Aug 23, 2022
joins CJ to discuss lifting with back pain:
modifications, mindset, & approaches as coach or lifter to deal
with/overcome back pain & get stronger.
She worked as a physical therapist for 20 years, is an
Exclusive Coach for Barbell Logic, and is the Barbell Academy
Weightlifting with Back Pain
seems to come with
being human. Virtually all of us, if not all of us, experience back
pain at one time or another. Some of us struggle with more severe
back pain or chronic back pain.
How do we confront back pain as lifters and coaches?
Some important concepts should be kept in mind.
There is no perfect approach. A coach or lifter can deviate by
being too aggressive or too conservative.
An example of erring too conservatively is stopping all lifting and
exercise and trying to do as little movement as possible.
To err too conservatively would be to ignore the pain, especially
if the pain increases or does not diminish.
Strength Training with Back Pain Properly
The important question is to ask: what can I or my lifter do?
Movement is typically good. It involves lots of blood flowing to
the tissue. Someone will often find, the next workout after a back
tweak or pain coming from elsewhere in life, that it feels better
after the warm up. The lifter can perform the workout as prescribed
or with a slightly reduced stress, via either intensity or volume
If movement, even movement at reduced weight, causes pain, this is
an important piece of information.
Now, the workout may have to be executed with SOME pain, and that
is okay. As a coach, you may have a pain scale that you prescribe.
For example, Squat 4x3x225, but reduce weight to ensure no
more than 3 on the 1-10 pain scale.
CJ, though, shared a story where a seemingly normal back tweak
caused a 4-month issue.
CJ worked up to a single at 80%, which is not a heavy single, but
this hurt. He backed the weight off to 315, no dice. 225 hurt. Even
All tweaks are not created equally. A lifter may be able to reduce
the weight and lift that day. It may take a days, weeks, or even
months to heal.
Healthy Mindset: Don't Catastrophize
Most tweaks don't take long to deal with. You return to normal
If you run into a more serious back issue, you and your client will
have to be patient. Chances are, this doesn't mean PRs are done
forever or you won't return to normal.
Don't catastrophize. This is where you build up the worst possible
scenario in your head. This might go something like your back will
never return to normal, you'll never hit another PR, you'll live
with debilitating pain and waste away and have to be in a
wheelchair before you know it.
No, no, no! First, your expectations may contribute to your
outcomes. A positive, patient mindset, where you focus on what you
can do and is better to move and lift how you can then do
Stronger Back through Lifting Wisely
Someone with a serious disc issue might do a trap
nearly vertical back. This is fine. It's certainly better than not
deadlifting at all.
If someone lives with back pain, it's better than they strength
train and live with back pain with a stronger, more capable lower
back. A goal that might come with this is simply maintaining the
level of back pain.
As a coach, you might need to tell your client to go see a doctor,
especially if your normal adjustments aren't working. That is okay.
Sometimes, the issue is something serious, and you're not a doctor
or physical therapist.
Relatedly, you as a coach might have to fire your client if you
don't feel comfortable coaching him anymore. If the client ignores
your adjustments in the face of serious back pain, you might have
to fire him. That's okay. That might be the kindest thing you can
do, and might send a message to him.
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