How I'm Progressing with a Back Injury
One of the worst things that can happen to any athlete is an injury; it slows down your progress, or stops it altogether. You need to let the injury fully heal, otherwise you can end up back at square one. I am speaking of injuries very vaguely, I admit, as recovering from a pulled muscle is completely different from a head injury. But the rule for any injury still stands: prioritise your long term health. This was a truth that took me months to embrace.
A little bit of background:
Since I first started lifting heavy, I was impatient. I would increase the load on exercises like squats and deadlifts once or twice a week. I was intent on getting stronger as fast as I could. I rested my muscles long enough for them to fully recover, which allowed for some promising growth and gains in strength. But, I was not resting my back properly. It was like a cycle; I would lift heavy and feel pain in my lower back, convince myself that it was normal and I just needed to brace harder, spend the next few days recovering, before doing it all over again. When the pain went away, I simply assumed that I was good to go. At this point, the pain wasn't making a large impact on my training, but it certainly wasn't getting better. During my stay in the US, I pushed myself too far. I came home from the gym one day after squats and hip thrusts, and felt so fatigued I had to lie down immediately. After 20 minutes of resting, I could not move. I experienced a deep sharp pain every time I turned or twisted or bent forward or backwards. I could not stand or sit upright for longer than a few minutes before the pain caught up with me. After this day, I took a week off of exercise altogether, and then my gym membership expired, so I resorted to body weight and resistant band home workouts. I must have had about 4 weeks of rest from heavy lifting. Soon after I got home, I eased myself back into lifting. However, after only a week, the pain returned. I couldn't sleep, for even laying down hurt after some time. Ibuprofen and Paracetamol made no impact, I felt hopeless.
The doctor's advice:
I walked into the doctor's office with the full intention of keeping an open mind and setting my personal opinions to the side. I was ready for any advice and recommendations... it was still disappointing to hear though. After a quick examination, the doctor suggested taking a 6-week break to rest my spine. She explained that even though I had taken a 4-week break from weights, it was insufficient. This was a hard pill to swallow: I have a passion for weightlifting and I depend on it for many reasons. Sure, I could maintain my fitness levels with more walking or swimming, but nothing can achieve muscle growth as effectively as weightlifting. I train how I train to get stronger and sculpt my physique, and I love the feeling of having a good session in the gym. Before I had even left the doctor's office, I was thinking of what I could do about this.
Heeding to the doctor's advice, I decided to cut out all exercises that excessively load the spine: squats, hip thrusts, Russian deadlifts, and I have cut out conventional deadlifts altogether as I believe they may have caused the original damage. I can still train upper body without much difficulty, as I can never go particularly heavy anyway. In regards to training the lower body, I will begin practising belt squats to substitute for barbell squats; they are very similar, only using a belt loads the lower body only. In addition to this, single-leg exercises (e.g, lunges, split squats, glute pushdowns) will become extremely useful for progressing my leg and glute strength. Single leg (or iso-lateral) movements are vital for developing the gluteus-medius and practising balance. Finally, I will be incorporating more core training into my gym sessions. The core is largely responsible for protecting the spine as it provides the functions of anti-extension and anti-rotation. By strengthening it, I can prevent injury from returning in 6 weeks time.
I'll keep the blog updated on how my plan is working out; I'll be taking some progress pictures soon to mark this point, before taking another set in a month or two to compare. Hopefully, my back will heal well in these 6 weeks, so I can get back to my favourite exercises strong and ready!