I was dreading training this morning, mainly because I haven’t been able to get my back to “calm down”. I was envisioning myself trying a deadlift and completely wrecking my lumbar spine. Yesterday, I seriously considered canceling the training session and waiting a week or two (or three), but ultimately decided against it. I was hoping against hope that I’d wake up this morning pain-free.
That hope was in vain.
So the next best thing was just to tell Chase what the problem is with my back and see if somehow, we could work around it.
I admire Chase’s ability to change his training program on the fly. He started me out on a rotating circuit of bench presses, dumbbell shoulder presses and the barbell incline press, probably so he had time to think of what to do with my lower body that would promote strengthening my weak lower right back.
I’ll show you what I did, and this time, I was able to remember the specific sequence, weights, and reps involved.
Just to be clear, the first circuit had me doing a set of bench presses, moving on to shoulder presses, then incline presses, thus completing one circuit, and then doing the same thing two more times.
Lifting Circuit of Three Rounds:
Barbell Bench Press
Dumbbell Shoulder Press
Barbell Incline Press
10x 55lbs/24.9476kg (Chase assisted for the last 5 reps)
Circuit of Three Rounds:
Barbell Squat in Squat Rack (sitting onto bench)
Bodyweight Alternating Leg Lunges
Circuit of Three Rounds:
Hack Squat Machine
Bodyweight Lunge Supported with non-alternating legs
Individual lifts from here on
10x 20lbs/ Dumbbells
10x 25lbs/ Dumbbells
Stiff Leg Deadlifts
Roman Chair Extensions (lowest chair setting)
I know the weights are pathetically light, but the common denominator of all of the lower body lifts is to strengthen my weak lower back without causing any pain (or maybe just minimal pain).
First of all, even the upper body lifting circuit was taxing. It was like he was trying to punish my front delts, and it worked. By the time I got to the third set of barbell incline presses, I could only make 5 reps unassisted. He had to help me with the other 5. My delts and upper chest still hurt.
Then we did circuits alternating between back squats and bodyweight lunges. The lunges would be lunge forward with the left leg once and then switch to the right, then to the left, and so on.
For the squats, I started with just the bar, but Chase pulled a bench into the squat rack. Thankfully it’s higher off the ground than the box, but apparently, I still have a problem sometimes not getting my butt back far enough and letting my knees drift forward. This promised to offer correction.
I did fine with just the bar. No pain. The same with 65 pounds. And while having 85 pounds on the bar didn’t trigger any back discomfort, after sitting down on the bench for a second, it was tough to overcome gravity and initiate standing up again.
The lunges weren’t as hard as I expected, but as my lower body workout progressed, my legs started getting really tired and I was frequently out of breath and sweating between sets.
I could almost see Chase’s mind in operation. He’d ask , “Have you ever done incline presses before?” or “Have you ever used the hack squat machine before?” He was building a remediation program for me one exercise at a time as they came along.
Speaking of the hack squat machine, I did find out that without any weight plates added at all, the resistance is still 55 pounds, which is where we started out.
This machine was challenging for one reason. I couldn’t go as low as Chase suggested without A: My hips and butt starting to come away from the pad and B: my lower back starting to slightly ache. The rule was to do what I could do until I started to feel pain.
The hack squat alternated with bodyweight lunges, but I got to hold onto the frame of a machine for balance, do 10 lunges with one leg, and then do another 10 with the opposite leg.
Yes, my legs were starting to wear out.
But we weren’t done.
After this, Chase asked, “Have you ever done step ups before.” I hadn’t.
It’s simple. Put one foot on a bench and use that leg to step up onto the bench. So I put my left foot onto the bench and pushed up until I was standing on the bench. Then I lowered my right foot to the floor, leaving the left foot on the bench, and then pushed back up with my right leg.
This went on for 10 reps, and then Chase suggested adding weight.
The hardest part of adding dumbbells to this mix is maintaining balance. The next hardest part is that even at these modest weights, my arms started to get tired.
We then moved on to stiff-leg deadlifts, but at very, very light weights using the fixed-weight barbells, and it was more of a stretching exercise than anything else.
He showed me my starting posture and then had me hinge at the waist, keeping my head up and my back flat until I could feel the pull in my hams and lower back. This put my torso parallel to the floor, which wasn’t always comfortable.
He suggested that, when I started to feel the tweak in my lower back, slightly bending my knees. That instantly took the pressure off my lower back. So I’d do three or so reps stiff-legged and do the next rep with bent knees, and so on.
In some ways, the roman chair was the hardest, probably because I was near the end of the hour.
By now, I noticed in the mirror that the entire collar area of my t-shirt was wet with sweat as were various other parts of my shirt. I was pretty thirsty and mopping sweat off my face a lot. I know the weights are really light, but the volume made up for the lack of intensity.
I usually extend the roman chair as far out as it will go since I’m fairly tall, but Chase did the exact opposite and set the chair to its shortest possible position.
This had most of my body extended way out in space without support It put a lot of strain on my legs, particularly my hams as I slowly folded forward going lower and lower, letting my hams and lower back stretch out until I could feel the “tweak”. I found out that having a neutral spine is really important in this exercise as well. Who knew?
He only had me to 5 reps per set here because even coming back up was brutal on my quads.
After all is said and done, I can still walk, but I can tell my entire posterior chain has been heavily worked. Actually, today comprised a full body workout, so I’m not sure if I want to do any lifting tomorrow.
What Chase gave me was a set of exercises designed to strengthen the weakest and most injury prone area of my body. As I’ve said before, my squats and deadlifts aren’t limited by the strength of my legs but by the condition of my back. If my back becomes stronger and I learn to lift correctly, I’m sure I can use more weight than I have before.
That was training day 3. Only 2 more to go.
Since next week is a short week, we agreed to meet on Wednesday the 23rd…the day before Christmas Eve.
Ho, ho, ho, or Bah! Humbug as the case may be.
Oh, how am I doing post-training session? Actually, by the end of the session, my lower back felt better than it did when I first got out of bed this morning. Some of the stiffness has returned in the hours since I’ve cooled off, but it’s not bad. I think Chase may be onto something.
Life’s problems wouldn’t be called “hurdles” if there wasn’t a way to get over them.