The last time I threw my back out was over two years while pushing my deadlift limits. I knew I shouldn't have tried that last set. My recent lower back spasm occurred while just messing around here at the house this last Memorial Day weekend literally doing nothing. This latest occurrence was probably the worst to date. I just laid there on the floor for a good while in pain before my wife could even help me get up. That first 24 hours I couldn't barely walk and it was really more like a shuffle. Besides the obvious pain the other bad thing about all this is that I am a personal trainer and extremely active. My whole day is built around my workouts where I design new programs as well as film and photograph content for sponsors, clients, and followers world-wide. Working out is my livelihood.
At age 42 I have to say I am in the absolute best shape of my life in regard to how I look and feel. I am a natural pro men's physique three time Champion and Master World Champion. The silver lining about this most recent low back injury is that I am in my 'off-season' and not looking to step on the pro stage again until 2020. Regardless of competing I worked very hard to build what muscle I have naturally and to keep my body fat levels at a good, lower level. During an injury like I just went through can be tough both physically and possibly more so mentally. When you workout as much as I do it's likely that depression might set in affecting your attitude, motivation, and most importantly nutrition. Getting even a slight injury has the potential of setting us back if ground rules are not set immediately.
I ended up staying out of the gym for nine days which is the longest period I can remember not working out since I started back up 6 years ago. I didn't weigh myself the entire time I was down in fear of what I might see. After a week of my 'staycation' I gathered up the will to jump on the scale and was surprised to see that I didn't gain or lose anything. I want to share some tips to help prevent injury as well as key things I learned from my recent experience to help you keep your hard earned progress if injured. While I will mention specific things I did to recover during my low back injury most of these tips will apply to any injury that has you sidelined for a few weeks.
Here are a few things to help reduce the chances of an injury occurring in the first place.
Take rest days seriously!
My recent lower back injury didn't happen while exercising. I had no pain or indication that my back was at risk at the time. When one is very active sometimes things just happen. But I have to admit I haven't taken my 'rest days' seriously. Lately I started doing extra HIIT cardio even on my off day which is typically Sunday. From now on I am taking a true and dedicated recovery day where I might go on a light walk with the family at most.
De-load more frequently
De-load weeks keep you active, but are less intense to allow your body to fully recover. Simple guidelines can include less volume, 60-70% weight, higher reps, and stopping before failure. It's more than muscle that needs recovery, but also tendons, ligaments, and the central nervous system. I talk about de-loads and do them, but just not as frequently as needed. I get so into progress and pushing my limits that I let the months slip by without ever scheduling a lighter week for deeper recovery. I truly think this is why I had my recent back spasm. I went too long without a de-load. Moving forward I plan to schedule a de-load week once in every 8 week period.
Belts and straps.
Tools such as lifting belts, wrist straps, and knee wraps all have their place. I typically use these aids when the weight gets heavy and they are needed for me to fully work the target muscle. For example I don't want my upper back progress to suffer if my grip is holding me back. As the weight builds it's not a bad idea to give your lower back, wrists, elbows, and knees extra support.
Warm up and stretch.
I don't know about you, but when I get to the gym I am always antsy to start lifting. Working out is something I look forward too each day. Oftentimes warming up can seem like an inconvenience so we just skip it. Warming up and light stretching is important! On the minimum take 5 minutes to row, jog, or even walk to warm your body up and lubricate joints. Then depending on the workout take a few extra minutes to do some light stretching and mobility work. I've had shoulder issues in the past so I always take time to do shoulder mobility work before heavy chest and shoulder sessions. Nowadays I go through a quick series of stretches for my lower back including the yoga poses: Child's Pose, Cat/Cow, and Knees to Chest. A total of 10 minutes to warm up and stretch just might prevent a week or more lost down the line. I personally will be much more consistent in this area moving forward.
These are the things I did to help recover from my recent back spasm. None of this advice should replace seeing a medical professional. If you are injured visit your doctor.
When our normal routine gets disrupted, like not being able to workout or even move, it can be easy to do one of two things: 1. Not eat enough and lose weight including muscle. 2. Eat too much of the wrong things and gain fat. After months of hard work it would be a shame to lose hard earned progress in a week or two. Here are some important tips to follow when you are out of the gym for several weeks due to injury to help you stay on track.
After a ten day break to heal I was able to get back to one of my favorite places- THE GYM! I might have been able to go in a few days earlier, but I felt it was important to have extra days to recover. The first week back I was careful with my exercise selection, weight, and intensity. Any type of injury is no fun. I wish we could all stay injury free, but accidents happen. The next time you are sidelined with a low back, or any injury, I hope these tips help you stay on track and keep you gains.
-Wittig, ISSA CPT
Natural Pro 5x Champ
Kaged Muscle Athlete
All socials: @WittigWorks