Monday, November 19, 2012

Can't squat, can't deadlift

Paul - 
Squats were the foundation of my workouts, both, literally and metaphorically. I've been dealing with lower back issues for 18 years and, recently, squats and deadlifts started to aggravate them more frequently, and then even degenerated to the point where doing the movements themselves were hurting (form was on-point).

After seeing a chiropractor, a doctor and getting an MRI, the census was that I needed to stop going both of these, along with any other movement that would put stress on the lower back & hips. I ignored their advice for 2 weeks and just tried going lighter, but all it did was cause pain and made me feel like a bitch. All hope has been crushed.

Is my life over? Am I destined to spend my existence as a pussy?

First off, being a pussy (metaphorically speaking, since some women get up in arms about that term being used that way) has nothing to do with squatting and deadlifting and more to do with how you live your life, carry yourself, and whether or not you stick to the code you've created for yourself as a man.

With that out of the way, if you don't plan on competing in powerlifting, then as far as I know, there isn't anyone at the gym with a gun that is going to force you to squat and pull.  At a very basic level, training, lifting, conditioning, etc should all be something that we enjoy doing.  If you're not enjoying training, then you're doing something very wrong, or maybe you're not cut out for what you're trying to do.  

If you cannot squat and pull, then you just have to start experimenting with movements you can do pain free. It's far more important to make sure you're still able to train, and be healthy and active when you're an old fart than doing shit your body does not want to let you do as a young man.  

If I were you I'd start experimenting and making a list of movements you can do pain free, that should allow for progressive overload, and make goals to start hitting with them.  If you can't lift big in the squat and dead, that's ok.  Your life isn't over.  Just reroute your training and plan your goals accordingly.  

Best of luck!


  1. Thank you, Paul.

    I do/did enjoy squatting and pulling, that's the problem. Now that I've had those taken from me, I can't shake the feeling that something is missing. I wanted to be a freaking monster (I might have attended a meet or two, but no, professional power-lifting wasn't an aspiration) and worry now that I won't be able attain such a status on lunges and high rows...

    Thank you for the response/post, I appreciate you addressing my concerns!

  2. Paul, I have this same problem due to hip FAI. I had surgery in April 2012 and having the other hip done in March 2013. I haven't been able to squat or pull since late 2011. Due to the surgeries, it may be 2014 before I can "fully" squat and pull again. I may not be able to be lift like you, Wendler, and Lilliebridge, but your "Lifer" series did teach me that I need to just worry about me, my goals, and to get better at whatever I can. It really helped me gain perspective on not giving up or giving in due to circumstance.
    If I could add to your response: I know my situation is different than the OP as far as injuries, but I can't squat or pull, so maybe I can help. for lower body stuff, I have been mixing up leg extensions, leg curls, one legged back extensions, glute bridges (weighted and body weight, RDLs (but only to 90* hip flexion), pre-exhausted bodyweight squats, and the hack squat sled. Not ideal (just like you said) but I am still lifting, and the legs are still getting in shape. You said something on your blog a long time ago along the lines of "if you look awesome, you'll feel awesome". So at least by still working out and not worrying about others, I still have focus/purpose in the gym. Anyway, thanks man and good luck to the OP.

    1. I think that Jim and I would be the first people to tell you not to throw us in with Eric. Kids on a planet all to his own.

      Thanks for the addition to my response.

  3. October 2010 I herniated 2 discs picking up a light tyre. I spent 2 months almost unable to walk, let alone train. 2 years on I'm probably in the best shape I've ever been in. I've had to ditch squats, deadlifts and most row movements. I found that really tough for a long time but now I focus on getting as strong as I can in exercises I can do. I hate them but I've found bulgarian squats with dumbbells a great leg exercise, also single leg hypers and glute bridges like the guy above has mentioned. Most of back work is chins and ring rows and I think my thickness is better than ever. Its tough, to begin with, but you need to make the decision to make the most of the other great exercises you can do, rather than morn the loss of squats and deads. Best of luck.

  4. I've trained a few clients with spinal issues. What I generally stuck with was step-ups, Bulgarian split-squats, pistols (to a progressively lower box), single-leg glute bridges, lunges, sled dragging, and Prowler pushing (usually high handles only). I've gotten them pretty strong, generally, from a general population standpoint, and pain free and both more muscular and leaner.

    If loading your spine is a problem, try to look for exercise variations that are inherently a bit harder so you don't need to load so heavily to benefit from them. Then work them hard.

    Just watch that you aren't flexing your spine in the process of doing them - some people really flex during pistols, for example.

    Just my 2 cents as a guy training back injury folks. I hope it helps any hurt people keep training. Back injuries suck but it doesn't have to be the end.

  5. I don't even see a reason to do regular deadlifts from the floor if you're not competing in PL. I used to push deads off on everyone but like Paul says in SLL, they aren't a great back builder necessarily, and I found you can get the same benefits, if not better with RDL's due to the time under tension. I've also been working around an squatting due to an inguinal hernia for 2 years and my legs are bigger than they were when my squat was at it's highest by just doing machine hack squats, leg presses, lunges, and split squats for high reps.

    Life is hardly over when you can't do deads and fact I feel a lot less banged up on the regular. I still rotate floor deads in once awhile for a few weeks just for the fun factor, though.

  6. ok i dont want to sound like a jerk. but this happened to me this weekend.
    i am just back from taiwan, trying to get my lifting together. so saturday i did some light squats, hi bar fcoz. i cant do lows with my shitty shoulders....
    so at about 70 kgs i hurt myself just standing, get out of the rack and it just did something in my lower back. i tried to continu but 70 kgs felt like i dunno very heavy atm.
    so i stop squatting and did some seated ohp and call it a day.
    sunday i woke up couldnt lift the toiletseat without almost pissing myself from low back pain( u know what i mean )
    whole day long i poke my goddamn glutes and piriformis. i was thinking not to train my legs/back for a few weeks it hurt that much. but sunday afternoon i said fuck it and whent to the basement for some stretching.... that ended up doing sets of 80 kgs ( which is light but ok ) felt better than the 70 kgs of saturday.
    so me thinking now its fucked up tomorrow my back is going to kill me...
    so today monday i am stiff but ok so again after poking my glutes and piriformis, i went down to the basement and did some deadlifts not heavy some 20 x 20 kgs than some 20 x 60 kgs and some 5 x 100 kgs sets. it felt ok afterwards i did some strict pendlays 5 x 5 with 60 kgs it went ok.
    i think broz said it many times your body can be a real bitch dont believe it. offcoz if you have serious issues this doesnt count. but for me the thing is i sit alot at a desk and in the car so i am tight in the glutes i just need to work that shit. maybe looking into some triggerpoint manuals can help you. clint darden has some excellent vids about it also.
    plz if i dont make sense i am sorry dont want to take anything away from anybody. but for me today and yesterday was a big lesson. so i guess i am 2-1 against backpain lets see what my back brings tomorrow and most importantly what can i bring against it!


  7. This comment has been removed by the author.

  8. I've got an L5-S1 herniation and an SI joint looser than your Mama. Unfortunately it's not from being a bad ass. When I couldn't squat or deadlift, I found heavy prowler pushes were still ok if I kept my torso erect. Pulling sleds were out though. Good luck.

  9. I can't do traditional squats or deadlifts any more due to a chronic back condition also. When I got past the initial sadness of my lost friends I moved on to most of the stuff other people have suggested and as others have indicated I have strong big legs despite it.
    Better than that, I'm pain free and able to go to work every day and enjoy activities with my wife and daughter that I struggled with for a long time when I was trying desperately to hold onto the aggravating exercises.

  10. Hate to recommend someone else's site, but for those of you that can't do conventional squats or deadlifts Ben Bruno's site has heaps of exercise variations. He himself has back problems and so uses the variations himself - with good results apparently. Most are what you'd expect (single-leg stuff) but there is some more innovative stuff on there too. Anyway it might be helpful.

    1. This is aimed more at AP than the original poster. I have FAI as well. I can no longer compete without risk of further damage and the necessity of surgery, but it doesn't affect my daily activities enough at this time to warrant surgery. Therefore, I just modified the lifts and now DL off blocks from below the knees and SQ to a higher box. Not ideal, but these are my new baseline exercises. Partial ROM naysayers can suckkit, as these movements and the use of higher reps have increased both strength and hypertrophy over the last several weeks.

      PS, great subject and thanks to Paul for addressing.

  11. I have had FAI surgery on both hips and I'm looking for advice to get back into powerlifting safely. Has anyone gone through this before?