So, it’s 2 1/2 months since my MRI and diagnosis of 4 herniated lumbar discs and torn annular and four months since the original injury. As discussed in my earlier blog, my back injury is actually a recurring injury from an original disc herniation in 1999. But, in April, I became symptomatic again, to the point that I couldn’t do simple things like tie my shoes, put socks on, and get out of my car without excruciating pain. I could do other challenging things like swing a baseball bat and run, but some very simple things were incredibly painful.
This week, I equalled my personal best snatch of 165 lbs. Twice. I had only done this twice before – in March warming up for the Crossfit Open workout 12.2. The difference this time? I did it without wearing a weight belt. Crazy, right? After 4 herniated discs? Am I fucking nuts?! Then, if that wasn’t crazy enough, the next day I did Crossfit benchmark workout Isabelle – 30 135 lb. snatches for time (we had to do full squat snatches, not power). Nuts.
Especially since, in re-reading my earlier blog, I was pretty critical of Crossfit for having such a workout. And I did the workout anyway. I love snatches (insert dirty joke here). I just think they look and feel so cool when executed successfully. Two months ago, I would’ve thought it impossible that I’d be able to do 30 135 lb. snatches. Without a weight belt, no less.
I have a lot to thank for my recovery. Obviously, my personal training education and knowledge comined with the fact that I spend many hours each week in a gym surrounded by some of the top fitness minds in the country gave me a HUGE leg up on my rehab and recovery. I was able to put in the necessary time. Having access to one of the best back doctors and physical therapists in southern California, as well as a world-class Olympic Lifting coach and competitor is an INCREDIBLE advantage I know most people don’t have. And, finally, the writing and videos of Dr. Stuart McGill (http://www.backfitpro.com/books.php) has helped me realize I could overcome this injury without surgery. The question was, could I come back as good or better
This week proved to me I’ve come back better. Though I didn’t break any PR’s, I matched them. (Crossfit Open workout 12.2 included 30 135 lb. snatches.) I matched my old PR’s without the assistance of a weight belt which, any lifter with a back injury knows, is a huge deal. My lower back and core is stronger, my form is better, and my lifts are more efficient.
Now, I’m fully aware I need to keep my ego in check. I am mere milimeters of improper lumbar movement away from not being able to tie my shoes. The possiblity of my having another episode in the future is fairly high. I mean, it’s been a recurring injury since 1999, chances are I’ll have another episode. Today, I took my time with my lifts. It took me 14:15 to do my 30 squat snatches. In contrast, one of my gym’s top competitors did it in under 6 minutes. For me, it was absolutely crucial that I set up with perfect form each and every lift. So long as I maintain a neutral spine in the initial part of the movement (the entire movement, for that matter), I have as much a chance of hurting my back as when I get up off the toilet.
I basically did 2 things: 1) I increased flexibility in my tight lumbar/pelvic muscle groups: psoas, illiacus, piriformis, quadriceps. 2) I strengthened my weak muscles: glute medius and glute maximus, as well as all the muscles of the core which work to stabilize the lumbar spine: transverse abdominus, internal and external obliques, intercostals, quadratus lumborum, and erector spinae. (Notice I didn’t say abs – the rectus abdominus is a spine flexor. My lumbar spine flexors were overactive and the spine extensors underactive which set the stage for the disc herniation. To continue to strengthen the movement of spinal flexion – abs – would just exacerbate the problem!
So, I trained my core muscles together as spine stabilizers, working to maintain a neutral spine for longer and longer periods of time (1-2 minutes). Dr. McGill talks about creating superstiffness in the core region when performing your sport or activity. Not only does it protect the spine from injury but it makes you stronger right around your very center of gravity, which translates into also being stronger further away from your center of gravity (arms and legs).
I’ve had a great deal of spiritual growth during this time, as well. My music has improved tremendously (less time lifting weights translates into more time playing music, which is HUGELY therapeutic, by the way). I gave a lot of thought to how I hold my body when singing and playing my instruments. I can see now how the position of my body affects my power as a performer. Proper spinal alignment allows for better breathing which leads to better singing. Simply put, proper spinal alignment and core strength lead to increased overall power, be it a sport, speaking, acting, singing, or whatever activity you choose to do.
Yes, injuries can be a good thing. I think the way we in the fitness culture view injuries needs to change. How many times have you heard, You shouldn’t do that, you’re gonna get hurt. I just think there tends to be a throw the baby out with the bathwater mentality when it comes to injuries. Your back is injured so don’t exercise. No – don’t do movements that exacerbate the problem. There are plenty of exercises and movements that a) will have no effect on the injured area, and b) will help the injury recover. I’ve been playing baseball every Sunday since the injury – I’m having one of the best seasons of my life. Was that risky? Maybe. But I could feel that swinging a bat wasn’t my problem. It was some of the tough, heavy, and dynamic exercises I do when working out.
I still believe in taking risks. For me, the growth and accomplishment that come with overcoming an obstacle or setback is the reason to live! My next goal? I want to snatch 185 lbs. and SOMEDAY join the 200 lb. snatch club.