Getting My Back Back to the Gym

airportOh, I have been so lazy this week. Yes, I got off to a good start on Monday, but after that, nada.

I have an excuse for Tuesday. I had to take my daughter to the airport and wouldn’t have had time to work out, get back home, shower and get ready for work, and also get her to the airport on time.

But today, I just felt lazy. Actually, I had a pretty tiring day on Tuesday, it was cold outside this morning, so I stayed in bed an extra 30 minutes. I suppose I could still have pushed it and at least gotten a little cardio in, but no. My daughter was out of town and my wife and son had to be a work super early, so I decided it would be nice to have the house to myself in the morning and get ready for work at my own pace.

I can feel my pants getting a little tighter around the middle.

So tomorrow, I’ve got to get back to the gym without fail. Since for “zero circuit,” I’m lifting only twice a week rather than three times, Thursday’s the perfect day.

OK, to be fair, this is also my attempt at quieting down my sore back.

Yesterday morning, for a while, when standing up and sitting down, the pain was minimal or just plain gone. Then, for some mysterious reason, it came back in the afternoon, and I really noticed it this morning, even before I got out of bed. No, it doesn’t hurt when I just lay there, but when I twist and turn, I notice it.

I applied heat this morning at work, but I don’t think it was particularly effective. I really want to get past this so I can work out hard again, and especially before I start turning back into a butterball turkey (just in time for Thanksgiving).

Here’s the proposed plan for tomorrow (or it was):

  • Zercher Squats
  • Bench Press
  • Lightweight Straight Leg Deadlift
  • Bent Over Rows w/Dumbbells
  • Barbell Curls (maybe)

If this doesn’t get better, I’m going to be condemned to lifting light to moderate weights for increased sets and reps for the rest of my life just to accommodate my back.

Actually, I’ve looked into how to work around this sort of pain. My first stop was, but I have to say their article wasn’t much help.

They did say that certain exercises like walking and swimming speed up the healing process, and they also said to avoid certain exercises like the overhead barbell press (Oops) and weight assisted lunges (they said nothing about squats but common sense says it probably should be on the list). was a little more helpful.

spinal flexion

In assessing my pain, if their guidelines are correct, I’m suffering from purely musculoskeletal pain, no neurological issues. They recommend Functional Movement Systems (FMS) to narrow down the type of pain occurring (see below for more).

Here’s the kicker. They recommend not doing the following while healing:

  • Deadlift
  • Barbell Row
  • Good Mornings
  • Full-Range Crunches/Sit ups
  • Back Extensions
  • Low Bar Back Squat
  • Leg Press

I’ve already discontinued barbell rows, I don’t do good mornings, back extensions, or the leg press, but that means I have to stop (if I follow their advice) deadlifts and crunches/sit ups. And while the low bar back squat is out, they didn’t say a thing about zercher squats.

Here’s what the article also said:

In order to overload your lower body while staying within the parameters of the above programming, the overall work volume of a training session needs to increased. Volume can be most effectively manipulated by adding both sets and reps for each movement. Hey. That’s what I’ve been doing.

It goes on to recommend a lot of single-leg work, which has never seemed attractive to me. However, there is room for bilateral work:

Bilateral work is saved up for extended sets, finishers, and conditioning. Pick two movements that meet the criteria for safe lower-back programming (my favorite is the trap bar deadlift off platforms and isometric bodyweight squat holds), and crush them. Bilateral work is maximal effort, so go hard. Don’t worry about stressing the core. Your legs will be so fried that they will be the limiting factor to every set. Keep loads relatively light and reps to the max. Shoot for three sets of twenty-plus reps for two bilateral movements to put the final nail in this workout’s coffin.

single-leg squat

Yikes! 20+ reps?

The saving grace about this particular article is that it’s written for the injured strength trainer rather than bodybuilder. I was also impressed that the article about adjusting sets and reps was written by “Dresdin Archibald…a 63-year-old accountant from Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.” Glad to see it’s not just young guys offering this kind of advice.

I found another article at the same site, but it only addressed getting back to the gym after you’ve fully recovered from a lower back injury.

I also found this rosy piece of news at

Certain types of weightlifting exercises can be particularly stressful to the joints and soft tissues, such as:

  • Clean-and-jerk
  • Dead-lift
  • Snatch
  • Squats

Older persons (e.g. many over 50 years old) who do weightlifting may already have some disc degeneration and osteoarthritis in their spines, which may make them more susceptible to the strains while lifting weights.

So I come predisposed to getting hurt as well as healing more slowly. Peachy.

I found an article called “How to Train Like a Bad Ass – Even with a Bad Back” at that had more useful info.

One thing they said is:

The majority of acute low back injuries will get better on their own with no intervention within 4-6 weeks…

lower back pain
Photo credit:

4 to 6 weeks??? I was hoping it was 4 to 6 days.

But that sentence continues:

…but if it’s a chronic problem, the muscles will begin to atrophy and weaken, making future back injuries more likely to happen. You need to start getting your workouts on track, but you also need to have a game plan of what to do and what not to do to protect your vulnerable spine and build new slabs of beef.

OK, time to calm down. So how can I still work out like a “bad ass?”

Depends on the kind of injury (see the article since it says something similar but not with as much detail).

For issues with the Flexion movement (click the link I provided to the t-nation site to get the details):

Don’t Do:

  • Deadlifts
  • Bent Over Rows
  • Seated Rows
  • Sit ups or any ab isolation movement
  • Spinal Rotation Movements
  • Leg Presses
  • Standing Calf Raises
  • Back Squats


Looks like awkward sex.

You can also do:

  • Front Squat
  • Goblet Squat
  • Any type of chin-up, pull-up, or lat pulldown
  • Push-up variations

They also talk about doing McKenzie Postures as a cooldown, which can also be used all by themselves to manage lower back pain.

T-Nation describes this in a simple paragraph:

Start on your stomach with your chin on your fists, and progress up to your elbows as pain allows. Hang out here for about 2-5 minutes, or until you feel your back completely relax. Bring your laptop or iPad and read TNation while you’re there. All the cool kids do it.

For Extension related pain:

Don’t Do:

  • Back Extensions (duh)
  • Deadlifts
  • Barbell Squats
  • Overhead Press
  • Rotation
glute hip press
Credit: Dean Somerset ‘sYouTube channel


So I’ll need to use the test demonstrated at to determine which sort of issue I have and (ideally) adjust my workout accordingly. Bye-bye back squats and deadlifts.

Not sure if I can figure this out and develop a new plan before tomorrow but we’ll see.

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

John Shedd


6 thoughts on “Getting My Back Back to the Gym

  1. Because of our car situation and my wife’s strange resistence to using our daughter’s car while she’s out of town, I’m without a way to the gym tomorrow…as I get weaker and fatter.


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