I’ve Got Your Back But Who’s Got Mine?

lower back pain
Photo credit: theboxmag.com

As I wrote yesterday, lower back pain in no fun. It’s even less fun when you know your own poor judgment was the direct cause.

I woke up feeling a lot better this morning. There’s some soreness still present, but it’s pretty manageable. The thing is, tomorrow is a lift day, specifically workout A in my 5×5 strength training plan. That means the barbell bench press, barbell bent over row, and barbell hack squat. The latter two exercises will put strain on my lower back. Should I risk it?

Yesterday, when I felt a lot more debilitated, I responded by first taking some ibuprofen, then I applied heat, and then later on, I applied cold. For those last two remedies, I may have been exactly backward according to this article at Best Health.

Of course, I applied heat and then cold in the same day, while they’re recommending applying cold several times a day for 20 minutes a shot for the first few days and then switching to heat. Not that there isn’t plenty of disagreement on heat vs. cold for lower back pain according to different sources.

One way that I’ve been helping my back I forgot about until today. Every morning after breakfast, I take a number of dietary supplements including Curcumin 2K with Black Pepper Extract, which has anti-inflammatory properties.

Problem. I want to lift tomorrow without encountering significant risk of exacerbating my lower back pain. It would be ideal if that pain could be eliminated between now and tomorrow morning. What to do?

Don’t Lift Tomorrow

Probably the single most sensible thing I could do would be to not go to the gym tomorrow, or if I go, just to do cardio and no lifting. But I really hate to miss a lifting session. Cardio is fine, but something inside of me really just loves lifting.

Cardio is a necessity for heart health and it assists in getting rid of pesky fat, but I’ve worked hard to start getting stronger. I don’t want anything to delay that process if at all possible (and I’m aware that really hurting my back will delay that process).

Lift But Lift Lighter

On Wednesday, the warm up lifts didn’t particularly bother me. It was lifting with my working weight that hurt. I could do my regular plan A routine, but just do it a lot lighter. That seems like going backward, but it has the benefit of at least doing something with the weights while reducing my risk.

Do Cardio and Stretch Tomorrow

I just mentioned this above but here I’ll expand upon the idea. I could exercise but take it easy, and especially avoiding anything that might stress my lower back. I could put off lifting until Monday and see if, at that point, my back feels up to it.

I did abs and cardio today, but went easier on the abs than I usually do, since ab work invariably involves the lower back to one degree or another.

For context, here’s what I did. I rested ~60 seconds between sets.

incline situps
Image credit: imgarcade.com

Weighted decline bench crunches

18x 25lbs/11.33kg
12x 25lbs/11.33kg
10x 25lbs/11.33kg

Weighted cable crunches

15x 145lbs/65.77kg
15x 145lbs/65.77kg
15x 145lbs/65.77kg

Captain’s chair leg lifts (body weight)


After that, I did 40 minutes cardio on the elliptical machine.

As I said, anything that caused discomfort to my lower back, I backed off from, which is why I didn’t do as many reps as I could have for decline crunches and kept the weight constant for the cable crunches.

What else could I do?

I could try to emphasize all those activities that have the best chance of helping my back out between now and tomorrow.

Spine-Health.com has six suggestions:

  1. Release your inner endorphins
  2. Get restorative sleep
  3. Exercise your core
  4. Soothe pain with temperature
  5. Stretch your hamstrings
  6. Engage your brain

I’ve already done number 4 on the list this morning by applying cold.

Number 1 includes activities such as aerobic exercise, which I’ve also already done, massage, meditation, acupuncture, listening to music and eating dark chocolate.

Except for those last two, the others require some preparation and monetary cost. Some of that relates to number 6, which I’ll get to in a bit.

Photo credit: shutterstock

Number 2 I try to get every night with varying degrees of success. It’s probably one of the reasons why my back feels better this morning. One of the suggestions under this item is to cut back on caffeine, which I’m loathe to do. It also says to eat “the correct foods” which is amazingly vague, but I already have an idea of how to eat right.

Number 3, exercise the core. Well, I did that today too, although I emphasized the abs and avoided the lower back as much as possible.

Stretching the hams is news to me, but I guess I was trying to do that the other day when I chose straight leg deadlifts over bent legs because it stretched my back and hams out.

Engage the brain. This one has a lack of information, but in a related note, my wife has me reading a book written by Nick Ortner called The Tapping Solution which seems to employ acupressure points, reflexology, and self-affirmations to help relieve any number of maladies including chronic pain

The success of this method is highly dependent on the subject believing it will work, but the benefit is that it’s very do-it-yourself and is pretty much cost-free. Ortner also has a website promoting this technique and his products, and if you’re into podcasts, Ortner has appeared on Dave Asprey’s Bulletproof Radio as well as having produced a number of his own podcasts.

Of course, this is only one method if engaging your brain in the service of pain management, but it’s the one the missus is having me look into right now.

Health.com promotes four back pain management techniques including Yoga, Massage, Acupuncture, and Talk therapy. Except for talk therapy, these have already been covered by other sources, and seeing a psychologist or counselor seems a little excessive given the nature of my exercise injury.

Gently stretching out my hams and my lower back seems the most useful new short-term method of ameliorating my current condition.

The bottom line is that I can do whatever I feel is necessary to treat my back with tender loving care between now and tomorrow, but I should let my body tell me what it can and can’t do once tomorrow arrives.

turmeric soup
Photo credit: thekitchenpaper.com

Oh, one more thing. On Jonathan’s blog All About Healthy Choices, Laura (sweetpea2love) commented in part:

Yesterday I made a Turmeric, Ginger tea and last evening I made a Turmeric Tomato soup.

I am amazed at the results after this morning. The stabbing pains have subsided and only a little lingering pain remains. I added apple cider vinegar too to the mix in both. I think after a day of the same eat and drink I’ll be feeling no pain at all.

Turmeric is a major ingredient in my morning Curcumin supplement, so it makes a certain amount of sense to consume foods and drinks that contain natural anti-inflammatories.

Of course, none of this is a guarantee that I’ll wake up tomorrow morning with zero lower back pain, but it’s worth a shot.

A ship is safe in harbor, but that’s not what ships are for.

William G.T. Shedd


11 thoughts on “I’ve Got Your Back But Who’s Got Mine?

  1. I have exercised regularly for the last 37 years. I train with weights 4days/week and do cardio 5days/week. I am a doctor by profession and have put many long hours in learning my trade. With all of this experience and knowledge I am confessing that the male brain has an exclusive component that causes the “stupid gene” in all of us to perform behaviors against our better judgement. As I read through your decision making process to lift weights or not, I concluded that “tomorrow” is likely to happen for you. Stating this hypothesis, if one is uncertain whether one’s body is healthy enough to perform ANY resistive or cardiovascular exercise after experiencing an injury, the answer is DON’T! Unless you die the following day, you will have MANY days in front of you to perform your chosen routines and will likely reduce chances of complicating existing injuries. Remember, the level of injury does not necessarily equate with the level of pain. I recommend blocking that “stupid gene” by letting the prefontal cortex portion of the brain control logical rational behavior.
    P.S. If you believe death is imminent the following day, ignore this advice! 🙂

    Here’s to many more years of good health, good exercise and good times!!


    1. Please stop making sense by telling me things I don’t want to hear. 😉

      I know. I just hate to make the decision now and feel like I’m wimping out. I’ll see what things are like when I roll out of bed at 4 tomorrow morning.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Until I recently retired, I used to get up at 3:15am to work out. I feel your pain!! The good news is anyone willing to get up at these obscene hours is committed to a cause. I’m betting on you.


  2. My unsolicited advice . . . Find out WHY YOUR back hurts.
    I found that I round my lumbar at every given opportunity if I don’t use my brain to force extension and hip hinge. For me, this flex comes because of posterior pelvic tilt, cause by the worlds tightest hamstrings.
    But you need to find out why YOUR back is whacked. Two things I would avoid.
    Avoid cold. Use heat only. And do not wod early in the morning. Bad news.
    The BEST read on lumbar is Stuart McGill…


  3. @Jonathan: Thanks for the encouragement.

    @Onomatopoeicbless: (You need a shorter name) Makes sense but *how* do I find out something like that? Better question, how did you find out?

    As far as not working out early in the morning, 5 to 6 a.m. is the only time I have/feel motivated to workout. By nature, I’m an early morning person. Conversely, I don’t stay up very late. I’m usually in bed around 8-8:30 at night. After work, I’m pretty unfocused and all I want is dinner and to unwind.

    There are actually quite a number of people that at at the gym’s door when it opens up at 5 and a lot more that arrive within 30 minutes of it opening, so I don’t seem particularly unique.

    I assume you mean this Stuart McGill who has this blog.


  4. By the way, thanks to the both of you for entering into the dialog. Part of the reason I created this blog was to encourage other people age 60 and older to become active or more active than conventional wisdom/society says we can be. The other part is to learn.


  5. I would also suggest you let your lower back rest until you don’t feel pain anymore. Do some cardio but don’t go running. Do something like bike or crosstrainer. It is hard to cut back on your workout plan but if you don’t let an injured muscle recover the injury will stay longer. I just recovered from a tennis elbow injury (and I don’t play tennis but I got the injury from doing upright rows). I din’t go to a physical therapist for months and after 6 months the inury did’n’t get better. Eventually went to a therapist, worked out with light weights and my injury is gone.


  6. Hi, lame indestructible young person here. Personally I feel one underemphasized thing in being able to deadlift correctly is flexibility in general. I’d say if you cannot touch your toes, do not deadlift, ideally you should be able to palm the ground, but if you can’t touch your toes, do not deadlift. That’s how much hamstring/back flexibility you should have to be able to deadlift properly, imo. The more flexibility you have, and this is something I don’t think people understand much, the more you can keep good form through a range of motion without it deteriorating.

    Also, I do feel the 5×5/Rippetoe/Stronglifts type of ideology for deadlifts is actually quite wrong, ie, doing 1 set of 5 at a max weight. It’s my opinion the deadlift can and should be trained like any other lift, ie, more in the range of 70-80% of max for 5 sets of 3 or 5. But overall for general fitness I feel the deadlift is overrated, and a better movement is simply lighter weight good mornings (I do them stiff legged and seated as it emphasizes the lower back more, and my flexibility is good) as this actually works the back through a range of motion, whereas in a deadlift, the back ideally is just isometrically contracting, the legs go up, and the back’s job is just to stay straight. For my personal experience, after doing good mornings once or twice a week for 8-9 months, I PRed my deadlift by 5lbs despite not deadlifting much at all that whole year.

    I dunno what I’ll be doing at your age, though. I try to get my dad who’s almost 60 now to lift, and I’m not successful. At 31 in the 80s, he clean and jerked 260lbs at 218, though. My goal is to beat his lifts at a lower bodyweight.


    1. Ima no expert on the topic under consideration.

      But I will respectfully disagree with your opinion that if a person can’t touch his toes, he shouldn’t DL.

      It’s funny that so many people who do CrossFit have never really paid too much attention to ‘their own’ Kelly Starret. He and McGill and Jerzy Gregorek all agree that doing squats a person should go as low as they can WITHOUR ROUNDING THE LUMBAR SPINE (butt wink, lumbar flexion, or any other names people give it). In fact, Gregorek recommends doing squats focused on keeping the chest up and stopping right before the lumbar flexes. His opinion is that this will stretch the hammies and lead to great ROM.

      IMO (not worth much, especially on someone else’s blog) the same holds for DL. I like the way Elliot Hulse teaches it. Basically a stick should touch your glutes, between your scapulas, and the back of your head. As in, keep the natural arch in the lumbar spine, aka, ‘flat back’. At 50 years old, my hammies will not let me touch my toes. In fact, the activity most likely to ‘put my back out’ is putting on/off socks/shoes. DL’s have actually made my back better, not worse.

      You know how they say location, location, location for Real Estate? Well, for successful weight training it’s form, form, form!

      Just my two cents.


  7. @Gilbert: As you can see here, I didn’t take your advice. Fortunately, the results weren’t nearly as dire as predicted. I do appreciate your counsel and experience, but in the end, I had to assess what I felt I could and couldn’t do, makes my decision, and accept the consequences.

    Greetings, “indestructible young person.” I can touch my toes although hands palm flat on the floor is a bit of a stretch (pun intended). When I do deadlifts, I “warm up” with progressively heavier weight for 3 to 4 reps, so in the end, including my “working set,” I’ve done 4 to 5 sets anyway. I probably wouldn’t do good mornings for the same reason I avoid traditional squats: balancing a heavy barbell on my traps.

    I do hack squats because, while perhaps not as effective, if for whatever reasons I drop the weight, it just falls a short distance to the floor behind me. No one (including me) gets hurt.

    I know I can’t train like a young guy, but I also don’t want age to necessarily be an inhibiting factor. There are plenty of old, strong men out there, and if I do this right, maybe I can be one of them.


    1. I had a phobia of back squats for the longest time. Unless you have pins/rails to drop the bar on, you really need a spotter to go heavy on back squats. So for me, I always liked doing front squats, because if the weight got too heavy, I could just drop the bar. So that’s another option as well, though the controlled bar drop could really only be accomplished if you’re using a clean rack position, cross arm it might be impossible, but ditching a front squat is about as dramatic as dropping a deadlift, which is to say, loud and annoying, but not really dangerous to anyone around you. And I think a full front squat simply does a lot more than a hack squat, but hack squats are quite safer/easier on the knee joint. Also front squats are much easier if you have flexibility issues with back squats (which I had for the longest time.) But, you probably won’t be able to use a lot of weight in the beginning.

      For GMs, you wouldn’t be using too monstrous of a weight. With a 410lb deadlift for example, I just do 5×5 standing GMs with 115lbs or seated do 10×3 with 95lbs, there’s not really a point in going heavy on the exercise as it’s just a bodybuilding exercise. So even if you just used a bare barbell or 55lbs you’d probably still get some benefit to the exercise. Or, with no barbell, back extensions are helpful as well. Another good back isolation exercise to help your deadlifts/everything is face pulls for sets of 20 or so to help your rhomboid muscles, these muscles are very important postural upper back muscles. Also any sort of chest supported rows work them well, too.

      As far as technique goes, I got a person at my gym to pretty much instantly improve his deadlift with these fairly simple cues. Basically, try to just actively push the chest out and forward and pull your shoulders back, rather than trying to “shrug” the weight up. Also, push your hips forward as well, once the bar goes past the knees, focus on actively trying to get your hips forward rather than just tugging for dear life on the bar to get it up. By doing those two cues, the spine will stay straight and not round out automatically, and then when the weight gets heavier, you just push out your hips out more and shoulders out more, rather than using excessive amounts of lower back musculature and the traps to get it up.

      And, lastly, I see old people doing lots of fairly amazing stuff. I figure skate and there’s people that are in their 80s still regularly skating, one lady I know is in her 60s and making quite good progress. So with the age thing, certainly don’t write anything off, in fact shoot for the moon. The problem of age I think isn’t so much the entropy of getting old, but more having to deal with the consequences of good and bad decisions you made throughout your life. The most simple example is not training, for most of us. Yuri Vlasov, champion Soviet weightlifter in the 50s and 60s, his career best clean and jerk was 210kg, but at 69 years old he could still clean and jerk 185kg, but he kept training in some capacity for most of his life, same with Jim Morris. So the problem I see getting old is that it’s more of a use it or lose it type of proposition with physical fitness, but instead of say, 5 years of loss from lack of use, you’re dealing with 25, 35, etc.

      Also, have you seen any of Clarence Bass’s stuff at all? He has many articles about older people training, and is 77 himself. http://www.cbass.com/agefactor.htm


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