When I was young and eager to get strong, I would just lift and always try to get that extra rep in. I didn’t know much about periodization, recovery methods, or the importance of bracing for the big lifts. But I was able to make decent gains and get stronger without injury, or so I thought. It wasn’t until last year that I was starting to get lower back pain that just wouldn’t go away. At first, I thought it was just tight spinal erectors from my heavy training regimen (always arch the back to better stabilize the shoulders and enable heavier loads). I would get my weekly massages, but that didn’t solve it. I would feel better for a couple of days but then it would come right back. Then I was assessed by another therapist, and we figured it was my right hamstring; far tighter than the left. I started stretching it more often, cut down my deadlift training to lessen the stress on the muscle. That didn’t help either.
I’ll explain why this article is called what it is after I discuss what was causing my back pain first.
So, I must’ve had a Eureka moment (don’t know where it stemmed from, but being in pain every day sucks and I couldn’t stop thinking about it) and thought maybe a combination of seeing a chiropractor and starting Pilates might solve the problem. I never cared for yoga and thought that, with the bit that I read about Pilates, everything is about keeping the body straight and aligned and using a good balance of the right muscles to strengthen and lengthen them.
By getting assessed by a well educated Pilates instructor and a bone scan done by a chiropractor, I found the root of the 11 month conundrum.
I discovered two things: that my right hip was higher by an inch and causing a good chunk of my hamstring tightness and back pain. And the other was that in my lower back region, specifically L-5 & S-1, the disc was packed too close between the vertebrae. Basically, imagine instead of a soft cushiony sponge (think of a freshly baked donut) between the spinal vertebrae, I had a flattened donut and that’s what caused my pain when I would train (because arching my back would just further compress it). Even if I did smith squats with my legs further forward to keep my back straight, I would still be adding loaded stress on the back because of the bar across my neck pushing directly above the spine.
Why I wanted to share this with you is to give you advice on avoiding possible injury with your training regimen.
After thinking about my training history and some of the things I’ve done (not knowing when I was younger (in my teens & young adult life) and far less educated, etc), I found that my compressed disc stemmed from my heavy lifting days when I didn’t know that squatting well below parallel with a pause at the bottom wasn’t doing my spine or joints any good. Sure, it was impressive to see but was it worth my back problem over 12 years later? Not at all. I actually stopped doing those movements so many years ago and started lifting smarter as I became more educated, but sometimes when you already make the mistake, it’s too late to reverse it.
From this, I’m working to reverse the damage by maintaining straight posture whether I’m sitting, standing, or training. I know my strength will drop without arching my back during my lifts, but I’m looking to be as strong and healthy as I can on a go forward basis.
My message to you is to please learn and follow the proper methods for lifting, and implement the right recovery methods to enhance your hypertrophy. If you listen to your body and pay attention to how you’re performing every exercise, you won’t make my mistake.
And if you’re not sure how to perform the exercises correctly (or not feeling it during the movement), its worth investing the $ into a personal trainer; at least until you learn the foundation of lifting and breathing protocols.
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