microdiscectomy-deadlifting

From Microdiscectomy to Deadlifting 405: How I Came Back Better


Way back in 2014, more specifically March 13th 2014, I herniated my disc (L4-L5) for the 4th time that year.  Yes, you read that right; four freaking times!

 

This was also two days before my first bodybuilding show.  After two months of drop foot, popping painkillers like Tic Tacs and doing a cycle of prednisone I finally had a microdiscectomy.

 

Fast forward 2.5 years and I’m squatting 250 while throwing in three second pauses and deadlifting 405 on New Year’s Eve (pre-alcohol, I might have gone for 500 the way that night went).  I’ve been asked a lot on Instagram about how I recovered and if they will recover like I did.

 

To answer the former, I’ll show you the exercises that benefitted me the most.  To answer the latter, I have no idea. Sorry, but recovery is highly individualized.

 

The guy you see now posting pics on Instagram like a d-bag, is the product of 2.5 years of carefully pushing myself while listening to my body.  Believe me, this did not happen overnight.  I didn’t attempt a weighted squat for a full two years after surgery.

 

Before we begin, I am not a doctor nor am I a physical therapist.  There is even a high probability that I’m typing this on the toilet. Please take what I’m about to give to you with cautious optimism.  What I write here is for you after you have been discharged and given a clean bill of health to go back to the gym from your Physical Therapist.  DO NOT ATTEMPT THIS BEFORE THEN!

 

Don’t be stupid and hurt yourself doing something I said when you know you are not physically capable of doing so.

 

What I am going to give to you is what worked for me.  My path isn’t the path for everyone.  I had a solid base of fitness and strength going into my injury which I attribute to how I was able to bounce back so quickly.

 

I also attacked my recovery like my life depended on it.  Getting back to where I was and then eventually surpassing it were the only things on my mind – A la Adrian Peterson.

 

My advice and things that I think are transferrable to everyone in recovery all has to do with mindset.

 

LEARN SOMETHING NEW

 

In our world of nonstop notifications and updates it’s nice to be layed up for a little bit.  It forces you, me at least, to focus on things you don’t have time for.  I read, taught myself basic coding and enjoyed nature when walking my dog.  It was also probably the happiest time in my life that I can remember.  Damn you marijuana.

 

SET RULES ON TV

 

TV and I get along so well that I can spend all day gazing at it.  The end results?  I get nothing done and get depressed with my situation.  So I set rules of when I can turn the TV on.  I wouldn’t turn the TV on until my wife and I sat down for the night.  This forced me to occupy my time in more productive ways (read: makes me happier) which I still carry through today.

 

HAVE A SCHEDULE

 

Every day was planned out.  Even things like walk the dog or make the bed.  This kept my mind on the next task I had and away from my lack of being a functioning member of society.

 

ATTACK THE SIMPLE

 

After back surgery walking without pain is a gift on the same magnitude as growing a few inches (ahem, gentlemen).  Then as you progress the simplicity continues with basic exercises; exercises you would never catch a meathead like me doing normally.  These basic exercises are the foundation of squatting and deadlifting.  Attack them with the same intensity and enthusiasm as you would deadlift PR.

 

PUSH BUT LISTEN

 

Pushing yourself too much is risky.  Sure you could recover faster but you could also do more damage.  Curb the ego and play the long game.  You have a long life ahead of you.  Will the next 6-12 months of taking it slow really matter in the long run?  I doubt it.  Listen to your body with extra cautious ears.

 

By now you know what is good pain and what is Oh Shit pain.  Stay just a little past good pain and far from Oh Shit pain.  Cut sets in half if you need to.  Remember play the long game.

 

To illustrate this point, when I was getting back into squatting I would use 95 pounds.  That’s right a 200 pound “bodybuilder” squatting 3 sets of 5 of a herculean 95 measly pounds.  Meanwhile the 130-pound girl next to me is squatting 185 for reps.   The important thing to remember?  I walked out of the gym that day sans pain.  I won.

 

FLEXIBILITY AND RANGE OF MOTION

microdiscectomy-deadlift-Jean-claude-van-damme

What lead to my problem was a lack of flexibility, along with a weakened body from the flu the week prior.  Had I been more like Jean Claude Van Damme in the 80’s I’d probably be in a totally different situation today.

 

My hips and hamstrings were like banjo strings right after surgery.  The funny (ironic funny, not so much haha funny) is when the spine is injured, the muscles around the injury contract to prevent further injury.  Which means everything in that area was more or less jacked up for a good portion of a year.  Odds are if you have read this far you are in the same boat.

 

Still to this day, because of sitting, I find myself doing these stretches at least 3 days a week.  Sometimes more depending on how my back feels.

 

I do all of these at the end of my workout.  Total time is 5-10 minutes.  It is well worth it.  The idea here is to hold the stretch rather than bounce.  You’re doing it right if you are uncomfortable in the beginning but by the end of the hold time the uncomfortableness lessens.

 

In my opinion this section is more important than strength exercises I’ll detail later.  It’s a lot easier to get stronger when you can move freely.

 

HIP FLEXOR STRETCH

HOW TO DO IT:

Get into a lunge positon with your back knee on the ground.

Keeping your chest up, push your junk forward until your knee goes slightly past your toes.

Hold for 20-30 seconds.

Switch and repeat.

 

DYNAMIC HAMSTRING STRETCH

HOW TO DO IT:

Lie on your back and grab a leg behind the knee.

Keep the leg at a 90-degree angle and extend it up as high until you feel a stretch.

Hold for 20-30 seconds.  Then switch legs.

 

GLIDING THE NERVE (GREAT FOR SCIATICA RELATED PAIN)

How to do it:

Setup exactly as you did for the dynamic hamstring stretch.

Extend your toe (like a ballerina) as you extend your leg to the stretch.

On the way down try to touch your shin with your toes.

Repeat 12-15 times.  Then switch legs.

 

BACK EXTENSIONS

HOW TO DO IT:

Get into the bottom position of a pushup.

Keep your dirty parts on the ground, push up your upper body as high as you can.

Squeeze your cheeks and hold for a 2 seconds and return back to bottom pushup position.

Repeat 12-15 times.

 

SINGLE KNEE TWIST

HOW TO DO IT:

Lying on your back, bring one knee to your chest.

Keeping your shoulders on the ground rotate your knee to your opposite side.  Hold for 20-30 seconds and switch sides.

 

STRENGTH

microdiscetomy-recovery

Just so there is some rhyme or reason to this, I’ll put them in order of difficulty.  Since there is a high probability your hips, core and hamstrings took a beating being jacked up while you were injured, all the exercises are to strengthen at least one of those three.

 

I cannot emphasize this enough, push yourself but don’t kill yourself.  Going back to the hospital is not your end goal.  Take your time, listen to your body and push yourself just a little bit.

 

Progress yourself through all these exercises before hitting the big lifts like squats or deadlifts.  That means all reps in all sets.  You’ll only be hurting yourself by skipping.

 

REVERSE CRUNCH

HOW TO DO IT:

Lie on your back and bring one knee to your chest.

Avoid arching your back by tightening your abs.

Repeat 15 times.  Switch legs.  Repeat each leg 3 times.

 

TIP:

If you are having a hard time not arching your back, try this.

Take a dish towel and fold it in half.

Place it under your lower back where it arches.

Focus on keeping contact between your back and the towel throughout the whole movement.

 

PROGRESSION:

After you master one leg, do the same but bringing up both legs at the same time.

 

SIDE PLANK

HOW TO DO IT:

Lie on your side with your elbow underneath you.

Rise up so that you are resting one forearm/elbow and foot on same side.

Maintain a straight line.

Hold this position for 15sec – 1min. Progress in increments of 15 seconds.

 

TIP:

You should be able to position a pole on your shoulder and it follow your entire body to your feet.  Keep in line with the pole.

 

PLANK

HOW TO DO IT:

Lie on your stomach with your elbow underneath you.

Rise up so that you are resting both forearm/elbow and feet.

Maintain a straight line.

Hold this position for 15sec – 1min. Progress in increments of 15 seconds.

 

TIP:

Keeping up with the imaginary pole from the side plank, on a normal plank, this pole would rest on your head, butt and feet.  Don’t make a chandelier out of your genitals and elevate your butt.

 

DEADBUG (THERE IS A LOVE HATE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN ME AND DEADBUGS.  BUT THEY ARE SO GOOD.)


HOW TO DO IT:

Lie on your back with arms straight up in the air (think hugging the ceiling) and hips and knees bent to 90 degrees.

Draw in abdominal muscles (like the knees to chest exercise) and maintain throughout.

Extend one arm above head while simultaneously lowering the opposite foot to the floor.  Contract abdominal muscles to bring arms and legs back to starting position; repeat on opposite side. Repeat 15 times for 3 sets.

 

TIP:

If you are having a hard time bracing your core, hold an exercise ball between your nonmoving limbs.  Hence my love/hate relationship.

 

QUADRUPED

HOW TO DO IT:

Get on all fours, keep head straight with knees bent to 90 degrees.

Engage your core to keep back straight during entire exercise and use your hamstrings, glutes, and low back muscles to lift your leg straight while simultaneously lifting opposite arm.

Repeat 10 times each side for a total of 3 sets.

 

PROGRESSION:

If this is too easy, put your stomach on an exercise ball and try it.

 

BRIDGE

HOW TO DO IT:

Lie on your back with hips and knees bent to 90 degrees with feet flat on floor and hands palm-down at side.

Draw in abdominal muscles and maintain throughout exercise; slowly raise your butt off the floor by using your glutes and hamstrings until your torso is in line with thighs.

Hold for 3-5 seconds. Repeat 10 – 15 times for 3 sets.

 

PROGRESSION:

After you master the 2-foot bridge move to the single leg bridge.  Keep in mind to keep your pelvis straight throughout the movement.  The final piece will be to add in a medicine ball or exercise ball under your feet.  Start with two feet on the ball then progress to single leg.

 

WALKING LUNGES

HOW TO DO IT:

Begin standing with your feet shoulder width apart and your hands on your hips.

Step forward with one leg, flexing the knees to drop your hips.

Descend until your rear knee nearly touches the ground.

Your posture should remain upright, and your front knee should stay above the front foot.

Drive through the heel of your lead foot and extend both knees to raise yourself back up.

Step forward with your rear foot, repeating the lunge on the opposite leg.

Aim for 1 minute and progress to 10 minutes of constant lunges.

 

SINGLE LEG DEADLIFTS

HOW TO DO IT:

Stand on one leg and keep the knee slightly bent.

At the hip, extending your free leg behind you for balance. Ensure to keep your pelvis flat.  You should be able to hold a glass on your ass as you do this a la Kim Kardashian.

Slowly reach down with the opposite hand from your standing leg until your upper body is parallel to the ground.

Return to the upright position. Repeat for 3 sets of 15 on each leg.

 

TIP:

If you have the balance of a drunk, like I do, hold onto a chair/bench or wall with your free hand.  This exercise is more about keeping your hips straight than balance.

 

There you have it and there it is.  The little exercises that helped me recover from back surgery.  All these stretches and exercises helped me (and still do) strengthen my back but more importantly gave me the confidence to live my life again and lift up heavy shit.

Dave