Starting To Powerlift – A Recover(ing/ed?) Back Injury

Starting To Powerlift - A Recover(ing/ed?) Back Injury - TheCraftyMann.Blogspot.Ca

I normally try to post something every weekday, but this month I hadn’t worked ahead enough, and then had a six day work week, so on my one day off, I’m going to pump this out.

I slipped a disc in my lumbar spine (L4/L5) several years ago, while lifting canoes by myself. We all know the story- I was lifting more with my back than my legs, thought “oh maybe my back will be sore tomorrow,” but when I bent over to pick up a paddle later, I was frozen in pain. I’ve spent years in and out of physiotherapy, thinking I was getting stronger, then I’d have a relapse.

Starting To Powerlift - A Recover(ing/ed?) Back Injury - TheCraftyMann.Blogspot.Ca
This is basically the only pose I do in the mirror at the gym:
to see how my quads and hamstrings look  

July 2015: Living with a back injury

In this time, I have gotten very conscious of every little twinge in my body. In a previous post I discuss techniques on how to live with a lower back injury, and I still apply them constantly.
For the past year of weightlifting, I’ve gone through several different phases of lifting. I’ve gone heavy, I’ve been incapacitated on the couch, and I’ve lifted light for physique purposes. This summer I got a job at a GoodLife Fitness in downtown Toronto, which means I’m surrounded by positive and knowledgeable people who’ve given me lots of help.

I finally feel like my foundation is strong enough that I can start lifting heavier. If you had told me in October that in February I would be able to squat more than my body weight and not be in pain the next day, I wouldn’t have believed you. The first time I squatted my body weight? I cried. Now I’m slowly upping the weight on my final sets, and making sure I’m going to parallel or deeper on my next to last weight. It’s incredibly important to maintain form and focus on your body during this: one week I did 155lbs x 3 reps, and the next, 145 felt heavy. Doing injury rehab is incredibly humbling.

Starting To Powerlift - A Recover(ing/ed?) Back Injury - TheCraftyMann.Blogspot.Ca
Booty gainz!!

I didn’t even realize I was “getting into” powerlifting until my husband pointed out that the workout plan I chose on had to do with “starting strength” for powerlifters. The plan, Layne Norton’s PH3 for Power and Hypertrophy, focuses on getting stronger in the Big Three. I chose the plan because it gave me enough upper and lower body days, because I really like both.

I love the workout split it gives, I love squatting, deadlifting, and benching so much now, and every day (except for the 2 rest days) I get to do at least one of those. It’s crazy the progress I’ve made on bench press: when I first started, 75 pounds was hard, but my PR today is 130 pounds for 3 reps!

Biggest Advice At the Beginning:

  • Keep listening to your body. If you’re feeling extra sore, take the day off, don’t worry about what your workout plan tells you.
  • Make sure you’re doing things properly-I thought my bench was fine, but when my co-worker Gary was spotting me, he gave me tips. Basically my elbows were slightly wrong, and once I changed my stance to the powerlifting one (arched back) I had tons more power. Score.
  • Don’t get discouraged-like I said before, my squat goes up and down, so I can’t focus on the number, but the reps are helpful. When you start watching tons of powerlifters on YouTube, don’t feel intimidated that their bench is 160 and yours is just over half that. 
  • EAT ENOUGH! Bulking is my favourite phase, because it means I get to eat lots. 

Starting To Powerlift - A Recover(ing/ed?) Back Injury - TheCraftyMann.Blogspot.Ca

A good bath with epsom salts to relax your muscles
Heat pad on the sore area
Rolling out muscles with foam rollers or hard balls (I use a softball, tennis balls just crack under your weight)
Ice on spots right after a workout
30-60 minutes of yoga the next day

Starting To Powerlift - A Recover(ing/ed?) Back Injury - TheCraftyMann.Blogspot.Ca
Traps for days

I can’t wait to see what progress I’m going to make while I do this program!

Living with a Back Injury


A few years ago I “slipped” a disc in my lower back, or lumbar spine. I was lifting canoes at my summer camp, by myself, thinking I was “all that” for being strong enough to solo the canoes. Unfortunately, I bulged the disc between my L4-L5. For weeks I couldn’t move well, and for a couple years I wasn’t allowed to play sports or do much physical activity. I put on some weight, and wasn’t very happy.  I find joy in being physically active and seeing how far I can push my body- I had pushed too hard, and in the wrong way.

I took my physiotherapy more seriously, and this past year went to the gym a lot to ensure that I was building strength in the areas I had been missing before. I’ve been feeling really great, and am so proud to say that I am so much stronger than I was before the injury.

Every once in a while, I get a flare-up, and until you’ve hurt your back, you don’t know how bad it is. In case you have injured your back in some way, I have some tips here on how to calm your back and maintain the health.

1) Gentle stretches and yoga
If I’m in a flare-up, there’s not much I can do with my body. I revert back to the smallest physio exercises I have been given over the years (generally really small cobra push-ups) so that I maintain some movement in my back.
I like to find videos on YouTube geared towards lower back injuries, because the instructors often give you ways to edit your regular practice for those tight spots. I’ve included this awesome video from Yoga By Adriene. I discovered her through this specific video, and have loved taking her wisdom to the rest of my practice: doing flat-back during Sun Salutations? I’m keeping my knees real bent so that I don’t flex my back unnecessarily.
Hopefully you’re seeing a physiotherapist who has been able to discover how your injury is related to your other muscles. Often my butt and the fronts of my hips tighten up, which stresses out my lower back. When I do low lunges, that helps give my back space.

Yoga setup in the living room

 I love how calming our living room is. The apartment is so light and bright, and having that peaceful place to recover and do my physio.

My ASUS laptop and a fresh smoothie for this morning’s practice
YouTube Workout Tip: I like to know how much time is left on the videos, so I always put it on “cinema” mode, that way it’s large, but you still see the time listed at the bottom. Yeah, I got lots of motivation. 
2) Medications
I love Aleve. It really relaxes my back. Obviously I limit how much I take it, but when I’m in pain, that baby fixes it. 

3) Bathtime!
I do like to take baths to relax, and as long as you have a good setup for your injury, they’re great to make your muscles calm down. I also like to use those heated electric pads times when I don’t want to get in the bath.
Bath essentials
My baths aren’t that long, but I do make sure I have epsom salts, as well as a bubble bath (my favourite is Lush’s The Comforter).
Our claw-foot tub is phenomenal

4) Relax

Take it easy during your flare-up. Even though I hate sitting still (or lying on the floor while slowly stretching my back) for a while, and taking time away from the gym, it’s important to let yourself rest. Recovering from injuries requires a lot of patience. I don’t have that. 
5) Be self-centered
People who haven’t been injured won’t understand what you’re going through, but don’t let that hold you back from resting and taking care of yourself. Say “no” to activities that you would find super fun, but might hurt yourself doing. It’s not worth it in the long run. My biggest fear is hurting myself so badly I’ll need surgery, or I won’t be able to walk again. What a great downer to end on, right?

Take care of yourself.