Raise your hand if you have back pain.
Raise your hand again if you have lower back pain.
If you answered yes to these two questions you are like me, and many, many others.
Three years ago, almost exactly, I suffered a serious back injury that took me out for months and months from lifting heavy weight. And even when I came back, I still suffered from chronic back pain that I could not escape from. Sciatica was a regular occurrence. Sharp, stabbing pain was frequent. Overall, I just did not feel anywhere near the strength of how I was before the injury.
So, what was my injury?
Well, I can’t tell you exactly because I failed to get it checked out immediately after it happened because I hate doctors, and I’m stubborn as hell to admit that I’m hurt and need one. However, judging from my symptoms, and talking to well educated people, like my professor in athletic injuries and powerlifter folk, it was probably a herniated disc, coupled, or rather caused by a significant strain to a lower lumbar muscle, like the quadratus lumborum or erector spinae.
The point is is that I took a trip to snap city and messed my back up!
Now, what did I do to rehab?
Well, nothing too scientific or methodical in the beginning. I just dealt with the pain and took some time off. The first time 3-4 months. After that, I tried to lift again, and had minor success, but pushed too hard and re-aggravated the injury and took more time off, about 6 months.
It sucked and it really kind of pissed me off, as I’m sure some of you may feel with your own back issues. However, now it seems to be a blessing in disguise.
Through research, self-study, becoming a personal trainer, and talking to other fitness professionals, I learned many new things on how to rehabilitate the back, make it stronger, and lift heavy weight again, all with little to no pain.
It is by no means a perfect or comprehensive routine, but, for me, it has really helped, and I believe worth sharing with all of you.
This routine I do takes about 10 minutes total, and I do it first thing in the morning, or as part of my warm-up routine when I train.
Here it is.
10 Minute Back Warm-up/Rehab Routine
- The first thing I do is what is called “cats and camels” or “cat-cow”. If you have done yoga then you are familiar with these exercises for the back. After watching a Chris Duffin video, believe it or not, he discussed the importance of this exercise to help spinal fluid reach the lower back to help it function better and receive therapeutic effects.
This made my ears perk up and listen more, since this dude has a herniated disc, and squats 800, 900 pounds like it’s no big deal. He is also quite knowledgeable of the human body, which made what he had to say even more credible.
I do 2 sets of “cats and camels” for 20 reps (1 rep is up and down).
I take my time doing them and avoid just getting it done. I really try to focus on each up and down sway of the back and make it count each time I do them.
Below is a video of how “cats and camels” should look.
2. Right after I finish “cats and camels” I perform the McKenzie press or push-up. Going off of yoga again, this is like the “sphinx pose”, but you do several of them like a half push-up, which works great at dealing with sciatica.
Depending on how I feel for the day, I will do 2 sets of 10 to 20 reps, while varying the rep tempo throughout. For example, the first 5 I do will be at a normal pace then the next 5 I hold for a 3-5 second pause in the sphinx position. After, I will knock out 5 quick presses, followed by 5 normal ones.
Below is a video demonstration of what the McKenzie push-up or press should look like. Note, however, the dude in the video has good flexibility and mobility so he can get in a really good position. If this is your first time doing them then do not worry. Just go as far as you can when you push-up while simultaneously pressing your hips into the floor.
Give them a shot and you will probably feel a big difference the more you do them day after day.
3. The next thing I do are multiple hip stretches that aim at releasing hip tension by relaxing the piriformis and glute medius that help increase hip flexibility and relieve stress on the back.
Remember, if you have tight hips you have a tight back!
That’s why it is so important to stretch your hips, which will naturally relieve tension in your lower back, like your quadratus lumborum and psoas, in addition to improving posture and gait.
FOR ALL THESE STRETCHES I TRY TO HOLD FOR 30-60 SECONDS AT A TIME (as many or as few sets as needed to where you feel good).
The first stretch I do is pictured below.
First, you want to lie on your back (supine position). Next, you want to take one leg and swing it over the other. In this position, you want to pull down on that leg (I try to reach for my ankle and pull down from there, but if you can’t reach there try pulling down on your knee), and reach with the other arm like you’re trying to grab something.
Hold yourself in this position for a total of at least 30-60 seconds on both sides. This will stretch your piriformis, which will help relieve sciatic pain, if you have any, since the sciatic nerve runs over the piriformis muscle in your lower body.
I also find that it help stretches my pec minor when I’m reaching with the other arm too, and cracks my back. Once I do it, I feel relieved, and on my way to lifting heavier.
Conclusion, do this and you will feel better!
Moving on, the next hip stretch I do is one that you can see in the image below.
This one also stretches the piriformis, but in a slightly different way. This one you want to cross one leg over the other and raise that leg to your chest. As you do that, you want to push down on the knee that is crossed over while pulling your lower leg up, like in the picture.
This one typically isolates the piriformis really good, so if yours is really tight, which is most of us, definitely do this one.
The last one I do is simply pulling one leg up to my chest as far as I can go, while extending the other one, pointing my toe to me. Just look at the picture below.
As the picture illustrates, this will stretch your piriformis again, as well as some of your hamstrings in both legs. While doing this stretch, I also maneuver my knee in different angles, outside and inside, and work on hip mobility, as it continues to stretch muscle.
Those are my three stretches that I do.
I also have added the COUCH STRETCH which is fantastic! Just take a look at Kelly Starrett below.
This one is great for your hip flexors (front part of hips) and quad (your thigh). A MUST DO!
To do it right click HERE.
This is the routine that I have been doing that has really helped me rehab my back, and improve its health. I’ve been doing this only for the last 2 months consistently, and I am very happy with the results.
My pain and discomfort has significantly went down, and with it incorporated into my daily routine it makes my back feel better.
This has allowed me to back squat again, and a few weeks ago I hit 355 pounds beltless and raw at 185 pounds for a single with NO PAIN.
I repeat: NO PAIN.
UPDATE SEPTEMBER 2017: BACK IS GOOD AND FEELING STRONGER THAN EVER.
I think this is amazing and a lot of what made this happen is this routine that helps my back, in addition to knowing my limits.
Will this guarantee that you will squat or deadlift in the gym again?
However, what it will do is improve the function of your back over time, and lead to less pain and more fun.
Do as much of what you can, depending on your current physical condition, and I bet in a couple weeks (STICK TO IT!) you will feel a noticeable difference.
As always, thank you for stopping by.
Until next time, be strong and be you!