My lower-back rehab routine
Time for a slightly more personal post. I will share my story today because I think I have discovered how to rehab my back whenever it hurts. And when I say my own back, I mean it. There is no reason to think that this routine will work for everyone but if you have flexion-intolerance related back pain, feel free to try it and give me your feedback. Be fully aware of the consequences though. While I have used this routine three times with great success, I was barely able to walk for three days after that. Not from the pain in my back, which was completely gone, but the soreness in my glutes, my hamstrings and my adductors was horrible. Now that you are fully aware of the potential consequences, let me explain how I came to use this routine and why I think it has worked so well.
A bit of history
This is my story I’m going to share. I don’t like sounding so self-involvled but after all, it’s me we’re talking about, and if that can help you, why not? I have a history of lower-back disorders dating back to my cycling days (more than 10 years ago). I have always had a fragile back I’m afraid. Not that it hurt all the time. It was more of an on and off kind of thing. Anyway, when I started lifting seriously, my back would be extremely sore after a squat session. That didn’t stop me from squatting because it would go away in a few days . That is until the day came when I could hardly move.
That’s when I thought there was something to do about it and I wasn’t even a coach yet. I heard everything. Osteopaths telling me I had 9 vertebraes dislocated, that I should work on my spine mobility, my stability. My abs were sometimes too weak, or too strong. I should give up on meat (haha, I was a vegetarian back then) or dairy. I decided to give up on broccoli and it worked. OK, I keed, but I have certainly heard a fair share of nonsense about back pain and how to fix it (if pain is really something you can “fix”). For more on that subject, read my lower-back article
It wasn’t until I stumbled upon the works of the great Stuart McGill and Bret Contreras that I started seeing sense. I cannot summarize their extensive work in a few sentences but the more I looked at their writings, the more I realized I wasn’t working my glutes very efficiently. I decided to give that a try and that was more or less when I got certified as a coach as well. Nearly all of my new clients had something wrong with their backs or their knees so I kept researching how to help them get better.
I stumbled upon a lot of great stuff. Once your BS radar is sharp, it’s easier to find the quality information. It seemed that in every case, the glutes were essential to make people feel better and perform better. The problem was, I wasn’t good at feeling my glutes. Neither were many of my clients. I had to dig deeper and I eventually realized that people react differently to the same exercises because no matter how sharp your eye is, there are things you can’t see, and things that are hard to teach until the person gets it. Some of my clients could feel the hip thrust right away and some couldn’t. For these, other exercises were better.
As for me, lunges were always a game changer for my glutes. Walking lunges became a regular exercise and my back pain was history. I finally could connect with my glutes as I had never done before. For other clients, kettlebell swings were the answers. There is no absolute, which is why I don’t want you think that this routine is the be-all-and-end-all of glute training and lower-back rehab. It works for me, and I’m sure it can work for a lot of people, but it certainly won’t work for everybody.
The reasoning behind the routine
A well-known technique if you want to improve a movement is called doublé training. You do an exercise at the start of the session, carry on with the rest of the session and come back to this exercise at the end of your session. Brutal, I know, but there is worse. You can also do a tri-set with a given exercise performed first, another exercise right after, and the first exercise again. A well-known example is the Squat/leg-curl/squat doublé.
It was one of these days. I had injured my back during a squat session (fragile back, as I said, and my ego getting in the way of training, which is never a good combination) so squats were off the table. It didn’t hurt so bad that I was unable to do anything though so I thought walking lunges could be done. Initially, I just wanted to train my lower body and I had never tried doublé training before so I decided to do walking lunges/leg-curl/walking lunges three times.
I wasn’t prepared for what happened the next day. My glutes, adductors and hamstrings were completely destroyed, but I could feel no pain in my back whatsoever. I should mention that I also added a few sets of reverse hyper, which certainly helped as well.
Since then, I have tweaked my lower-back twice and each time I have used this routine and it worked just as well so without further ado, here it is:
My lower-back rehab routine
1.A) Barbell walking lunges x8 (16 total)
1.B) Leg-curl or glute ham raise x6–8
1.C) Barbell walking lunges x8 (16 total)
Do this circuit 3 times, with 2mns of rest between circuits.
2.A) Reverse hyper (poor man or machine) x10
2.B) Upper body movement of your choice, both chin-ups and overhead press have worked for me but you may want to stay away from them if your back doesn’t allow them. In that case, a TRX face-pull or inverted rows can do the trick. X10
Perform 3 times, with 2 minutes of rest between sets.
That’s it, this has proven to be my best tool to rehab my back.
A few words on weight selection and technique
When I say walking lunges, I mean full range walking lunges, not 90°. Your bottom position should look like the picture below, or wherever your mobility allows you to go. Your hamstrings should go and meet your calves and your knee should be shooting forward. Of course, your heel should still remain on the ground since you will drive into the ground towards you to come back up.
You want to avoid compensating with the lower-back so your chest should be coming up first and your back should be as stiff as a tree trunk for the whole set. This is also why 8 reps per leg is more than enough. You don’t want fatigue to come in the way of good technique. Also, the weight you choose should be a weight you can actually 16 to 20 reps per leg with. Trust me, You don’t want to put more.
Now that’s some serious ROM on a lunge
For the leg-curl, you don’t want to compensate by hyperextending your spine either so keep your glutes squeezed and keep the weights honest.
Hypotheses for the routine working
- Your glutes, hamstrings and adductors are so sore that your brain can’t make feel pain from anywhere else (far fetched but who knows)
- Your glutes are completely activated afterwards and your lower-back muscle can finally relax (more likely)
- It teaches your body to stiffen your core and use your legs to produce power from the ground up (likely as well)
- It stretches your hips, and strengthen the extremes of their range of motion
- A combination of all of the above
- Something else I didn’t think about.
That’s a wrap
I do hope you try this little routine. You will certainly curse me for three days after, but if your back pain has disappeared or got significantly better, please e-mail me so I can know how other people react on it. I have never used something that hard on my clients yet so it should be interesting. And yes, it is harder that it looks on paper, especially if you go for a full stretch at the bottom of the walking lunge.
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