Lifting around an upper back injury: The Shonen Way Of Healing (Part 1, 2018)

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Lifting around an upper back injury: The Shonen Way Of Healing (Part 1, 2018)

So recently I injured my upper back. Not doing anything outlandish, I went from feeling 100% to being bed-ridden after feeling a tweak in my posture. Now, I’m much better handling these set backs that I ever have been in the past and the video version is far more emotionally based that my composed, logical self talking to you now. 

Regardless, if you’d rather watch than read:

Before we get to the lifting portion I need to address something: after the initial pain is through (around a day or so) you want to get active as fast as possible. If you don’t it’s very likely that the pain will get worse and it makes sense when you think about it. Like with all things in the human body you use it or lose it. When waking up because I can’t really control the positions I end up in whilst I’m asleep before I get out of bed the pain is usually worse. This can be rectified by getting out of bed as fast as possible and the pain starts to go away with activity (this also goes for sitting in one place for too long throughout the day). Mild activity and daily exercise helps you heal and for back pain specifically I recommend two things:

1.Walking for as long as you can tolerate without feeling pain
2.Stuart Mcgills big 3 movements/stretches 

There are also some nutritional interventions you can try out which may help your symptoms and help speed recovery. Whey protein, fish oil, and collagen all have research backing their efficacy for healing and I’d recommend you give them a shot. You should also be in a caloric surplus to ensure that your body has the resources to repair your tissue.

So to the lifting portion, when lifting around an upper back injury the first thing you should do is eliminate the possible tweaks by substituting the exercises that set off your pain. So for me, I couldn’t use anything that demanded a lot of attention from the upper back. 

For example my Monday workout is currently

3xOverhead Press


So I substituted these lifts with


2xTrap Bar Deadlifts

3xSeated Supported Overhead Press


I felt like from a movement pattern perspective these were the closest lifts to substitute my workout without triggering any pain. Another side note: I ditched the use of a belt for these substitutions since the goal is recovery and rehab, not maximum weight lifted per se. These lifts can then be utilised like any other and you can start achieving PRs again whilst you heal therefore still gaining muscle in the process so it’s not a complete set back. Another reason this is beneficial is that since it’s an exercise variation, you’re not comparing your performance to your best lifts from your primary exercises. This way you can still feel strong instead of injured, this is of crucial importance since being set back can be quite disheartening and deadlifting 100kg for 8 after deadlifting 200kg for 8 could perhaps result in dedicated trainees quitting because they don’t know how to handle the set back accordingly. 


Now, this is a last resort and something a lot of trainees may not want to hear but if your injury is triggered by a specific exercise then maybe it’s time to ditch that exercise. There’s no need to be dogmatic about certain lifts if they are genuinely causing you more harm than good, even some powerlifters use squat and deadlift as practice lifts only whilst getting their volume from accessory movements they’re more suitably built for. It could turn out to be a game changer for some, and I’ve even considered it myself. Thankfully since I made the video version of this article I have fully healed and I am enjoying setting PRs on the true big 6 lifts again, but not everyone can be as lucky.

So to recap:

>Once your injured, only rest as much as what’s necessary
>Get up and active as soon as possible
>Practice Stuart McGills Big 3 movements
>Don’t stay in one place for too long
>Take whey protein, collagen, and fish oil to boost recovery
>Stay in a caloric surplus to give your body what it needs
>Substitute any triggering exercises with similar pain free movements
>Continue to make PRs

More in part 2 (click here)

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