I think that some of my readers will find this story inspirational.

Around 17 years ago I spent the weekend with my Dad and stepmom. We were driving home late one night in the rain in our Volkswagen bug and some guy fell asleep at the wheel, ran a red light, and T-boned us. The VW was demolished, and the passenger seat that I was sitting in ended up positioned directly behind the driver’s seat where my Dad was positioned. I was secured to a backboard and rushed to a level I trauma center.

To make a long story short, I couldn’t walk right for around a month. I couldn’t play football my senior year, and my back hurt around the clock. For around six months, my friends made fun of me because I would get out of my chair like an old man. I finally decided to go to the doctor. An MRI determined that I had two degenerative discs at L4/L5 and L5/S1. This was at 17 years of age and was independent of the accident.

I started physical therapy and was prescribed tons of crunches and hamstring stretches. Laugh all you want, but it helped tremendously. Remember, this was the early 90’s and core stability and hip mobility drills weren’t yet popularized. Anyway, I strengthened my abdominals and increased my hamstring stretch tolerance and finally started feeling much better. I did my drills religiously twice per day.

I kept progressing. As soon as I was able, I started squatting and doing back extensions. All of a sudden I was feeling better than ever. Then I learned how to deadlift. Early on I rounded a lot, but eventually I learned how to use my hips. I started focusing on my glutes, and now my back feels “bulletproof.”

I’m 34 years old and my back has never felt better. Even though I squat, deadlift, and hip thrust at least 3 times per week, my back almost never acts up. I can remember being very scared many years ago after the accident, wondering if I was doomed to be in back pain the rest of my life. I wondered if I’d ever be “athletic” again. I think I’m more athletic now than ever before.

If you are suffering from back pain, there’s a good chance that you can overcome it. There’s a good chance that you can strengthen your core and posterior chain and increase your mobility to levels you cannot imagine. Just don’t throw in the towel!

Here’s a picture of my back from several years ago (when I was at my all-time leanest). I’m very proud of this pic, as this is a back built from years of heavy pulling!

27 Comments

  • Andy says:

    Thank you this could not have come at a better time.

  • I hear you Bret. I actually dislocated my right SI joint playing football, have bulged a few discs and torn a few muscles in the low back, so I completely understand what you mean by “getting out of a chair like an old man.” Pain is temporary, especially if you do something about it to make it better! Congratulations on getting your back back in shape!!

  • Terence says:

    This is very inspirational thanks for the post. I was in a motorcycle accident last march and broke my ankle and I’m still on crutches. I often think of what I won’t be able to do when I finally get back in the gym. This let’s me know anything is possible as long as you keep pushing yourself. THANKS!!!!

  • Daniel says:

    Very inspiring story. Aren’t you afraid that the pain might come back when you are doing something like MMA, or have you stopped doing that?

  • John says:

    I have a comparing story with my back. Ten years ago in a heavy car crash. I have not been able to walk, and doctors said I would never walk normal again, and never lift weight again.
    Now Im walking, running, biking, and lift more and better than before.

  • Clement says:

    Interesting story, and very motivational.

    I’ve found that firstly, I should stop wallowing in self-despair at my situation because somewhere out there someone’s in a worse shape than I am. How we choose to deal with our setbacks makes us who we are. You are a true man.

    The other thing I find important is that whenever we feel pain or discomfort in our body, we shouldn’t try to soldier through it but get it checked. You never know what it might be.

  • Thy. says:

    Great story! Always wonderful to hear how lifting helps someone to get through injuries.
    I wish I was the lucky one – getting better from lifting. But in my back condition (scoliosis), I’m condemned to doing my favorite stuff at the expense of ruining my back and surrounding tissues further. No way around it. There’s hardly any exercsise unaffected by this. Even benching is problematic! (due to the rotational component of scoliosis, one shoulder blade is elevated a little, forcing one side to take more loading than the other, therefore I have triceps tendonitis and shoulder problmes on one side…)

  • George says:

    Hi,
    Great story and it’s really interesting to have a role model such as yourself to relate to. My story is far less dramatic but shares some similarities. I was diagnosed with a mild case of scheuermanns disease. This manifests itself as a kyphosis of the thoracic spine and resulted in a large lordosis in my lumabar spine. Misinformed training (lots of squats with poor technique) led to a mild case of spondylo (disk slippage) which cause sciatica down both legs especially when sprinting. I also have an epic list on injuries like related to these factors (numerous ham tears etc). Not great for a 19 year old! Anyway to get to the point: thanks largely to Bret, I have addressed my total lack of glute activation and increased rhomboid and lower trap strength to the point where I have been free from injury and pain for the longest period since my childhood. My posture has also improved significantly (i look normal) and my strength and athleticism has reached new heights. Still have a load of work to do but the improvements keep coming and i’ve never felt better. So thanks basically! I’ve been meaning to write for a long time but my most significant breakthroughs have been recent and this story seemed like the perfect post to convey my appreciation. Keep up the good work and enjoy New Zealand (I’m a little jealous!)
    George
    Ps- thy- another side effect of scheuermanns can be scoliosis and I also have an asemetrical body in general (left scap elevated in comparison to right). I would advise seeking advice from more professionals in regard to training as you may find ways to limit the degree at which it restricts you as i have. Unilateral training has helped me hugely to bring up the imbalance caused. Usain bolt also has scoliosis but he has found a way to train to bring him to be the fastest man that ever lived so its worth a look for alternatives to overcome or work round your shortcomings.

  • David Arroyo says:

    Hello Bret. I have found ‘my back story’ to be very informative. I’ll be 38 soon and over the years, for most of my life, I have always had a bad back, going to the doctor usually involved pain medication, and not much else. In ’07 a chiropractor x-rayed my back, the results revealed I have a bad 4th and 5th in the lumbar region, L4 and L5 I believe. The chiropractor described the condition of the L4 and L5 to resemble that of a 60 to 70 year old man. This could be the result of any number of sports injuries over the years. Although the article lays out a very detailed approach to correcting the troubled area, I am wondering/asking, if you could suggest or outline a simple regime for a novice to improve the lower back? I apologize for the point blank question here, but I figured it wouldn’t hurt to ask. Thanks for your time. Good luck in NZ.

  • Ricardo Davis says:

    Wow. Great Pic! Looks like Mike Boyle or Mike Robertson takes his shirt off and looses clients and Bret gets clients when he takes off his shirt!

  • allie says:

    Wow, very inspiring!

  • Mark says:

    Hey Bret,

    Great story and it goes to show how strengthening the entire body while making it move properly can get people out of pain. On an unrelated note…where did your blog roll go??? It was awesome and a great way to find all the great information coaches are passing along. Hope to see it return!

  • Coffee says:

    Have you had an MRI in recent years? Have your discs regenerated?

  • Craig says:

    Great story. Aged 20 I was also diagnosed with degenerative discs at L4/L5 and L5/S1, and I was worried my sporting career was over. However, after aggressive rehab, I made the Olympic team one year later, and since then have made many national teams.

    Its usual to be scared, but by doing the correct rehab nothing has to change!

  • Bret says:

    Great stories everyone! Thank you for contributing, I appreciate it.

  • Bob Thomas says:

    “Coffee” is internet coward and asking a question to paint you in a corner. It’s too bad they hide behind a fake name and doesn’t post pics or videos. Keep doing single leg squats and 25 pound dumbbell rows. Coffee wakes up in his tiny studio working with old ladies and pathetic high school kids that look they allergic to protein and lifting weights.

  • Nick says:

    Hi Bret,
    Just a quick thank you: after 3 months of lower back pain (up at night, never feeling “right”) following a poorly extecuted zercher squat the exercises and stretches that I have learned from reading your book, articles and blogs have massively improved my quality of life – my glutes are more active, my lower back feels safe and I’m sleeping well again. I am rebuilding my exercise technique from the ground-up with a focus on active glutes, correct degree of pelvic tilt and lack of movement in the lower back – I’m walking on air and I have you to thank!

    Cheers from a fellow kiwi, hope you are enjoying the world cup 🙂

  • Dann R says:

    I am 40 years old. I also sustained a low back injury 13 years ago. I never had a back injury, but lifted something heavy up a stairwell by myself(not smart), but anyway. After finding out I had mildly bulged L3-L4, moderately bulged L4-L5 and herniated L5-S1. (yes, ouch) and the sciatica was excruciating for months I finally sought out medical advice and treatment. I tries PT, chiropractic and a cypresses, But finally found myself doing the unthinkable. (Surgery). I ended up having a microdiscectomy on L5-S1 in 2000. My neursurgeon took a very conservative approach and After surgery I rehabbed with PT. I have to tell you that I did everything I was told in rehab and eventually got back to running sub 6 minute miles. I also got back to weight training and got stronger than I ever was. After many years of no problems And running a 1/2 marathon in 2010. I decided to take up softball as a new hobby. ( not a great idea) I was never that good years ago and still not so good, but while swinging the bat, I threw my back out pretty bad, and I have struggling quite a bit with SI and lumbar pain over the past 2 years. I went for a MRI recently just to see what was going on and I herniated L4-L5 and L5-S1 has some scar tissue and mild bulging again, touching my S1 nerve root. Well, I have decided to work on core and taking anti-inflammatory mess this time. I am going to give it more time. But I do feel pretty good. Long story short, for all you wonderful people out there that may have a sustained a back injury. Know that you are not alone. And that although it may seem like it isn’t going to get better. Believe me “IT WILL GET BETTER”. There is a reason why they say time heals all wounds and that is because it will. And if you choose to have surgery, put time and research into finding someone that you trust and feel comfortable with. And if you choose not to have surgery that is fine too. I also read this book recently by John Sarno ( healing low back pain) which helped my anxiety incredibly.

  • Joe Miller says:

    Wow Bret! Thanks for sharing this post. I found it in your comment on Mr. Lawrence’s post. This IS very inspirational. I will re-double my efforts at learning the correct form — your videos and your ebook on Lower Body Progressions are really great!

    –Joe

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