Ask The Trainer #70 – Overcoming A Back Injury


Hey Chad,

I’m working through a back injury. You think it’s possible to put back the size and definition that I had without being able to lift as much weight? At this point at least? Ego’s been tough to deal with. I’m 34 and not doing what I was in my 20s!



Hi, Vin,

I’m sorry to hear about the back injury, brother. I’ve been in the same place you’re in right now. Sadly, more times than I can even count. So, I can testify to the fact being there really SUCKS!

Back injuries can be tricky. Your back is made of bones, muscles, and other tissues extending from your neck to your pelvis. Lower back injuries are usually the most common offenders.

When you say you have a back injury, I’m not sure of the exact type of injury you’re dealing with. Perhaps, it’s a strain, a sprain, a herniated disk, or even some type of fracture? The point is, your limitations working around this injury will depend upon the nature and severity of the injury.

Sprains and strains are by far the most common back injuries. Whereas, herniated disks and fractured vertebra are a little less common and harder to work around. Notice I said work “around” and not work “through”. You should NEVER work through a back injury!

To me, working through an injury implicates that you push yourself to continue to work, regardless of how much pain you feel radiating from the injured area. This is how people re-injure themselves or end up with an even worse injury.

If it sounds like I’m speaking from experience… it’s because I am! When you train, I’d advise you to work up to the point where you begin to feel pain. But, DO NOT go any further!

Since your back injury is forcing you to train with much lighter weights and in higher rep ranges, you’re probably not going to maintain your current muscle size. That is, not until your back completely heals, and you’re able to lift heavier again.

Chad ShawOur muscle memory is pretty efficient. So, you should regain most of the size you’ve lost within 2-3 months after you’re completely healed. By the way, when I say lifting “heavier”, I mean using weights that force your working sets to end within 8-12 reps.

Again…ONLY after you’re 100% healed!

I do think you can become just as defined, or even more defined, using lighter weights and working in higher rep ranges. Getting defined really has more to do with your diet than anything else.

You’re probably not as active right now thanks to that back injury. Since you’re burning fewer calories, you’ll need to make a conscious effort to consume fewer calories and focus on eating mostly whole, unprocessed meats, veggies, fruits, and potatoes.

Additionally, training with lighter weights will help prevent muscle atrophy, even though you won’t feel like you’re really crushing your muscles when you train. That’s okay! Just keep the weight light and work in the 20-25 rep range in a slow, controlled manner with perfect form. Absolutely avoid fast, jerky movements, as they often lead to re-injury.

Experiment with a variety of exercises that allow you to keep your spine in a neutral position. Sometimes it’s easier to do this performing exercises involving guided resistance, such as cable and machine exercises. For example, it’s tough to keep your spine neutral while you’re getting into position for a free-weight bench press.

On the other hand, you can keep your spine pretty straight getting on a Hammer Strength seated chest press machine because you don’t have to lie down, then get back up again. Moreover, when you use machines with a weight stack and pin, you don’t need to worry about compromising your spine position by reaching down and awkwardly pulling plates off of weight trees.

I would urge you not to fret over your injury and not being able to go ‘all out’ in the gym. As you’re healing, try to focus on other facets of your well-being you might’ve been neglecting.

For example, now would be a great time to focus on your nutrition plan and learn more about food selections that offer better nutrition with fewer calories. This is essential to achieving a nicely defined body, as well as maintaining it. This IS a goal you can safely focus on and give your all!

I wish you a speedy recovery and the very best of luck achieving your goals!

Prove ‘Em Wrong,
Chad Shaw

Have A Question For Chad?

Just click the button below.