For a long time I was teaching myself most things CrossFit. I wasn’t a person that had ever found weight training satisfying in the way that I would like. I was always interested and willing, but nobody inspired me in a weight room. There were always things lacking…until I stumbled upon CrossFit.
I started all on my own on the first day back to school on January 3rd, 2009 (I’m a teacher). I made a lot of mistakes along the way. I want to share one time with you but to understand it I will have to give you some background.
I have always had struggles with my lower back. During college I was often playing, especially in my junior and senior years, with a right leg that would go numb after about a half an hour (one third of a match).
Needless to say, that made playing soccer much more challenging than it already was. There were weeks that I could hardly sleep because I couldn’t get comfortable because of the pain. I had great chiropractic, doctor and training facility care but we never found anything that would truly turn things around. After college I thought that my back would simply be a limiting factor in my life. For a time I just accepted it…like many people.
Once I started CrossFitting my lower back was often extremely sore and swollen. I was a regular attendee at the chiropractor in an effort to maintain as much structural integrity as possible. When I say extremely swollen I mean that the depression that exists between your muscles on each side of your spine was non- existent, it would swell to being completely flat. The deadlift was a devil to me. I was always afraid of it and every deadlift day for strength or in the workout of the day would lead to a sleepless night. Did I train the next day? Yep…but it was a huge test of my mental toughness and how much I wanted to do this.
I never gave up.
One day, while working out with my friends after school, I was working through the training for the day. I had been going as hard as ever leading up to this day. My back was feeling pretty tight but, as always, I did everything I knew to mobilize it and then began the workout. I do not know the exact workout but I do know that it did not have any deadlifts in it. I don’t even think there were any weights at all. But there were definitely pistols (a one legged squat). These are very demanding of you strength, balance, coordination and you lumbar spine flexibility. I typically didn’t have a terrible time doing them but my lower back was very tight and when I went down into one of my squats in the middle of the workout I heard a “pop” that came from my lower back
that was actually heard by the others working out that day. So it wasn’t just me that heard it.
I couldn’t move. All I could do for about twenty minutes was lie face down on the floor. Any movement was shooting pain all over my body from the epicenter that was my L4 and L5 vertebrae. I’d pulled muscles and herniated discs before but nothing was like this pain. When my friends finally picked me up so that I could stand I used a pair of crutches they sourced from the training room to get to my friend’s car. I could barely
get in because I really couldn’t bend my lower back at all without terrible pain. I was as straight as I could be while “sitting” in the passenger seat.
The rest of that night was spent lying on my back and trying to move my legs and hips as much as I could manage. There was no sleep. I was driven to and from work the next day and used crutched for the next three days. I got x-rays and yep, a protruding disc. It looked like it had actually tried to escape my body!
Talking to my chiropractor he struck a deal with me. He wanted me every other day for treatment and stimulus. I had to show up and then NOT workout. This was a problem for me. So what I did during my normal workout time was hang around the people I typically trained with and I started researching mobility. Yoga, static stretching, anything I could find that might help. This was a three week deal. On literally the 22nd day after the incident I began training again.
I wasn’t able to go straight back to RXd workouts. I had to be inventive and I wasn’t able to pick things up at first. I started to pull a sled at least every other day. Different distances, different weights, whatever kept it interesting. I was sprinting, doing lots of pull ups, lots of traction (like hanging from the pull up bar) and doing suicides with smaller kettlebells. I started climbing rope more and all manner of other things.
I was forcing myself to learn to adapt and get through this situation. After a couple of months I started squatting again, and then squatting with weight. When a workout came up that had deadlifts in it I just kept the weight down so as not to derail my recovery. I ended up in Las Vegas during the second week of the CrossFit Open and did the workout, which was deadlift intensive. Deadlifts, box jumps and hand release push-ups to be exact. There were a lot of people. I had trained a few days leading up to this at a gym that was partially run by an ex-navy seal.
He or the other owner of that gym had asked the person who was hosting the open workout that day to put me in the final heat, which is apparently where the “firebreathers” were. I ended up coming in second…to a guy that would make the CrossFit Games that year. I felt great about all the work I put in and how great my back felt and it was emotional for me because you just never really know what you can do until you do it. I finally went for a 1 rep max deadlift over 6 months after the “pop”.
Surprisingly I matched my all-time high and I was pretty psyched about it. I hadn’t really done any heavy deadlifting for 6 months so it was a surprise.
Over these years I have found things that really work regarding the lower back because I had no other option. I am not blessed with the kind of strength that just allows me to pick up heavy things and not break. I have accepted this and I continually work to keep improving my back. I am not, and probably never will be, happy with how much I can deadlift (or how strong I am in general), but that doesn’t keep me from working on it.
Through attention to detail, listening to chiropractors, working on technique, mobility and assistance work I have come to a place that I can recover quickly from training heavy (at least heavy for me) and continue my fitness journey.
I plan to be active until they put me in my grave and working around things and through them is going to get me what I want. I thought it might be nice to share my struggle a little so that anyone that is going through their own struggles might see that there are things you can do, but one of those things should never be to give up.
Scott M. Landrum