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Thread: Recovery from a herniated disc

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    There may be hope yet. JustinASU's Avatar
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    Recovery from a herniated disc

    I recently herniated a disc in the lumbar region of my back. Since then I have been bed ridden and chock full o' drugs. I'm still running a course of prednisone for inflammation and seeing a chiropractor.

    Doctors aren't the best resource on how to ease back into strength training after an injury like that. Has anyone had to recover from this kind of injury before? I have no idea how to proceed other than to avoid my favorite lifts (i.e. squats, deads). I would assume some stretching would definitely help. I was thinking of throwing in some dips/pull-ups for spine decompression. I do not actually know if it's safe to roll my back out on a foam roller. I want to get back into my strength training very badly, but I want to do it right this time as opposed to any other time that I hurt myself.

    If anyone has any experiences and/or regimens I can use as a resource for this type of rehab, feel free to throw them in.

    EDIT: BW GHR's may also be an option for stretching and alleviating spinal compression, right?
    Last edited by JustinASU; 04-17-2007 at 03:28 PM.
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    HomeYield WillKuenzel's Avatar
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    Your best bet would be to do some reverse hypers. Get 4-5 2x4's and place them across the safety rods in the squat rack and lay some type of padding over it. Ghetto work, taken from Chris Rodgers' recommendation. I've set it up in my rack and adding some resistance isn't as easy but initially for you, you shouldn't need it.

    Lots of bodyweight squats, lunges, belt squats. Hook bands to your belt and the other end on something low. Now might be a good time to start working on some sumo deads with very little weight of course, but still doing them to get your hips to do more work.
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    HomeYield WillKuenzel's Avatar
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    GHR's might not be a great option just yet.
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    Senior Member Anthony's Avatar
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    What caused the herniation?
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    There may be hope yet. JustinASU's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by HomeYield View Post
    Your best bet would be to do some reverse hypers. Get 4-5 2x4's and place them across the safety rods in the squat rack and lay some type of padding over it. Ghetto work, taken from Chris Rodgers' recommendation. I've set it up in my rack and adding some resistance isn't as easy but initially for you, you shouldn't need it.

    Lots of bodyweight squats, lunges, belt squats. Hook bands to your belt and the other end on something low. Now might be a good time to start working on some sumo deads with very little weight of course, but still doing them to get your hips to do more work.
    Some good suggestions, though the ghetto reverse hypers sound somewhat unstable. Sounds like band resistance could eventually be added.
    Last edited by JustinASU; 04-17-2007 at 03:43 PM.
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    There may be hope yet. JustinASU's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Anthony View Post
    What caused the herniation?
    That's the biggest frustration right now. I was using moderate weight with damn good form on ATF Squats. I had two onlookers to make sure my form was up to par. I went down and hit two rep, hams touching calves. Coming out of the hole on the third rep I felt something snap in my lower back. I managed to finish the rep, but I immediately collapsed and had to go to the ER. I couldn't walk for days.

    The form was great and the weight was quite moderate--it just doesn't make sense. It shook the foundation of everything I understood. The chiro says my hips are somewhat out of alignment and that may have been the cause. I was squatting 3 times a week, but I can't see that being a huge problem.
    Last edited by JustinASU; 04-17-2007 at 04:13 PM.
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    HomeYield WillKuenzel's Avatar
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    With your flexibility not being quite up to par, your hips round under at the bottom of ATF squats. As you turn around and try to come up out of the hole the spine is rounded tremendously and curved under. I can bet that even though it was moderate weight for you, with your back so rounded (and you or they might not have thought so because its your hips that are pulling under and causing this, not higher like you may think) your discs were just being yanked on. I see it almost everyday with clients. Without proper flexibility and ATF squat can become damn dangerous.

    You'd be surprised at how stable it is with 2x4's. I was doing it with just 2 bars and some floor matting and I could do it with bands. Use 2x4's instead of bands and get plenty of base and it shouldn't be a problem.


    In saying all this however, you need to get yourself a good physical therapist. Call around, ask around, talk to other people. Find somebody that can tell you if its your hip flexors or glutes which are tight, and/or your hamstrings or quads. You need to figure out exactly where the imbalance is and fix it before trying to do anything else. It might be a stretch for the wallet but let me put it to you this way: would you rather be able to squat again or will you always want to have this problem and it possibly get worse and never really be able to fully workout again? Get a physical therapist that knows what they are doing and can help you as a strength athlete, not just some PT that is used to working with Joe Schmoe who'll never do anything remotely active after his PT work. It'll be probably one of the best investments you can make at this stage.
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    I herniated a disc in the same region. I don't know if you experienced this, but when mine herniated it pinched my sciatic nerve. Went to a specialist and he sent me to physical therapy. I repeat, do not go to physical therapy for a herniated disc. Anyway it led to me having to have surgery on it. I'm sure you've did your homework on your injury but the worst thing you can do is anything too soon. Ice/heat and anti inflammatory pills are your best option. Stretching is a no-no, until you get the disc to decrease back to almost normal size. This might sound drastic, but I'd recommend at least 3 months off, maybe more. Trust me, better safe than sorry on this area. Good luck with everything

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    Super Moderator vdizenzo's Avatar
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    I had two ruptured discs years back. The best advice I can give you is get as much blood flow to those discs as possible. Here is what I did and still do:

    -Sleep on my back with my legs elevated or on my side with a body pillow between my legs. *This is the most important advice!

    -Walk on a treadmill (road is too hard on the back/joints).

    -Get an inversion table. This allows traction using your own bodyweight.


    I was a far better squatter and deadlifter than I was a bencher when this happened. When I was finally able to get back I focused on benching--my worst exercise. Over time I got pretty good at it. While some doors close, others open.

    I'm sure you will squat and dead again. The advice above will get you there much faster. Good luck.

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    There may be hope yet. JustinASU's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by brians34 View Post
    I herniated a disc in the same region. I don't know if you experienced this, but when mine herniated it pinched my sciatic nerve. Went to a specialist and he sent me to physical therapy. I repeat, do not go to physical therapy for a herniated disc. Anyway it led to me having to have surgery on it. I'm sure you've did your homework on your injury but the worst thing you can do is anything too soon. Ice/heat and anti inflammatory pills are your best option. Stretching is a no-no, until you get the disc to decrease back to almost normal size. This might sound drastic, but I'd recommend at least 3 months off, maybe more. Trust me, better safe than sorry on this area. Good luck with everything
    No physical therapy? That sounds like a bad idea to me. I've actually gotten advice from both my doctor and my chiro that I need to start getting active again. Stretching and spinal decompression can do wonders for my spine, or so I'm told. Call me crazy, but I'll trust to the professionals. Of course there are only certain motions I need to be doing at this time, but after 10 days of bedrest only+anti-inflammatories+pain killers+corticosteroids for inflammation, it's time to start stretching a bit.
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    There may be hope yet. JustinASU's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by HomeYield View Post
    With your flexibility not being quite up to par, your hips round under at the bottom of ATF squats. As you turn around and try to come up out of the hole the spine is rounded tremendously and curved under. I can bet that even though it was moderate weight for you, with your back so rounded (and you or they might not have thought so because its your hips that are pulling under and causing this, not higher like you may think) your discs were just being yanked on. I see it almost everyday with clients. Without proper flexibility and ATF squat can become damn dangerous.

    You'd be surprised at how stable it is with 2x4's. I was doing it with just 2 bars and some floor matting and I could do it with bands. Use 2x4's instead of bands and get plenty of base and it shouldn't be a problem.


    In saying all this however, you need to get yourself a good physical therapist. Call around, ask around, talk to other people. Find somebody that can tell you if its your hip flexors or glutes which are tight, and/or your hamstrings or quads. You need to figure out exactly where the imbalance is and fix it before trying to do anything else. It might be a stretch for the wallet but let me put it to you this way: would you rather be able to squat again or will you always want to have this problem and it possibly get worse and never really be able to fully workout again? Get a physical therapist that knows what they are doing and can help you as a strength athlete, not just some PT that is used to working with Joe Schmoe who'll never do anything remotely active after his PT work. It'll be probably one of the best investments you can make at this stage.
    Actually the spinal rounding towards the tailbone is a perfectly valid explanation. I literally go ATF unlike my workout partners who are satisfied with some ham/calf contact. That could have absolutely been the cause. Damn Will, this is why I need to talk to you more often.

    I'll have to see if the PT is covered by my insurance. Would you recommend dropping the chiro altogether right now or no?
    Last edited by JustinASU; 04-17-2007 at 07:39 PM.
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    Quote Originally Posted by vdizenzo View Post
    I had two ruptured discs years back. The best advice I can give you is get as much blood flow to those discs as possible. Here is what I did and still do:

    -Sleep on my back with my legs elevated or on my side with a body pillow between my legs. *This is the most important advice!

    -Walk on a treadmill (road is too hard on the back/joints).

    -Get an inversion table. This allows traction using your own bodyweight.


    I was a far better squatter and deadlifter than I was a bencher when this happened. When I was finally able to get back I focused on benching--my worst exercise. Over time I got pretty good at it. While some doors close, others open.

    I'm sure you will squat and dead again. The advice above will get you there much faster. Good luck.
    I'm already doing the whole sleeping on the back with legs elevated thing, but I usually end up kicking off the pillow before the night is over. I'm a restless sleeper.

    How long were you out of the game? Did you pursue physical therapy?
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    Senior Member Sensei's Avatar
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    I'd definately agree w. everything HomeYield said. To be honest, I've never hurt my back with anything that I felt was a challenging weight...
    If you have alignment/functional flexibility issues, you can very easily have subtle form changes (like twisting or hip sway to one side or rounding) and not notice it at all unless you videotape yourself from at least a side and rear view. Borrow a camera or get some competent people to scrutinize your form.

    I've never been diagnosed w. a herniated disc, but I've had back injuries that basically put me completely out for days and took months to build back from. Here are some things I have done that seemed to help:

    Soon after injury:
    *rest
    *ice
    *light stretching and mobility work for torso, hamstrings, glutes, IT band (whenever I say "light", I mean a light load, limited ROM, slow tempo)
    *very light ab and lower back work
    *electro-stim
    *contrast baths
    *massage

    As strength and pain-free range of motion improve:
    *light "proprioceptive exercises" - for me, these would include exercises like light one-legged DLs and light overhead squats
    *more aggressive flexibility work
    *more aggressive core work
    *continued ice following training and/or prior to bed
    *massage
    *return to light DLs and SQs - carefully monitoring form.
    *(try not to roll your eyes) pilates and yoga...

    Be patient and don't rush things - if you do, you're likely to end up reinjuring yourself, or injuring something else that's trying to compensate for the injured area.
    A child does not learn to squat from the top down. In other words, he does not suddenly make a conscious decision one day to squat. Actually, he is squatting one day and make the conscious decision to stand. Squatting precedes standing in the developmental sequence. This is the way a child's brain learns to use the body as the child develops movement patterns. Therefore, a child is probably crawling, rocks back into a squatting position with the back completely relaxed and the hips completely flexed, and stands when he has enough hip strength. This approach makes a lot of sense and can be applied to relearning the deep squat movement if it is lost. -Gray Cook
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    I just say no pt because i had not so much bad experiences from it...but let me explain... The exercises/stretches I did in PT for this were very basic and I mean very. I know thats what it takes to get you started back on the right track, but you need to ask yourself.. "Is it necessary?" In fact you can do a search on the internet for exercises/stretches to do for a herniated disc and get the same information without spending the thousands of dollars. The PT might help the motivation to do the exercises, but since you're seemingly serious about your conditioning I don't see it as a problem for you.

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    Super Moderator vdizenzo's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by brians34 View Post
    I just say no pt because i had not so much bad experiences from it...but let me explain... The exercises/stretches I did in PT for this were very basic and I mean very. I know thats what it takes to get you started back on the right track, but you need to ask yourself.. "Is it necessary?" In fact you can do a search on the internet for exercises/stretches to do for a herniated disc and get the same information without spending the thousands of dollars. The PT might help the motivation to do the exercises, but since you're seemingly serious about your conditioning I don't see it as a problem for you.
    Books and sites cannot compare to a good pt. I was fortunate to find a pt who used to throw the hammer in college. He was very interested in getting me back to competing after I tore my bicep. He enjoyed working with bigger guys. It takes a bright and strong therapist to work with a heavily muscled athlete. My guy rolled his sleeves up whenever he saw me and was beaded up with sweat by the time I left. Do your homework on a good pt and it will pay off.

    Regarding my back injury, it took me close to a year before I got back in the gym regularly and another year before I was back to powerlifting. Keep in mind that two of my discs were actually ruptured so your timeline should be much better.

    Lastly, to cure yourself from rolling off your back you can either put a couch cushion under your legs which is much harder to kick or roll off of, or you can get a 10ft body pillow. I have mine under my legs and wrapped up each side of my body. It kind of looks like I am in a recliner. Between that and the cpap my wife gets a good laugh. She did not sign up for this nonsense when we met and I was a little under 200lbs.
    Last edited by vdizenzo; 04-18-2007 at 12:33 AM.

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    Senior Member smalls's Avatar
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    Go see a good P.T. I would imagine your insurance should cover it at least for a short time. They will probably give you a basic extension protocol and lumbar stabilization stuff, but this is a serious injury and even doing something as the wrong stretches too early could make it worse, or at least keep it aggravated longer. And you want a professional to keep an eye on it because this is something that sometimes actually does need surgery, depending on the severity of the bulge, it's effect on nerves and it's response to rest and conservative therapy. It usually takes months for a bulge to shrink down and it never truly heals, so it's something to be stay aware of.
    Last edited by smalls; 04-18-2007 at 01:46 AM.
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    Jesus, bro. You can't catch a break.

    I'm willing to bet that HY is right on. I blew my back doing a submax set of deads with good form, it just went.

    Find a good PT. If you don't like them when you meet them, find another one. It's going to be a long journey.

    If you don't already take microlactin, start. Perhaps at a 1.5 or 2x normal dose.

    Keep your protein high. When you start to get depressed I know your appetite dies off. Keep plugging.

    As Wilma said, there's almost certainly going to be some flexibility issues in your low back/hamstrings. When the PT evaluates you they'll be able to focus on what needs to be done there.

    At this point get some light to moderate massage to the area frequently. You can do this yourself or have your wife do it. Even light massage will promote blood flow.

    The decompression will do great things for your back, but wait on your PT before you do too much of it. They'll fine-tune things and keep you from ****ing things up more.
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    There may be hope yet. JustinASU's Avatar
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    brians34 I think I understand what you're saying, but if I can find a good sports PT and go through a couple of sessions, I feel that I will get more accurate feedback rather than trying to diagnose my own problems.

    vdizenzo Two years to get fully back into PLing?!? I don't know if my psyche can take that kind of abuse. It's been about 2 weeks and I'm already losing my mind. The prospect of being out of strength training for months is once that I'm struggling with.

    smalls Another count for PT, thanks. You say it can take months for a bulge to shrink back down and it never really heals? That's a damn scary prospect. The Chiro I am seeing is a very reputable guy, he does all the college and professional sports teams in the area and he seems to think I can be fixed in a matter of weeks. I'm starting to wonder about this guy...

    Isaac You don't even know the half of it man. SUgery, major car accident, and now this, in the span of two years. I won't put my bitchfest up here on the board, but I might PM you about some other issues I've been dealing with as well.

    I actually just started taking microlactin from NOW foods. I was taking 4gr a day, but I can bump that if you think it'll help. Deprressed is not gonne be the word for it...more like despair, but I'll try to keep the protein high. I guess that might spare some of the muscle I have left.

    I'll look into the PT thing, but I might end up waiting until I see my GP on May 1st so I can get a referral and get it covered be insurance.

    ===========

    Thanks for the advice guys. I'll go with what I have here. I cannot tell you how depressed I am about the entire situation and for those of you who know me it's been one damn setback after another. I guess I'll keep plodding along, but I see my dreams of hitting elite slowly slipping away...
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    Feel free to PM away, bro.

    Your chiro might be very good. My dealings with chiros have been hit or miss. Some have been great, some sucked. All thought that they were the ****. If he's as well respected as you say then he probably has a good idea of what's going on. Keep working with him, especially if he's making you feel better.

    Get a referral for the PT, it'll be expensive otherwise.

    Bump the microlactin to 6-8g. 4g is probably fine, but you have a lot of inflammation.

    Keep yourself from being depressed. Look at it like this: There are some parts of training that you've always hated and skipped on. Those are mobility, flexibility, technique work, and GPP. Consider this to be your wake-up call. Now you can started on that elite total... The right way.
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    Super Moderator vdizenzo's Avatar
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    Justin, I am just happy I returned to heavy lifting at all. I saw seven doctors all of which wanted me on an operating table within a week, one of which was an ortho for the Jets. They all also told me I would never lift heavy again. I went through about six months of medicating with vicodin and beer. I had such bad sciatic pain that I had to ace bandage my calf as tightly as possible to deal with it. I would constantly be wrapping and unwrapping it all day. I could not sleep more than 2 hours at a time for months.

    I guess the message to you is this sport is a marathon--not a sprint. I have competed on the biggest stages in the world in this sport and not because I had one good lift or one good year. Make no doubt about it, this sport will hurt you. Dealing with the adversity is what makes any rewards that much better.

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    Sorry to hear about this bro. Hopefully you get things taken care of. Good luck with everything.
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    There may be hope yet. JustinASU's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Sensei View Post
    I'd definately agree w. everything HomeYield said. To be honest, I've never hurt my back with anything that I felt was a challenging weight...
    If you have alignment/functional flexibility issues, you can very easily have subtle form changes (like twisting or hip sway to one side or rounding) and not notice it at all unless you videotape yourself from at least a side and rear view. Borrow a camera or get some competent people to scrutinize your form.

    I've never been diagnosed w. a herniated disc, but I've had back injuries that basically put me completely out for days and took months to build back from. Here are some things I have done that seemed to help:

    Soon after injury:
    *rest
    *ice
    *light stretching and mobility work for torso, hamstrings, glutes, IT band (whenever I say "light", I mean a light load, limited ROM, slow tempo)
    *very light ab and lower back work
    *electro-stim
    *contrast baths
    *massage

    As strength and pain-free range of motion improve:
    *light "proprioceptive exercises" - for me, these would include exercises like light one-legged DLs and light overhead squats
    *more aggressive flexibility work
    *more aggressive core work
    *continued ice following training and/or prior to bed
    *massage
    *return to light DLs and SQs - carefully monitoring form.
    *(try not to roll your eyes) pilates and yoga...

    Be patient and don't rush things - if you do, you're likely to end up reinjuring yourself, or injuring something else that's trying to compensate for the injured area.
    Missed this one somehow - in regards to the ice - it's been about 1.5 weeks. Wouldn't heat be more appropriate at this point? I only ask because it seems like heat would draw more blood to the disc.

    Also, where would one get electro-stim?
    Last edited by JustinASU; 04-18-2007 at 07:29 PM.
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    There may be hope yet. JustinASU's Avatar
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    For those of you who have herniated a disc before...I have a question. It's been exactly 10 days since the accident. I can walk with little to no pain and I can sit with minimal pain as long as I get up once an hour. Does this seem on par with the healing process? I can even do bodyweight squats with little to no pain. I only wonder because a couple of co-workers I've spoken with who have had the same injury said they couldn't really move for weeks. It almost seems like I'm healing fast than all I hear, which is good, but it makes me suspicious.

    How were your experiences in relation to the pain and range of motion over the first couple weeks?

    EDIT: ok, maybe little to no pain is an understatement, but it isn't nearly as bad as I thought considering I thought I ripped through a spinal erector when it happened.

    EDIT 2: Keep in mind I have had x-rays, but no MRI - I canceled my MRI after the pain improved. The doc DID say it was optional if the pain got better and its a damn expensive procedure.
    Last edited by JustinASU; 04-18-2007 at 08:18 PM.
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    Quote Originally Posted by JustinASU View Post
    Missed this one somehow - in regards to the ice - it's been about 1.5 weeks. Wouldn't heat be more appropriate at this point? I only ask because it seems like heat would draw more blood to the disc.

    Also, where would one get electro-stim?
    IMHO, a contrast bath/alternating heat and ice pads would be a good way to shuttle blood/fluids in and out of the area. If there's still inflammation (which I'm guessing there is), I wouldn't be ending w. heat though.

    I have a small hand-held unit like one of the models shown at this site: http://www.lhasaoms.com/tens_units-101-page.html It is certainly not a miracle worker, but it has saved me several times when I was knocked down w. spasms.

    Again, I've never been diagnosed w. disc issues, but I've always had pretty significant improvement of symptoms the first couple of weeks following acute lower back injuries. Don't be pessimistic, but it's definately not something to get geeked up about.
    A child does not learn to squat from the top down. In other words, he does not suddenly make a conscious decision one day to squat. Actually, he is squatting one day and make the conscious decision to stand. Squatting precedes standing in the developmental sequence. This is the way a child's brain learns to use the body as the child develops movement patterns. Therefore, a child is probably crawling, rocks back into a squatting position with the back completely relaxed and the hips completely flexed, and stands when he has enough hip strength. This approach makes a lot of sense and can be applied to relearning the deep squat movement if it is lost. -Gray Cook
    Lifting Clips: http://www.youtube.com/profile?user=johnnymnemonic2
    Blog: http://squatrx.blogspot.com/

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    There may be hope yet. JustinASU's Avatar
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    I lied. The pain is killing me today.
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    But pull your head on out of your hippie haze
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