Summarizing this thread - for non-specific disc pathologies (that's "a bad back" for the humans), Performance Coach and Licensed Massage Therapist Patrick Ward gives the following broad recommendations based on what he gives his clients with these types of injuries.
Obviously, since he is not there and does not know your specific case - please see a health care professional for your specific concerns.
- Don't do things that hurt. (MariAnne's note: I moved this to the top - for everything that follows, obviously if it hurts YOU, don't do it.)
- Take out flexion based exercise - crunches, bilateral deadlifts, bent over rows, exercises performed in a seated position (seated rows, seated pulldowns, etc) even if it doesn't really hurt. (MariAnne's note: I have a lower spine problem myself and had to make the switch to standing. It only sucks at first; once you re-learn how to stabilize yourself while standing, you'll never want to go back as you will find you need to do less direct ab work than you once thought!)
- Work on stability - planks, side planks, 1-leg glute bridge (hug the other knee towards the chest), half kneeling chops and lifts, dead bugs, bird dogs, etc.
- For upper body pull movements get off the seated exercises. Instead, do things like standing 1-arm cable rows, half kneeling 1-arm cable rows, half kneeling 1-arm pulldowns, inverted rows
- Train the legs with unilateral movements - split squats, step back lunges, step ups, 1-leg/1-arm RDL, lateral lunge - make sure to perform the exercises properly to develop effective movement patterns/strategies that are spine sparing and allow for proper hip movement. If the 1-leg RDLs hurt on the symptomatic side, then do not do them. Stick with the 1-leg glute bridge and the single leg split squats until your symptoms calm down.
- Work on hip mobility. Spare the spine by developing proper hip mobility (this is something I just talked about in my blog). Typically people compensate for crappy hip mobility (and crappy ankle mobility) by increasing lumbar mobility. We want lumbar stability!
These are some good mobility drills:
7 Dynamic Stretches to Improve Your Hip Mobility | StrongLifts.com
How to Improve Your Ankle Mobility | StrongLifts.com
I have included 1/2 kneeling pulldowns and rows in my ebook. (MariAnne's note: Patrick Ward's ebook "Take Charge! Everything You Need to Know to Write Your Own Training Program" is an excellent value for the thirty bucks. I highly recommend it to anyone, even if you are already a fairly experienced lifter. I'm dealing with a variety of injuries right now, and believe me when I say prehab is preferable to rehab!)
- When performing stability exercises like planks, don't get all caught up in trying to hold a 60sec side plank. If you don't develop proper endurance in those muscles first, then you will compensate in order to try and hold the plank for that length of time and the form will go to hell. Instead, use short holds and do reps. So, side planks for 5 could holds for 5 reps and slowly work up from there. Build endurance.
Planks, 1/2 kneeling chops and lifts, and bird dogs are all great exercises for developing strong abdominal brace. The error most people make is thinking that they need to "strengthen the lower back" with some special exercises. The lumbar spine gains stability by learning how to brace and then integrating that brace into movements (split squats, lunges, etc...) without having to think about it. I invite you to revisit your form, as most people do not do planks (especially side planks) properly and they do not perform the proper progressions of the movement.
- wall w/rotation
- prone on the knees
- side plank on the knees
- prone on the toes
- side plank on the toes
- prone w/rotation to side to side
- prone with leg lift
- prone with arms on stability
- prone with arms on stability ball with leg lift
- prone with toes on stability ball
- prone with toes on stability ball with leg lift
- side plank with hip abduction
- side plank with feet elevated
- side plank with feet elevated w/hip abduction
Obviously the side plank and the prone stuff may be going on simultaneously on different days of the program. Those are just some progressions I have listed down, but usually I don't use most of the (lol). Typically if they can hold the prone plank, the side plank and then perform the rotation from prone to side properly, we can move on to other exercises. If they still want/need (psychological reasons) to do their "core" bull shit, I let them do the other nonsense - but I would rather have them on their feet doing some real exercises after that point.
- Use the foam roller on your hips to help clean up poor tissue quality and enhance movement.
Working this into an existing split that calls for heavy low rep work, we need to define the parameters.
In my case, I have anterolisthesis of L5 over S1, and a herniation in my c-spine.
Ordinarily, I can back squat 165 lbs in 8-rep sets, and front squat 135 for 8-rep sets, but when my back bugs me I'm down to 95 lbs for fronts, and backs are out of the picture. Interestingly, I CAN usually sprint - so I'd like to work these into my training somehow, and not just the HIIT-type fat loss stuff.
I can usually count on being able do the following:
Front squats with 95 lbs
Glute Ham Raises
The question is how to create intensity in these movements so as to stimulate hypertrophy.
Patrick Ward: So 95lbs for front squats is your "limit" at the moment.
- You can increase the sets and perform the same reps (IE, 4x8, 5x8, etc).
- You can also keep the reps low (3-5) and perform more sets (IE, 8x4, 10x4, etc...).
- Slowing down the eccentric and the hold at the bottom will also make things more difficult and create more fatigue then just doing straight sets, so all things are not created equal.
From there, as you feel more comfortable, you may be able to raise the weight slowly. Initially though, you may not be able to get away with doing the front squats right out of the gate.
I generally do a dynamic warmup before I do sprint work, but they're usually for fat-mobilization, not hypertrophy. This is a different application. For THESE sprints, I'm not going for HIIT-type intervals - this isn't to mobilize FFAs, but rather to promote muscle-growth. I'm thinking of it as a sub for heavy hamstring work, and that means reps and sets, with rest in between. Using Poliquin's "Time Under Tension" as a general guideline, I'm thinking something like 20-second sprints with a minute or two recovery between "sets", or sprints.
Patrick Ward: People always talk about sprinters and their physiques but fail to recognize that sprinters don't do interval training the way that people think. They sprint, then rest for awhile, then sprint again. It isn't 30 sec work:30 sec rest or anything like that.
For example, if you look in my journal (on my site), on wed., we did all our sprinting first and then our deadlifts. Our warm up was about 20min of activity centering around some dynamic mobility drills and 100m strides. Then, we did some subamximal 30m sprints to get the legs prepared. Then we were ready. We alternated sets of weighted 30m accelerations (low weight) and un-weighted 30m accelerations. Trying to accelerate up to the 20m mark (established by a cone) and then maintain that pace for the final 10m. We did 3 weight sprints and 3 unweighted sprints (6 total) and then we did a variety of medicine ball throws. Then we went inside and worked on some deadlifts and called it a day.
I would do something similar. 15-20min. on non-stop activity for warm up, mixing in dynamic drills (body weight squats, lunges, various stretches held for 1-2sec, etc) and 100m strides (very low intensity and keep loose). Then, perform some sprints (20-40m), but they don't have to be all out 100% max effort. 90-95% (submax sprints) are fine and make sure you are working on good technique. You can take full rest in between the sets (3-5min) or do some walking or light activity, but nothing to strenuous. I would do anywhere from 5-8 sprints and then go lift.
Something along those lines.
Spelling this out in detail for BGB - an Ian King type of arrangement - here's what we came up with:
Horizontal push pull (optional calves and abs)
5x5 T-bars ** sub in chest-supported T-bars or other movement you can tolerate, such as motorcycle rows or inverted rows AKA "fat man pullups"
3x8 incline dumbbell bench
3x8 one arm dumbbell rows **sub in one-arm cable rows if these bother you
(optional 12 rep stuff, abs, calves)
Quad dominant, ham accessory (optional biceps)
5x5 back squats
3x8 front squats
3x12 walking lunges
(optional 12 rep stuff for quads, optional biceps)
5-8 Sprints - see above for details
Front Squat - 3-count eccentric/1-count isometric hold - 5x6
Lateral lunge - 3x8
SHELC - 3x12
(optional bicep work)
Vertical push pull (optional calves and abs)
5x5 weighted chins
3x8 alternating single arm lat pulldowns
3x8 Oly bar corner press
(optional 12 rep stuff, abs, calves)
Ham dominant, quad accessory (optional triceps)
Instead of this:
3x12 front squats
(optional 12 rep stuff for hams, optional triceps)
5-8 Sprints - see above for details
Step ups - 5x6 ea leg
Glute Ham Raises - 3x8
Hypers or reverse hypers (since they don't bother my back) - 3x12