My Recent Experience with Low Back Pain

Yes, Physio’s get pain too… and here’s my recent experience

Recently, my back decided to have its annual ‘grumpy week’. I thought to myself – great… of course it happened just as my training was really starting to ramp up and I was approaching some of my goals for the first half of the year. That’s the way it always works doesn’t it… But, it should make for a great blog post. So here is my experience and some general advice for training with Low Back Pain.

Firstly, I needed to establish the level of discomfort I was willing to tolerate throughout my program (this is always best done in conjunction with a Physio’s input). I decided anything more than 3/10 pain during exercises, or lingering pain >15-30mins was off limits for today.

Secondly, I knew given how I was feeling, I needed to slightly lower my intensity. Normally I would work at a Rate of Perceived Exertion (how hard you perceive you are working out of 10, 10 being super hard) 7-9 for a lot of my lifts. I decided today that given how I was feeling, I was more comfortable around to 5-6 mark.

Thirdly, I needed to determine if I should give anything a miss for today’s session. Given how acute things were, and how my symptoms were responding during the day (the wonderful and wacky world of pain) I might want to limit my standing overhead lifts and also any Left Leg dominant work as these were things that were beyond my tolerance level at the time (again, best that these things are assessed and determined in conjunction with a Physio).

So what did my program look like for a normal full body day at the gym? Take a look below. You’ll see the things I swapped out, the alternatives I completed instead and also the RPE with which I was performing the exercises.

Day 2 Program (Full Body – Push Focus)

  1. Warm-up = ~5mins on X trainer
    *Normally I would do a ~5min run but this was a bit too tough on this particular day*
  2. Barbell Bench Press = 5sets at an RPE of 5-7
    *Normal RPE = 8-9
  3. Seated Machine Flyes = 3sets at an RPE of 6-7
    *Normal RPE = 9
  4. Seated Machine Hamstring Curls = 3sets at an RPE of 5-6
    *Normally I would do standing Barbell RDLs but on this day they were too painful for my pain during exercise parameters (outlined above)
  5. Seated Overhead Dumbbell Press = 3sets at an RPE of 6
    *Normally I do these in standing
  6. Single Arm Cable Triceps Pressdowns = 3sets at an RPE 7-8
    *Normally an RPE of 8-9
  7. Machine Assisted Shrugs = 3sets at an REP of 6
    *Normally I would do these with a Barbell but again today they fell outside of my tolerable parameters.

So what does this exercise show us? It demonstrates how you can continue to workout even when in pain provided you are comfortable with what you are experiencing and that you have some level of confidence in changing your program to accommodate how you feel. It also shows how helpful RPE is as a metric to modulate and monitor how hard you are working, and in this case, I used it to taper my program to meet my tolerable limits on this particular day. So next time you’re in pain and want to keep training, pop into the clinic and we can have this discussion, and set up a super cool plan that keeps you doing what you enjoy! Use the booking links below and lets get you back to your normal training routine!

~ Luke Lopian, Physiotherapist


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