The Body of An Athlete – But the Spine of a Weakling?

March 29, 2010

Calling my lower back “dodgy” is an understatement. I suffered a major back injury close to 20 years ago.

Although, I have figured out how to stop it from hurting, it is still a major weak link. I avoid certain activities and I have to be overly cautious, otherwise I am asking for a nagging injury followed by 3 months of major pain. I used to think just “not hurting” was an acceptable level, but my spine is simply too fragile for my liking.

Instead of just settling, I plan on working my butt off to make it a strong point. I believe back pain is the most miserable thing in the world and hopefully these tips help people with this nagging problem.

Spine-Injury - Copy

[Car accidents account for a large percentage of back injuries. There are ways to strengthen your spinal column to make it less likely to experience trauma in an accident.]

Stuart McGill Solved My Back Pain Problem for Good!

I already have a 3 part post on how to conquer back pain (I’ll summarize some of that info in this post). Before reading Stuart McGill’s acclaimed book “Low Back Disorders” I was doing many things that were making a bad problem worse.

I aggravated that injury over and over again and it was an endless cycle of pain. Every time I re-injured my back it was 2-3 months of misery. I have been without pain now for the past 5-7 years and here is how I accomplished that.

Avoid Anything that Rounds the Lower Back

No crunches, avoid all knee-to-chest stretches, no toe touches, no sit and reach stretches…in fact avoid rounding the spine forward at all on purpose. I will never do Yoga or Pilates because there are way too many movements that involve rounding of the spine.

I never purposely round the spine forward and it has been life changing.

I am so grateful to Stuart McGill for explaining over hundreds of pages why flexing the spine forward is asking for pain. Here are some pictures of common movements to avoid.

Avoid “Sit and Reach” Stretches
[These weaken the lower back over time and increase your chance of a lower back injury. One leg is bad and doing two legs at a time is probably even worse.]

Avoid All Types of Crunches
[I think people can probably get away with doing crunches for a short period of time, but this is not a movement you want to do long term. It isn’t even a great way to get nice looking abs. If you have ever suffered a lower back injury these are probably off limits.]

Avoid Knee to Chest Stretches
Knee to Chest Stretch
[I used to do these because they felt good on my lower back. Unfortunately they were keeping my lower back from being stable and were contributing to future injuries.]

Avoid These Types of Yoga Movements

[I believe this is called “The Plow”. There are several Yoga movements that round your spine to the extreme. This is really bad when trying to stabilize and protect your lower back.]

Do you sense a pattern?

I could list another 20-30 examples with photos.

The main thing is that you are to avoid rounding your lower back on purpose if lower back pain has been a problem in the past.

I would even go as far to say to avoid this even if you have never suffered a lower back injury…but that is just because I know how miserable back pain can be. If you take my advice, you will experience less and less back pain over time.

So I Told You What To Avoid, Now What?

A gentleman by the name of Eric Wong contacted me after reading an earlier 3 part post I did on “conquering back pain”. He actually studied under Dr. Stuart McGill (the guy who wrote “Low Back Disorders”) at the University of Waterloo.

Small world! Anyway, in addition to studying under the best low back research scientist in he world, he spent another two years learning from Paul Check…one of the top corrective exercise specialists in the world.

So Eric not only knows how to avoid back pain, he knows what to do to get that spine back to full health. This is where my knowledge has been lacking…because as the title of this article suggests…I have the spine of a weakling!

Here’s a Picture of Eric Wong
[Eric is mostly known for training MMA fighters…and less known for his knowledge on back rehabilitation. This guy is in incredible condition as well. I did quite a bit of research on Google and he’s very well respected in the MMA world.]

A Nasty Scar on His Back from Back Surgery Gone Wrong

Eric overcame a terrible back injury when he was in high-school and has a crazy scar to prove it. Worse than that…the surgery had major complications.

He understands how back pain can rule your life and what to do to correct that pain. He sent me an e-mail late last week and informed me that he is giving away his “DAMAGE Control Routine” for free for a limited time.

It will eventually only be included in a paid product but he is giving it away for free for people who go over to this page from Monday, March 29th – Thursday, April 1st.

This routine is comprehensive so it will be delivered in PDF’s and videos over a period of a week or two. I just signed up to receive the first PDF and I am simply excited to see the rest of the Damage Control Routine (great name).

Note: You guys are probably wise enough to realize that Eric is giving away part of his course for free in hopes that you will like it enough to consider his full paid course when he launches it.

Even if you have no plans on purchasing anything it still makes sense to go over to the page and get this free info. Eric is one of the good guys online and gets satisfaction from helping people whether they buy anything from him or not.

----> (New) Facebook Comments..."Cause all the cool kids are doin' it!"

{ 74 comments… read them below or add one }

Matthew Simmons March 29, 2010 at 1:19 am

I’m curious as to how you feel about hamstring flexibility if you encourage no one to use ‘sit and reach’ stretches. I’ve been a gymnast for a number of years (with arthritis in my back) and have discovered that within moderation these ‘sit and reach’ stretches don’t have negative effects. I do agree that really long static stretches are useless though.

John March 29, 2010 at 1:32 am

I have had a Car accident 8 years ago, and I had a dropout for years because of the back. Went to revalidation, and worked my butt out to be able to walk normal again. I succeeded but not with the help of the doctors and specialists.
The knee to chest stretch helps me to solve problems with my groin forthcoming from my lower back. It is a individual thing, but one thing we all have in common. We have to be careful with what we do.

Anthony March 29, 2010 at 2:16 am

When I saw this I was super excited. Rusty, reading your posts for a while now I’ve seen you mention your lower back injury, and I’m truly glad that you put this out there. While I don’t have any back injuries myself (shoulder is my thing), I can only imagine how much pain. It is most definitely one of the worst injuries out there. I do toe touches all the time and after sitting for long periods of time at school and work, I feel like my body is just crumbling. I’m glad to hear that you are feeling pain free, and it definitely pays to remain cautious and aware.

I must say that I always did crunches up until early last year when you introduced me to the plank via one of your posts, and I was also interested in yoga and pilates after hearing about them and a friend of mine showing me some stuff. I think some yoga positions are great like the Warrior II, shown here: warrior2-500.jpg

I definitely avoid spine stretches like the yoga one you posted above, and I used to do sit and reach stuff once in a while. To tell you the truth, I think I hurt myself more in my sleep and just being careless than anything else. Usually, when I was on track in high school and even now, I don’t stretch before sports. I just didn’t think it helped, and I only do certain things like the active warm up you’ve written about before.

Great post; I hope you do more on injury prevention in the future.

Charles March 29, 2010 at 2:32 am

Good stuff! I picked up the eBook from Eric, and it is good info.

More and more we are finding out that all we thought about back and ab exercises were wrong. Since I stopped doing them, and started just concentrating on core stability while doing everything else, my back has never been better.

Oh and planks. Hate ’em. But they work.

Ben Shamekh March 29, 2010 at 2:33 am

Great Post! First!

Bangkok Jay March 29, 2010 at 2:35 am

Although you warned about rounding the back in a prior post (should have linked it), I’m glad you re-emphasized this point due to its importance. Adding those back exercises have really helped my lower back. Thanks for the link to Eric.

5cott March 29, 2010 at 4:05 am

While I agree that you shouldn’t do crunches with a back problem. Don’t diss the power of weighted crunches on a healthy individual. Anyway Thanks for the damage control link. Can’t wait to read it.

Kirill Volkov March 29, 2010 at 4:12 am

Rusty, what about the mid and upper back rounding exercises in Prasara yoga (tripods, cobra, etc.)? I thought they were awesome and helped release a lot of tension.

But I see now how it didn’t include any of the stretches that you described.

Tyler March 29, 2010 at 4:28 am

Hey, i would like to increase my flexibility of my legs. And since you say it’s better to avoid rounding of my back, how would I achieve that?

I do have that nagging lower back pain after sitting in front of the computer for hours.

Rafi Bar-Lev March 29, 2010 at 4:57 am


Your advice on avoiding spinal moves like crunches etc. and sticking to planks and bird dogs for back health is right on. Training to get in amazing shape is great – being pain free is icing on the cake.


Thiago March 29, 2010 at 5:30 am

Hello, Rusty. A off-topic comment. Thank you very much for changin my life. I’ve reached a body definition I thought it was never possible.

But here’s a problem: I’ve lost too much weight. Now I’m trying to gain some muscle (a little bulking, but not too much, I swear! Lol). Could you answer me a few things?
1- Should I work out 4-5 days a week or you think it’s too much for muscle mass? I think below 4 I don’t get results (I’m a hard gainer).

2- Should I do high reps sets, like 8-12, maybe some pyramids?

3- Are supersets good for building muscle or just for fat loss?

Anyway, do you have any more tips on muscle gaining? Thanks very much for sharing all this great “black book” info. Gotta love ya.

Greg March 29, 2010 at 6:43 am

I’ve read the comment about rounding the spine before in other places, but it seems nearly every stretch for the hamstrings includes a rounded lower back. How do you hit those? Tight hamstrings remain an ongoing problem for me…

Marc Feel Good Eating March 29, 2010 at 7:47 am

Rusty this is a thought provoking post.

“The main thing is that you are to avoid rounding your lower back on purpose if lower back pain has been a problem in the past. I would even go as far to say to avoid this even if you have never suffered a lower back injury”

Rounding the back in yoga as well as some japanese body modalities has been around for so long, I can’t completely buy the fact that rounding your back is inherently bad.
Maybe because we have permanently destroyed our backs from sitting in chairs our whole lives is rounding the back not good for us now. Flexibility of the spine is also a key factor for energy to travel freely up and down it…but that’s a whole other topic πŸ˜‰

Hope all is well.

James March 29, 2010 at 8:01 am

I’ve recently started getting interested in Yoga, and I’ve heard there are loads of health benefits related to doing it. If rounding your spine forward is so bad for you than why do so many people do Yoga and talk about health benefits?

Aprilette March 29, 2010 at 9:16 am

Back injuries should not be taken lightly.The spine is a very sensitive and delicate part of the body that needs immediate attention when one has experienced a back injury. Interesting info on the exercises that need to be avoided for people with back injury or have had a history of one.

jo March 29, 2010 at 9:36 am

Weird, I was just thinking the same thing about how my lower back is my weak link and how I could strengthen it. I’ve found that doing standing jumps really helps me. Not sure I wholly agree with your point about curving the spine, I read (in one of pavel’s books) that forward bends are ok as long as you tense the muscles in your back when you’re in the streched position. Otherwise the ligaments, not your muscles, support your spine and then strech and become weak. Please let me know what you think and if this is correct, after all I’m certainly no expert. Cheers

warren March 29, 2010 at 9:55 am

Hi Rusty,
Great post! Just read your three part on back pain as well. Good Stuff. I have had 2 ruptured discs and continue to have back problems that i have helped through some of these concepts. Back rounding can happen through sooo many every day actions like tieing ones shoes that i need to be carefull all the time. I did an introductory kettlebell class last week and while i was sore in the muscles my back felt fine and i’d even say i felt more balnced and stable in my core and movement. Just curious about how you feel kettlebell training with proper form can help these issues.

Thomas March 29, 2010 at 10:12 am

Great post, Rusty.
I already knew that doing crunches wouldn’t do anything but mess up your spine, in the long run. But I actually never thought of stretches in that manner.
Today was my last day of stretching my back that way!

Alex C March 29, 2010 at 10:46 am

Rusty, what other methods of stretching your hamstrings do you suggest? Could good mornings be a good substitute? Also, I usually use elastic bands to stretch my hamstrings after a workout (lay flat on my back, loop it around my foot, and pull towards my chest with my leg kept straight in the air. Is this considered unstable as well?

Another thing that has really helped my spinal/cervical situation are these small vinyl balls called Miracle Balls. The book included with it is kinda worthless, but I use them fairly regularly, and they feel great! Here’s an Amazon link: Miracle-Ball-Method-Relieve-Included

Coach Tom March 29, 2010 at 11:06 am

At age 70, I do Yoga and all poses save the plow and a few that seem to put undue stress on my knees. I also strength train, do HIIT as well as some distance walk with poles/stride runs. No back problems.

John March 29, 2010 at 11:27 am

Hi Rusty your Article came just in time with my lower back injury. Firstly I’ve had lower back problems since I was around about 14 years old, I’m now 24. I’ve always had problems standing up in the same spot for more than 30 minutes, if I’m at a music concert the pain after a while isn’t nice, I just need to get out so I can move around but in general day to day it’s okay.

I’m pretty new to weight training only about a year of it. I had being doing a 5 day body split routine for a while and the results were minimal, looking back I think I was expecting too much to soon so I ate like a pig becuase of what someone told me online and started to to a 5×5 routine. I was doing squats and deads and noticed a pain in my lower back, this put me out of working out proper for about 3 weeks, it felt like an even worse pain than what I had in the past.

I didn’t go to my Doctor becuase I felt it would heel up and eventually it did. My eating like a pig continued even when I stopped working out and regrettably I’ve added 25lbs most of which is fat so it needs to be lost.

So with the back pain gone I recently started up again and I was doing lots of leg work squats, lunges and more stretching like the stuff you mentioned above mainly becuase I thought it would help to stop any injuries, well yesterday I noticed a twinge in my back while doing squats and barbell bent over rows but carried on anyway. About 30 minutes later the back started to burn and when I moved it hurt, I thought now what. It got slightly worse as the night progressed, I wake up today and to sit and stand it’s so painful, even walking to heavy it hurts.

I think with rest the pain will subside but once it has I’m worried that when I start working out again it will flare up once more. I’m 24 and at first was looking to get as big as I could get (think wwe wrestlers), now my idea of how I would like to look has changed somewhat and a body thats defined with some nice muscle development is what I’m aiming for, think brad pitt, bruce lee, smaller but defined.

Nearly 90% of people online tell me to do the big three, squats, deads and presses. Due to the back I dont think I want to, it’s not worth the injuries in the long run.

What kind of routine would you reccomend for me when I’m recovered? I dont have a great deal of muscle mass especially now it’s hiding under my fat, I weigh about 170 with just over 20% body fat. Seems more like an article than a comment so sorry about the length but if you can throw some advice my way based on what I’ve said that would be fantastic.

hemu March 29, 2010 at 12:29 pm

hi , i never liked to do crunches i did planks .now im doin this for abs on gym rings

is this exercise bad for spine.. plss reply ty

Kelly March 29, 2010 at 12:31 pm

I injured my back around fifteen years ago while working as a carpenter and competing in powerlifting competitions. I was fairly strong in the deadlift, 610 lbs while in the 181 lb class. Not bad for a drugfree lifter back then. I think the heavy deadlifts and hanging 16′ sheets of drywall all day was all my back could handle.

I hurt my back and was out of commission for around a week. I never have gone back to heavy deadlifts and gave up powerlifting since I felt that I need my body to be injury free to make a living. Every once in a while I get the urge to do some heavy deads again, but mentally, I just don’t have it anymore. At 41, I don’t feel the need to try and deadlift over 600 (or squat that much either!)

I would like to get my back stronger though and would like to have the confidence that I used to have before my injury. I am looking forward to checking out Eric’s Damage Control and strengthening my back again. Thanks for all of the great information!

Jon March 29, 2010 at 2:29 pm

I’m 25 male, I do yoga (sun salutations, rabbit, plough, etc) and have no back injury. I’d like to hear about thoughts on continuing doing those kinds of poses for the long term.

George March 29, 2010 at 3:45 pm

Dr McGill had a feature on back in June of 09:

nancy March 29, 2010 at 3:50 pm

I to have experienced excruciating back pain from those stretches. it was so bad that after i stretched I felt paralyzed. It was always so hard for me to get up. Also barbell squats and front squat would kill my back. Pretty much any heavy load would kill my back. My pain even went into my sleep. Every morning my back wold hurt so much that I would walk to the bathroom hunched over. And when I sneezed it was even worse. I had to bend over and hold my lower back with my hand before i sneezed.

No more heavy loads on my back. I just increase my reps and work on muscle endurance. No more stretching on the floor I do it standing up. No more back extension, supermans, or crunches on the floor. I hold plank in a variety of ways and now work on holding pushup position and extended arm side positions. I do frog pushup with my feet elevated which will work your abs automatically, Side bends, ab twists, and interval sprinting (which of course is cardio but works your abs at the same time).

I no longer feel pain when I sleep, stretch, or workout. Thank God!

wolverine March 29, 2010 at 4:21 pm

following on from your last post, i added squats to my strenght training routine, i normaly do 5*5 for full body but felt that my upper body was getting very dense and hard but my lower body lagging behind, i normally do cycling intervals and elliptical intervals but this i felt could not really match up to squats, but now i have prolapsed disc and suffering major sciatica pain, when i heal what else can i do to define my legs, thigh and buttocks apart from hill sprints etc

admin March 29, 2010 at 5:41 pm


You can increase hamstring flexibility by propping a foot up on an elevated surface and leaning forward while maintaining a flat back. You won’t be able to reach as far forward, but it stretches the hamstrings just as well.


Some people probably can get away with the knee to chest stretch if you are extremely careful about not rounding the lower back. I found that it made me feel great while doing it but aggravated the hell out of my back hours later.


I don’t want to slam Yoga, because there are special variations that are outstanding. I did some Prasara Yoga a while back as part of Adam Steer’s awesome body weight fat loss course. I just don’t like doing the extended holds where the spine is rounded for long periods of time.


True…planks are awesome…and many old school stretches and ab exercises murder the lower back.

Bankok Jay,

I should have put a link, but I wanted to insure that people didn’t get distracted from getting Eric’s report. I am a sufferer of back pain and have found some great solutions through research, but Eric is the true expert.


Weighted crunches do work the abs, but the risk isn’t worth it in my opinion. I guess it is all a matter of risk vs reward.


I like those as well…Adam Steer’s course had a few of those and they were great. They also had people do hip bridges to reinforce good posture. It is really more aimed at the unatural rounding of the lower back that one should avoid.


You can put one foot up on a chair or something a little lower and bend forward and reach down your leg without rounding your lower back. It helps to stick your chest and rib cage out to insure the back maintains proper curvature. You won’t be able to reach far down your leg but it is actually more effective at stretching hamstrings than the typical approach.


Yeah…I do bird dogs and supermans after almost every workout. I am very protective of my spine…and I’m excited to learn more from Eric.


Funny you should mention muscle building. I’m not against it, I just think excessive size is a bad look. I actually am working on releasing a muscle building product that I had for BETA release to people on my newsletter and opening it up for everyone else. I like 4 days one week followed by 5 the next for mass gains. Stick to 8-15 reps…pyramids are good. I am not sure you need supersets. Just aim to fatigue the muscle from set to set (opposite of strength training). I wasn’t planing on putting in this link, but you can buy my BETA release of my muscle gaining ebook for a couple more weeks from this link.


I have tight hamstrings as well. Read my comment above to Tyler. It is actually important to have flexible hamstrings, but you have to stretch them without rounding your back.


I hear ya…there is always a counterpoint and nothing is set in black and white. Just read your post on running a 5k on the beach. I will be on a beach soon as well. My and my GF are headed to Tulum in 5 days…so I don’t have to be jealous of your incredible Florida weather.


I think for people who have never injured their back, Yoga will probably be alright. People who have suffered a spinal injury…a completely different story.


Good point about seeking professional help as well. I still think it pays for people to read Eric Wong’s report because he studied with Dr. Stuart McGill. Stuart disagrees with a lot of common practices when it comes to spine rehab. It was his book that has helped me become pain free…after years of taking advice from doctors and physical therapists with no luck.


Overall I like Pavel’s stuff. In fact I have a few testimonials over on Dragon Door. That is a good pointer for when I am required to hunch forward for some reason.


Kettlebell movements are fine of you maintain your back arch when doing the movements. Make sure and stop if you feel your lower back weakening. It is one of those things that can strengthen your spine or weaken it dramatically. I do kettlebell snatches from time to time and just go really light. Just exercise extreme caution.


I kind of wish everyone could read Stuart McGill’s book. If I was running a gym or training personal trainers it would be required reading. The cool thing is that Eric Wong’s upcoming course may be even better, since it deals with high level physical activity.


Read my response to Tyler. This approach works well. Good mornings would be fine as long as you stick your chest out and keep your lower back from rounding. The elastic band stretch you do will be fine as long as you don’t round the spine…same principle.

Coach Tom,

Very cool…I hope to avoid any future back problems as well.


So…eat less to create a calorie deficit while gaining strength. This is going to add a tiny bit of muscle while you lose fat. No squats or deadlifts for the next 6 months. You have to give your spine a chance to heal. Download Eric’s book as well. Don’t listen to people about the big 3…I touch on it a bit in this video. Work in some intense intervals. I have a lot of advice to give you, but simply not enough time to go over everything. The main thing is to stop eating a lot of calories and be nice to your lower back…it isn’t something you can replace.


That version of hanging leg raises is actually easier than just standard hanging leg raises. It looks more effective but it allows your abs to rest. It also isn’t nice on your spine. This guy shows great form on how to do them the proper way


My spine burns just thinking of heavy dead lifts. In my opinion there isn’t a good reason to do these, except that it is kind of fun to see how much weight you can pull off the ground. So you have 610 pounds on your lifting resume…no need to ever do those again. Now you are an old guy like me, it is more important to be pain free πŸ™‚


I have a tough time putting down an entire way of exercising. For someone with a pre-existing back problem I would advise against Yoga. For others…I would simply say they should just exercise caution.


Thanks for the link. I will bookmark and come back to that.


I have been in that exact same position, which is why this post was so important for me to put out there. I know that there are many others who have lived with ridiculous back pain for years. Glad to hear you have figured out how to be pain free.


Your legs will gain density and definition over the long term if you stick with various sprints. You are really going to have to avoid squats and deads due to your back condition. It is better to have a slightly less dense lower body to avoid back pain.

Great Comments! Keep them coming!


John March 29, 2010 at 6:38 pm

Okay thanks for the advice Rusty, I’ve got your vacation blueprint book and I think I’ll start with a strength training routine similar to what you outline in there, avoiding Deadlifts and Squats for 6 months. Maybe 3 times per week of strength training plus some sprints or some other kind of interval training. I’ll cut back on the calories too.

Saying that my one worry is that I don’t have that much muscle mass, so would I be better off focusing on using a higher rep range for quick mass while cutting calories and then move on to low reps or would you just have me stick with lower reps for strength from the start?

Been spending the last 2 hours going through your Archives, I consider myself still pretty new to weight training but I find all your articles great reads.

Thank you again.

Saad March 29, 2010 at 8:20 pm

Hey Rusty,

I recently read combat conditioning by Matt Furey and he has some very good bodyweight exercise ideas in there including the back bridge which he says is the “king” of all exercises and relieves all back pain. What I noticed though was that Matt Furey looks a little bulky/too muscular in any pictures I’ve seen of him. If I were to say follow a bodyweight only exercise plan for a month or more would that make me too bulky or would I be fine if I kept my body fat under control? Also, would I be able to do bodyweight exercises everyday or should I give my muscles time to recover as in weight lifting? If I did do them everyday I assume it would be OK as long as I am not training to failure? Thanks for any input

The Homebody March 29, 2010 at 8:35 pm

This is some serious information. It gives me a lot to think about because most of my stretching routine involves about 80% of what you have here…lol

Jon March 29, 2010 at 9:00 pm

Rusty, tell Eric his email form isn’t working.. can’t sign up.

Dr. Kal March 29, 2010 at 9:13 pm

Great post!

Thanks for the link George. I enjoyed that post and will start doing the three exercise core workout Dr. McGill suggested in it.

katie March 29, 2010 at 9:43 pm

Hi Rusty, you have great site.
I am a 21 year old college student weighing 101 pounds and am 5′ 3 “. My whole body is thin however I have a lot of fat around hips to lose as it looks awkward. Unfortunately, after I hit the gym and by just doing cardio for 45 min in total for a week, i have started developing muscle behind my right thigh while my left thigh is still slim. My sessions are: 15 min jogging on the treadmill, 15 on stationary bike, 15 min on the recumbent bike; with all on the lowest level. My diet consists of skim milk with special K for breakfast for lunch whole wheat bread with veg and dinner is salad.
Although, I had remained relatively enthusiastic with my workout plan, the muscle that is popping out behind my right thigh is heart breaking as i had always had slim thighs. Please suggest me how to reduce the muscle of my right thigh to make it slim again and lose the hip fat fast. Pl also suggest the exercises (in the gym) and diet I should follow.
Thank you in advance.

Tracey March 30, 2010 at 1:48 am

I hurt my lower back about 8 years ago and I don’t know how I did it. One day I woke up and I couldn’t move. It is chronically sore most days of the week. Losing weight and working on core stability has not helped at all, and actually makes it hurt worse. A few times a year it hurts so badly that I need muscle relaxers and 800s.

It was only recently that I discovered the “foam roller”. The foam roller is a physical therapy tool used to smooth out and loosen tight muscle fibers. I use it in the groin, gluts, hips, hammies and a few places in my upper body to help with lat soreness. It can also be used to roll out tight muscles above the knee that often cause knee pain when running.

I only use it 2-3 times a week and for those hard to loosen up muscles I use a hard, smallish medicine ball. I have actually stopped lifting altogether for about a month now and my back pain is gone most days. I think once someone has a back injury they need to pay close attention to the damage that can be caused just trying to make it feel better.

Well, I can’t figure out how to attach a link to this post so just Google foam roller images to see what one looks like. I bought mine at Target for under $20 and it actually came with a great video. The roller can hurt at first but stick with it 2-3 times a week and I promise it will help resolve tight, lower back pain.

Rusty, thanks for another awesome post. I love your site and I appreciate how it has encouraged me to rethink my workouts by spending less time in the gym and more time outside running and walking my dogs. Yes, even today with pouring rain in Washington I did my run outside. I still prefer the treadmill for doing HIIT though.

Luke M-Davies March 30, 2010 at 3:23 am

Hi Rusty,

This is an interesting post and so many suffer from back pain so it is really useful for prevention and cure. I have to admit, looking at what you say, I should probably be more cautious about rounding my back. With the explosoin of pilates and yoga over the last 10 years maybe it will cause some people to rethink too!

I used to do martial arts and there was lots of the toe touching etc. I was more flexible then but without these stretches, I haven’t really lost anything now. I tend to use the ‘primal squat’ for 20 seconds (squat down like our ancestors used to) and that seems to hit most of the major muscle groups, though it cannot really be done without some rounding of the back. It’s a tricky one to avoid I think, and I will just be sure to listen more closely to my body because I can imagine that putting your back out is something to be avoided at all costs!

John March 30, 2010 at 3:42 am

@Rusty, Thanks for your reply. Yes, it is extreemly important not to rounding the lower back.

C.L. Wo March 30, 2010 at 8:40 am

Rusty-In his book Convict Conditioning, Paul Wade preaches the wonders of back bridges to streghtnen your spine and basically bulletproof your spine and lower back. Ive never had issues with my back, thank God. I am diligently following the progressions and I havent progressed through the preliminary stages required before beggining the bridging series, but as far as the rest of the book goes I can say it is one of the greatest things I have ever read or followed on fitness(or anything else for that matter.) I know you have endorsed this book. Wondered if youve done any bridging.

Aaron Curl March 30, 2010 at 9:45 am

I have never had a back injury but I have always felt that unnecessary rounding of the spine was painful (I used to hate crunches). Planks and side planks do the job for me.

Tracey March 30, 2010 at 10:30 pm

I must add one more comment – I re-injured my back while taking a college pilates course. It was so painful that after missing school and work for over a week, I finaly drove myself to the ER. They gave me a shot of morphine and a shot of steroids because nothing else could touch the pain Be careful when doing any sort of exercise that causes strain on the back if you’ve had a previous injury.

Rusty, I read through the back bridge post and I started doing the exercises shown in the video. WOW – my back always feel awesome after doing them. Thank you so much! I would have never known about them if I wasn’t an avid reader of your posts.

Jon March 30, 2010 at 11:01 pm

I concur with Tracey. I repeatedly woke up with a mild aching lower back in the mornings, having no clue why, sometimes blaming the bed.

I tried out the foam roller thinking it was a gimmick. It totally changed my life. Having added bird dogs and bridging into my workouts (Convict Conditioning and Scott Sonnon progressions and Ido Portal’s Floreio), I am virtually pain-free – I sometimes can’t believe it.

Some beautiful movements to make bridging fun and challenging:

Threading bridge progression:

Rotations into high bridge:

Beginner low bridging progressions:


Ido Portal’s Floreio almost looks out of reach but when you see his progressions from beginner to advanced, anything is possible. Intro to Floreio Art at his blog:

Daniel March 31, 2010 at 2:29 am

Greetings from sweden!
Hallo Rusty! I am a Long time reader of fitnessblackbook!
I just have to say that I love your site! I am a sport and exercise student here in sweden and have a fairly good understanding on how the body works and your site and tips have given me alot of things that I can use! Thanks:)

I am doing your visual impact right now(i am in fas 2) and a love it! I just wanted to thank you for that too!

Back to injuries. I have hade some injuries in my days. I have done one operation on my left foot, injuried my shoulder, my knee and my hip(I am almost symptom free now). Due to my hip injurie I got radiant pain down one of my legs. But after ours of physiotherapy I am almost back to normal again:)

Thanks ones again for this site Rusty! Its like a bibel for those of us who want to look and feel at our best:)

chica March 31, 2010 at 7:38 am

what do you think of the L-sit on yavor’s site?


is it ok for the lower back?

FitJerks Fitness Blog March 31, 2010 at 11:38 am

hmm… while I get that rounding your back after you’re injured can aggravate it, I believe “some” rounding is just fine for people who have no back problems as long as it’s supplemented with good back routines that helps strengthen the lower back muscles.

Take heavy deadlifting for example. When your weight starts get up in the stratospheric rage (for your abilities), rounding of the back is perfectly normal. In fact, its a natural position that helps you leverage a sh*t load of weight and no one I know has had any problems.

Anyways, Eric Wong is legit, gona check out his stuff.

Lucius March 31, 2010 at 10:20 pm

Rusty, ENJOY TULUM! We went a couple years ago and had a blast! We found a place that made beachside lamb tacos and we just drank beer and saw iguanas and sea turtles and played in the sand!

Phil Sims April 1, 2010 at 8:37 am

Top post Rusty. Love your site, some really top content here.

I agree with FitJerk that rounding is OK for people who haven’t had any back trouble in the past. Quite natural in fact. But I do think it’s important to include exercises that specifically strengthen lower back.

Personal Training April 1, 2010 at 7:06 pm

I think fundamental training exercises like the deadlift should be included in many more strength training programs as a preventative measure. Great post.

Vaiidya April 1, 2010 at 10:43 pm

Hey Rusty,

Firstly, you have no idea how refreshing it is to find a site solely dedicated to the more toned and athletic look than all the extra bulky mambo-jambo. But I know this comment isn’t supposed to be here in this article, but I just found this website and wanted to ask you something, so chose the most recent article.

I am 6′ tall and currently 174lbs, 20yrs old, but I have like 19% body fat and do light workouts sometimes. Looking at your blog, now I have developed a good plan for my workouts. I have both your books too. But what I wanted to achieve is more like the “Taylor Kitsch” look. He is Gambit in the 2009 Wolverine movie!! That’s my goal, how should I go about trying to achieve that. Time is not a factor!! I am pretty patient haha!!

– Karan

tami April 2, 2010 at 6:36 pm

This is probably what keeps chiropractors in business! I don’t think my problem is lower back, but if I’m standing in one place for awhile, like waiting in a long line, doing dishes, the middle of my back hurts so bad, I have to either sit or bend over before I start screaming.

I get “adjusted” about once every six weeks and I’m fine, until I start hitting that 4 or 5 week mark.

I always thought if I lose weight I wouldn’t have such a problem.

Thanks for the great info.

Eat Steak Lose Weight April 4, 2010 at 12:55 am

Thanks for sharing this great resource, Rusty. I’m a big believer that chronic pain is not a gain, and that pain is your body’s way of saying, “Stop that right now!” So many people out there really hurt their quality of life because of the “no pain, no gain” mindset.

As long as someone thinks that improvement is hard and painful they will tend to push body parts to the breaking point as opposed to training in a way that truly builds up strength. At least to me, anyone who can say something along the lines of “I’m really ripped now, but I’m in constant pain” has really gone off the rails. What’s the point of that?

Maybe it is because we generally don’t see our backs in the mirror, or maybe because well-trained back muscles aren’t quite as much of a sex object as a six pack that few people think of direcly training all the muscles that support and protect the spine as Eric advocates.

Truth is, without the spine we would be just two halves pathetically flopping around on the ground. If you’ve ever seen one of those science classroom skeletons, the spine is a pretty slender and complicated reed to absorb all the demands we place on it. It is only the muscles and connective tissue that keep the whole thing from falling apart.

In the past, when we all worked on farms, having a strong back was something you couldn’t really avoid, but today training doesn’t seem to concentrate on the back enough unless you have already gone to the point of injuring it.

Bryan April 18, 2010 at 4:37 pm

I enjoyed reading your post Rusty. I have read some of Stuart McGill’s articles and have found that I agree with his approaches to solving back problems.
When I am working with people in the physical therapy clinic and am working on hamstring stretches from a seated position I always emphasize bend at the hip and “taking your chest, not your nose” forward. The purpose of this is to maintain a neutral lumbar spine while keeping the pelvis anteriorly rotated. This draws the hamstring taught and does not allow for the rounding of the back.

Devin April 19, 2010 at 6:30 pm

As a Chiropractor I definitely think that Eric’s Low Back Pain prevention workout is key. He is targeting all the correct core muscles and not fixating on one specific group. I have been a long time follower of Stuart McGills work and I am glad to see that one of his understudies is doing well. This routine falls in the 80/20 category making it a perfect workout for most people. Depending on the biomechanics of ones spine some of the back extension stretches could be detrimental to specific injuries. I find that after a week or two of treatment most patients are ready to begin this type of program. Stability of the intrinsic spinal muscles are key for prevention. Great post Rusty.

ahmed April 22, 2010 at 3:38 am

Thanks for the valuable tips

Stacey April 23, 2010 at 3:40 pm

I work for the International Fitness Professionals Association and we offer a Low Back Disorder Specialist Certification because we believe that far too little Personal Fitness Trainers are equipped to deal with patients with these type of injuries. It is really an interesting certification and actually uses the book mentioned in this post by Stuart McGill. Excellent read.

Paul Nicolson April 26, 2010 at 3:06 am

I found that after a serious car accident my back was shot at for over a year. It was only after I started using a teeter inversion table, that I started to make a positive recovery.

Exercise alone didnt cure the trauma I had been through.

Check out

jon May 17, 2010 at 11:08 pm

Been doing all these stretches and exercises for 6 years.I do hard physical labor all the time. I also do lots of core strengthing with medicine balls, indians clubs, squats and deadlifts. Back pain is something I never get anymore staying active and eating right everyday.

Amanda Brown May 31, 2010 at 9:39 pm

I really liked your post. I also work with clients with back pain and have also found Paul Chek’s methods amazing for rehab. For people in a lot of pain, making changes to their diet can really help. Things like adequate water intake (3% of body weight per day) and including fish oils in their diet. Keep up the great work

Mohammed June 3, 2010 at 7:43 pm

Probably way too late to comment on this post, but I have a few questions.

1) We are advised not to round our back, but how does one stay flexible, e.g., touching toes from standing position?

2) Does this advice apply to people straining their back after lifting something beyond their ability, e.g, I lifted a heavy food crate and strained my back? The pain went coupla weeks later by not bending down and being careful.

3) What do people think of Bodyweight Blueprint by Adam Steer? That has quite a bit of back rounding in it- this I discovered after purchasing it!

sifter June 23, 2010 at 12:13 am

I think you can simply do some of those floor hamstring stretches without rounding your back by mentally pushing your chest to your knees, rather than trying to reach and touch your toes. Your back stays pretty flat that way. Japanese Makko Ho stretches, yoga, Shaolin stretching all utilize seated hamstring stretches, it’s just a matter of technique vs. sloppy form.

jx1971 June 30, 2010 at 4:41 pm

“The main thing is that you are to avoid rounding your lower back on purpose if lower back pain has been a problem in the past. I would even go as far to say to avoid this even if you have never suffered a lower back injury…”

As a 39-year old man (with no pre-existing back problems…thank God) who incorporates yoga poses daily into my stretching routine, I agree with the first part of your statement. However, yoga is excellent for spine flexibility. I think the real issue is that men should be encouraged to start flexibility training earlier in life, and take some of the focus off of heavy lifting. We have a lot of 35+ guys out there who are strong…and stiff. Once I started focusing more on flexibility and less on heavy lifting a few years back, it made all of the difference for my lower back.

sciatica treatment September 19, 2010 at 5:29 am

I have a good friend who has back pain.It bring many sorrows to her life. If you have the same sufferings,you have protect your back well and avoid improper gestures

Diego October 13, 2010 at 6:53 am

Interesting but also difficult to follow as you need to bend at the back to do a lot of everyday things such as putting on shoes and doing up your laces.

Chandler Chiropractor November 24, 2010 at 3:03 pm

It seems so simple to avoid certain things, but so often we just assume that the pain is normal. Great advice!

Diego February 10, 2011 at 9:31 pm

Great article on back pain Rusty, I will be sharing it with my personal training clients. I will also link to it from my health and fitness directory and articles website
Thank you.

lordyll April 6, 2011 at 3:13 pm

I have a back pain and suffering for 12 yrs now, i can’t do the exercises , weight lifting – but “San Tan Valley Chiropractor” theraphy had restored my life from that paralysis. You might have the same prob, and you may try taht too.


Simon Jarrett Williams April 21, 2011 at 12:46 am

Back injuries are amongst the worst and most difficult for many to correct. Ensuring a good medical treater and physical exercise that is supported by your Doctor is a great start to recovery.

Jack Trip June 3, 2011 at 2:27 am

Great article and the responses are equally informative. I personally would seek medical advice and or undertake a formal assessment before commencing any program. I think you might agree with my view!

DAVID June 8, 2011 at 10:10 pm

WHAT ABOUT THIS? I recently worked out doing wighted squats on the Smith machine. I t was only about 50lbs but I wasnt really used to it. Then I did raised calf lifts where the shoulder pads rest obviously on ur shoulders. I used more weight there like over 100lbs.

Long story short… lower back pain that night in my sleep. So do u have to work up to it or are those just bad exercises for the spine and lower back?

cycling to lose weight August 30, 2011 at 5:36 pm

Lower back pain certainly does reduce your capacity for doing some exercises. Physiotherapy definitely helps but it is hard to get back to 100% movement.

Michael McIntyre October 12, 2011 at 6:59 am

I fell from quite a high ledge when i was only 2 years old, which twisted my vertebrae. From the age of 13 I had terrible back problems with growth pulling me in different directions. At 17 I saw a chiropractor in Jamaica and he mentioned that it looks like i fell as a child and probably suffered in my teen years. I rang up my mum to confirm this and the chiropractor was spot on. He told me with the chiropractic treatment I would be hunch backed by 40. Up until recently I had this horrible thought at the back of my mind, but after coming across the bridges exercise I have actually straighted out and grown an inch at 22. Click on the following link to be taken to my review of convict conditioning which i feel set me on my way to recovery…bestbodyweightexercise

Cure Sciatica October 21, 2011 at 8:18 am

It is a well spoken fact that stretching and exercise does wonders for someone with sciatica. The stretching and exercise relaxes the muscles and that in many cases release the pinched nerve

valdo December 20, 2011 at 11:20 am

what about yoga?

vital Greens March 14, 2012 at 3:43 am

Great Article, Pilates would also be good. Thanks Again

how to do yoga crunches March 23, 2013 at 1:18 pm

With havin so much written content do you ever run
into any problems of plagorism or copyright violation?
My website has a lot of exclusive content I’ve either written myself or outsourced but it appears a lot of it is popping it up all over the internet without my permission. Do you know any methods to help stop content from being stolen? I’d certainly appreciate it.

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