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Today I went to the gym for the first time to get the program from my trainer. I warned him I have protuding disks in my lumbar and neck areas (lumbar L4-L5 and neck C4-C5). I am going through physiotherapy and I got relevant improvements in the last two weeks, after years of pain and difficulty in moving and occasionally walking. I am around 70 kg, 180 cm. Completely out of training, generally fragile.

The program mostly involves cardio (bike) for heating up (10 min)-cooling down (20 min), and machines to strengthen various muscles. I am a complete ignorant on this regard, but I went through 7 machines, one for the lower back, one for the abdominal (both involved bending my back forward) two for the legs, one for the arms, biceps and so on. I am sure you know which machines I used, but this is a sample of some of them.

I worked with 15 kg in most machines, doing 15 repetitions of the movement every time. I did the full round of the seven machines only once, but I am supposed to do two rounds each time, twice a week.

The point is that after this exercise, now my back hurts as it used to before starting physiotherapy. I don't know if it's expected, nor I know if I can actually bend my back in those machines considering my situation. Do you think the work plan is appropriate, or should I skip those machines ? Alternatively, what can I do to improve my situation ?

Thanks

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Your therapist should be directing your entry into a gym program. The low back and ab machines are probably way over your current tolerance level. Only do what your therapist says you are cleared to do. As you advance in therapy you will have a much better understanding of what you should and shouldn't do and won't have to rely on what someone else tells you. Also tell your therapist your goals about getting in the gym so that your rehab is directed to that level of function. –  BackInShapeBuddy Jan 22 '12 at 8:44
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In general, your back should not be bending during most exercise. Instead, you should be pivoting at the hips and keeping the thoracic and lumbar regions rigid. Your core is responsible for this action. You may want to start with planks rather than ab machines, which require no flexion in the back. Back extensions are good as well--AS LONG AS you bend at the hips and not the back. That should help you get a base to start something more substantial with. –  Berin Loritsch Jan 23 '12 at 16:21
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2 Answers 2

You body will naturally be sore especially in the first few days of your training. My condition is similar to yours; I have about 45-50 degree scoliosis in my lower back and and a few degrees off in my neck area.

My advice is that you scrap whatever program your trainer gave you, find the barbells and plates in your gym and switch to beginner strength programs like StongLifts 5x5 or Starting Strength. The exercises in those are focused on free weight lifts like the deadlift, bench press, and most importantly, the squats. Unlike the machines in a gym, free weights will also strengthen your core muscles because you are forced to balance the weights instead of the machines doing it for you and may alleviate the pain in your back after a few weeks (works for me anyway).

But of course, if you experience more than average back pains after a week of training, consult with your doctor or physiotherapist to determine if you should continue.

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If you're actively seeking medical treatment for a longstanding back problem, I'd advise against starting any sort of weightlifting program without at least consulting with your phylsiotherapist. Also, if you have a recent history of being unable to walk without pain, you may find basic gym exercises a little overwhelming a first. Thats not to say you can't improve with time, and grow into them in the future. Like some other people here said, I'd talk with your therapist about entering an exercise program.

@BackInShapeBuddy made a good point - make sure your therapist understands that you're trying to transition into weightlifting as an eventual goal. When I hurt my rotator cuff and had to go into physical therapy (years ago), my therapist put me on a slightly different plan than if my goal was just to be pain free without physical activity - he actually taught me he to lift safely, and then later recommend a personal trainer for me to move on to.

Keep in mind that gym trainers will have wildly varying levels of sophistication. Some might not understand how to help you through your issues (sometimes successful athletes just don't know how to deal with people who have medical problems because they've never experienced it personally)

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