How To Train Legs With Herniated Discs: Top 3 Exercises
If you’re looking to train legs with herniated discs but haven’t due to the fear of making things worse or jumping right back into another month-long flair up.
This write up is for you.
I ruptured my L5-S1 Disc over 8 years ago and training legs has been the most frustrating aspect to my recovery and chronic back pain. When you are looking to train legs with herniated discs you have to be picky about the exercises you choose.
I know squats and deadlifts are cool but if you’re dealing with any kind of lower back sensitivity due to herniated discs. You have to dial it back and reintroduce these exercises at a later date.
This is where most people fail at treating their own back pain. They keep pushing the envelope never really giving themselves enough time to heal all while constantly picking exercises that are only going to make things worse.
Can I Squat With Herniated Discs?
This is a really common question for those trying to navigate leg day with a history or diagnosis of disc herniations.
I usually answer this question with another question: Why do you want to do squats in the first place?
Yes, squats are an AMAZING overall body exercises but if they make you feel like crap why do them? If you can build bigger, stronger legs with more endurance WITHOUT doing squats would you be okay with never loading your spine with a barbell again?
It’s a question that most people can’t really answer especially the avid fitness enthusiasts who have included squats in their programs ever since playing sports in high school.
When you want to train legs with herniated discs you have to challenge the status quo for your personal longevity inside and outside the gym. Take a look at all of your classic gym heroes who are now older and no longer competing like Arnold Schwarzenegger.
They’re beat up and scaling WAY back on their training to stay out of pain and alive longer.
You are literally writing your own history right now and you can impact the way you feel and how active you are 15-30 years from now.
What makes a leg exercise "not safe" for herniated discs?
When it comes down to it, it’s not about good or bad exercises. It’s about what the exercise is doing to the body and more specifically to the sensitive area. The first video of this exercising with disc herniation series I cover the 3 critical rules for exercising with a herniated disc.
Now when it comes to picking the right leg exercise, I usually grade it off of 2 key factors:
Herniated Discs and Leg Training Factor 1:
Is the lift causing the sensitive area to become MORE vulnerable and making the herniation worse?
In most cases, this happens from loading the spine significantly and taking the lower back or sensitive area into flexion. For someone who is sensitive and looking to preserve or reverse the disc herniation, the more ideal strategy would be to take out unnecessary flexion and build in more neutral spine or spine sparing movements.
Herniated Discs and Leg Training Factor 2:
Is the leg exercise impacting the herniated discs in a way where pain and sensitivity INCREASE after doing it?
This is not limited to only while you are doing the exercise. You have to also consider days after when the soreness sets in. Some exercises deliver a different soreness punch and how your body responds to this soreness should be a window into either how hard your training, exercise choice, and how well you are recovering. All of these factors will need to be addressed for your specific situation.
I know for me my legs being overly sore is not good for me even to this day (2020).
Another factor is how evenly I am training legs. Which means I can’t just do a bunch of lunges and bodyweight squats and call it a day. I have to train my hamstrings just as much to keep the pull on the hips even.
Keep these two factors in mind the next time you go to train legs with herniated discs.
Should I fix my herniated disc before training legs?
This is a great question and is often best to spend your time reframing this way of thinking then it is to “fixing” your herniated disc.
The thing is, the majority of humans have abnormalities in their spine. Whether it is disc herniations, bulges, or even ruptures that are both symptomatic and asymptomatic.
This means your buddies who do not complain about chronic back pain could have a worst looking spine then you and you wouldn’t even know.
Remember this one thing. Pain does not correlate to damage.
You could have all kinds of things going on with your spine and show zero signs of pain. So just because you have been diagnosed with a herniated disc or are experiencing pain does not mean you are worse off!
So, no, you don’t need to fix your herniated disc before you start training legs. Let’s focus on removing some of the more complicated lifts and add in some simple easily mastered exercises you can do to continue to build strength and endurance in the legs WITHOUT the added pain.
Top 3 Leg Exercises Safe For Herniated Discs
Alright, so you can jump into the video at the beginning of this article for the breakdown of each exercise but just in case you want to skip ahead and get a visual on the top 3 leg exercises safe for herniated discs you can peep them below!
Keep in mind the cueing for these exercises are CRITICAL and I save the detailed cueing for the videos so be sure to bookmark this page and view those videos later!
Exercise One: Hang Squat
Keep the dumbbells in the center between your legs with your palms pointing back. Check out the first video in this post for the full break down!
Exercise Two: Static Reverse Lunge
Follow the same rule with the dumbbell placement and allowing the dumbbell to swing into the midline of the body naturally.
Focus on that back leg and adjusting the position of the upper body for comfort in the lower back. You can also use an object to hold on to for additional support!
Exercise Three: Banded Leg Press
I love this exercise! Watch the video at the top for the specific cueing. The main idea is to think more about moving like an escalator vs an elevator.
This will make sense in the video!
Exercising With A Herniated Disc Is Safe Just Train Smart!
So that is it! My top 3 leg exercises safe for herniated discs along with some questions I get often from readers like you!
Training legs with herniated discs can be frustrating if you’re not following some simple rules and regulations. Its not even about taking exercises out of your program but just training smarter overall.
If you learn to make decisions in the gym based on longevity and how you feel you will be so much happier with the way strength gains and progress that you see!
What has been your go-to lower-body exercise while you navigate herniated discs?
Let me know in the comment section below!
Also, be sure to check out the other videos so far in this Exercising With Disc Herniation Series!