination Squat & Deadlift on the same day is problematic, you may try: 1st leg day: Deadlift, 2nd leg day (3 or 4 days later) Squat and leg curls
(see TC's paper). Anyway if you have back recovery problems do not hesitate to choose a 3 days split with Deadlift in day 1 and Squat in day 3.


I would suggest a westside type program. You will greatly increase your hamstring and lower back strength and it wont be a problem. I hit my lower back and hams around 3x weekly. The only ham-iso exercises that com to mind right now would be leg curls... but for most movements like squats and deadlifts your lowerback and hams work together anyway...look at how the big squatters and deadlifters train....


Try doing some one-legged squats for the quads, and some dumbbell swings for the hamstrings. The dumbbell swings will loosen up your back. As long as you drive through completely your back will not get strained.

Mike Mahler


Your back must need work then so this will be good for you.

If your legs are still not getting a full w/o the add some iso movements in the end of the w/o. I would not do them first as to not sacrifice good form/energy for the squats and deads.

Good luck


Mike Mahler: can you (or anyone else, for that matter) explain "dumbell swings"? I also have low back problems/tightness and anything that may help loosen things up would be much appreciated.

Thanks in advance~


Your back sounds as weak as mine. Make your deads workout first thing in the week when you are at your best and get the most out of it.

It took me years to figure out what split worked best for my body. I was always too wrecked after squats or deads to work the second half of my workout properly.

So I tried some different things and right now I have this 3-day split that works for me and my schedule (competing in Scottish games and rugby):

1-chest and back and hams
2-leg and abs
3-shoulders and arms

On back day I will hit 3 of the following 5 movements:

Pull downs

I should actually say 2 because I almost always include deads or db deads in my back workout.

I hit hams on back day after I finish up the deads. I don't have access to a GHM so I do leg curls.

On leg day I hit squats, leg press/hack squat and then leg ext. When I am done I head back to the leg press for calf raise drop sets and then seated calf raises to failure.

This is what I aim for right now. Take what works for you ?this just happens to have worked for me.


1 squats

x12 warm-up
Drop back to my second set weight and knock out 20 reps...yes 20.

2 leg press/hack squat superset

Use a weight that you could do for a 'tough 12'

3 drop set leg ext

To failure

~I drop the superset and keep leg presses as #3.
~I drop the sets to know more than 4-5 and the reps to 8 or less

I cut the movements to 2 per body part during the in season and add some oly movements. I need the recovery time in between comps...over training is easy to do.

I knock the sets and reps down and work on moving 75-80% of my 1RM at speed for all the sets, 3-4 reps per set. Working on quickness as well as staying in good form.

This works for me. Maybe it will help you as well.


When my back tightens up doing deads, I superset with some ab work. Not sure where I read about it but it works for me.



Get in a deadlift position and hold a dumbbell with one hand. Looking forward, swing the dumbbell back between your legs. Imagine that you are trying to pass a football to someone behind you. Reverse the motion rapidly and drive through with the hips. Your knees should lock out. Swing the dumbbell with a straight arm in front of you to head chest level. Repeat for 10 reps left and right. Breathe in as you swing the weight between your legs and out as you swing it forward. Make sure to get some air into your abs when you swing the bell between your legs.

Mike Mahler


Many good suggestions here. I'd add that you should consider trap bar deads. I find they hit the quads really hard and spare the lower back much more than squats or conventional deads since you are much more upright and don't have a load on your shoulders.

You might also consider building up the strength of your lower back. I don't know the specifics of your problem, but if this possible, fix the weak link with a specialization program.


Another point--how good is your form? Have you had your form critiqued by a knowledgeable person? You could also video tape yourself and see for yourself, but that has limited usefulness if you don't have the requisite knowledge to critique. You might be very surprised by the difference between what you think your form is, and what it really is.


Hey thanks for all the replies. I really appreciate all who have given their own thoughts on this.

I believe that my conventional deadlift form is pretty good. But I will admit that after doing reps on squat I begin to cheat a little toward the end and use too much back. I perform squats with about shoulder width stance, not a wide westside stance.

I do conv. dl with low reps (like 3) for many sets after a few sets of low rep squats. This gives my back a good burn and wears me out, but its when I do higher rep squats and higher rep stiffleg deads. I just started doing stiff dl recently and do those for like 6-8 reps. After these two exercises my back is worn out and I dont even feel like doing anything else.

I have only been lifting since fall and just started doing deadlifts about a month ago, and stiff deadlifts for two weeks. I know I have a weak back. I need to work on that. I guess since I work lower body twice a week I'll just separate deads and squats.

Any other ideas as far as how often I should do deads and stiff leg deads with switching up different low back exercises? Thanks again.