23 Exercise – The Cure for Back Pain

InForm Fitness Podcast


As the Founder of InForm Fitness’ Power-of-10 Workout, Adam Zickerman makes the claim every day that InForm Fitness offers the safest, most efficient strength training program around. But Adam has a confession for InForm Nation. Adam suffered an injury while exercising that resulted in acute, knock-you-on-your-butt, back muscle spasms. You can imagine Adam’s dilemma as to whether or not he should fess up or cover up his recent injury. Hear the whole story in Episode 23 beginning with the surgery he experienced as a child, the details of his injury, and how he seems to have found a cure for his lifelong ailment.

Click this link to read Adam’s story at INFORM INSIGHTS

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Tim: And we’re back, InForm Nation! Glad you’re doing us once again here for episode 23, on
the InForm Fitness Podcast. Twenty minutes with Adam Zickerman and friends. For those
joining us for the very first time, let’s go around the horn and introduce everybody. I’m Tim
Edwards with the InBound Podcasting Network, and a client of InForm Fitness, and joining me
here in person at the InBound Studio is co-owner and general manager of the Burbank InForm
Fitness location, Sheila Melody. Sheila, nice to see you three dimensionally instead of 2D via
Skype nowadays, thanks for joining me.

Sheila: Yeah, this is fun!

Tim: And still in boring old 2D through the magic of Skype is general manager of the Manhattan
location, Mike Rogers, and the founder of InForm Fitness, New York Times bestselling author,
Power of Ten: The Once a Week Slow Motion Fitness Revolution, also affectionally known as
the guru, Adam Zickerman. What’s up fellas?

Adam: Hey.

Mike: I’ve never called him the guru.

Tim: No, ever?

Mike: I’m going to start calling you that now, matter of fact, the guru.

Adam: Mike was booking some guests on one of our podcast episodes, in his letters he writes,
and he refers to me as his boss. I meant to talk to Mike about that, saying boss. Refer to me as
your — I don’t know —

Tim: Your superior. The boss, the founder, Adam.

Adam: Your colleague and the founder of InForm Fitness.

Mike: You’re going to go there, okay. You’re going to wish I said boss next time.
Tim: Alright well the boss has been having problems with his back, or at least he has in the past,
and here in episode 23, we’re going to refer back to a blog post of yours Adam from June of last
year, 2016: Back Spasms From Exercise, which we’ll have a link to in the show notes of course
if you’d like to read them. In the blog post Adam, you offer up a confession, and you mention a
back injury that you suffered as a kid. Now we’ll get to that confession in just a moment, but
let’s start with the injury you suffered; what caused the injury, back many, many decades ago?

Adam: Yeah I was a teenager, and I don’t know exactly what caused the injury. I think it was a
combination of sports and being active, but I also had this weird obsession about jumping
staircases, and when I think back on my childhood life, I really think that my back injury was
from trying to jump down ten stairs or fifteen stairs. I started to keep increasing the amounts of
stairs I could jump.

Tim: I did the same stuff, I really did.

Mike: You probably hit your head one time and that’s why your memory is —

Adam: I do remember where it manifested itself. It could have been the stairs — when the back
problem happened, I didn’t feel it right away. It was during actually a basketball game, I was a
point guard, and up until that point I was a pretty good point guard. At this particular game, I
couldn’t cut to my left. There was no pain, I was just very slow cutting to the left, and the ball
kept getting stolen from me at mid court, and my father who was watching the game was like,
and my coach and everybody was like, that’s very unusual for Adam to get the ball just taken
from him like that, every time he brings the ball up. It was that night that all of the sudden the
back pain started. Now I’ve been saying for years that I think it was the basketball game that hurt
my back, but very likely it was probably something before that that led up to it, and I’m thinking
that crazy idea I had about jumping off of staircases.

Tim: So 35, 40 years ago is when this probably began.

Adam: Yeah, the symptoms were numbness in my right leg, radiating down my leg. I couldn’t
bend at all, I couldn’t bend at my waist at all. I couldn’t sit for more then a couple of minutes
without the pain, I had to stand or lie down.

Tim: As a kid.

Adam: I was a kid, and the back of my leg was in a lot of pain and numb at the same time, my
calf was numb. To this day, there is slight numbness to my slight calf compared to my left calf. I
can feel some sensation, but it’s definitely dulled; to this day, it’s never recovered, so there’s
probably a little bit of nerve damage back then.

Mike: So did you go to the doctor and find out what exactly happened?

Adam: So we go to a doctor and remember I’m eleven, and when you have these symptoms as an
adult, right away they say let’s look at the back, but as a child, the last thing they were thinking
about was a nerve compression of a herniated disc. So they were looking for everything else,
including tumors of the spine. So there was a point there where I was meeting with oncologists
and getting tests at NYU at New York University Medical Center. The tests for everything but a
herniated disc, and when they eliminated all those things, they said could this kid have a
herniated disc, and they performed a procedure called a myelogram. Which is a crazy
procedure where they inject a dye into your spinal column, and they turn you upside down on a
table, literally upside down, and let the dye kind of go down the spine or really up the spine, and
when they see the fluid, this dye that they inject into your spinal column. When they see that dye
deviate to the right or the left, that’s where the herniation is, and that’s how they were able to
determine disc herniations back in the day, in the 70s. They still do that procedure but much less
so now. So a myelogram is more or less an archaic methodology now, MRIs have pretty much
taken over that. So when they saw the fact that I had a disc herniation, they were like holy cow,
and I had surgery. I had surgery by a neurosurgeon, the surgery is called a laminectomy, and in
part of the spine vertebrae, there’s something called lamina, and the lamina was removed to
pretty much reduce the pressure that was being pushed against it by the disc, pushing a nerve into
the lamina. So they took away the lamina, no more pressure against the nerve, and the pain went
away, but there was a compromise there. There was a structural compromise done when you
remove structure from your vertebrae. So ever since that surgery, I’ve been able to bend and I’ve
been able to play all my sports, and I’ve lived a fairly normal life. However, probably ten years
into post surgery, I would start getting back spasms. These horrible, horrible, bring you down to
your knees, can’t move, and if you move, you go into another spasm. It’s almost like being
hooked up to a car battery and every time — you sit and you’re kidnapped, and every time you
say something wrong, they hit the switch and you’re shocked. That’s what a back spasm is,
where there is sometimes I would be suffering spasms and if I tried to move out of my position, I
would go right back into position. It was just nonstop spasm after spasm after spasm, and this
can go on for hours. They’re excruciating, it’s literally like being shocked.

Sheila: It sounds like torture.

Adam: It’s very painful.

Tim: And this is something you experienced in your twenties now? These back spasms.

Adam: I’ve been experiencing those from my twenties up until now.

Mike: I’ve seen Adam over the years about half a dozen times, during the workday, they kind of
come out of nowhere. I don’t know if he worked out earlier that day or whatever, but I’ve seen
him have to go down to the ground and put a tennis ball, just lay down on a tennis ball and stuff
like that.

Adam: Those are for the good ones. Sometimes they got so bad that I would literally get
nauseated and want to vomit, and it’s just relentless, it doesn’t go away. The only thing that
makes it better is time. A couple days on my back, it finally starts to subside. I also take
Flexeril, which is a muscle relaxant, and that seems to take the edge off when things are really
bad. Alright so that’s the history.

Tim: Let’s fast forward a few years now, right, because Adam, let’s jump to the confession now.
I’ll tell you, if I’m listening to this and I’m hearing you, Adam Zickerman, the founder of InForm
Fitness, suffering from back spasms, my first question honestly is, well did that happen as a
result of high intensity strength training?

Adam: No, definitely not. Although I’ve tweaked it during workouts, the confession that you’re
referring to, this blog that I wrote, I was doing leg press, and I was pushing myself. I set a new
weight, it was a new seat setting that put a little bit more strain on my back apparently. I was
training myself and probably my thought went somewhere else, and my hips lifted a little bit, and
all they have to do is lift a millimeter, and bam, I felt something. It wasn’t the spasm, but I felt
something, I was like oh boy. Usually you feel something and it just progressively gets worse,
and I know I’m in for it. Sometimes you feel that pain, I’ve been dealing with this for so long in
my life, you feel that initial pain and you say to yourself, okay, five more hours from now, I’m
going to be on my back. I’ve got to get my ass home, put that ice pack on, and hope for the best.
Of course it comes, it does come, and it came this last time, and this was less then a year ago.
Tim: I remember we recording some podcasts last year, and you were really struggling with your
back during one of those episodes that we had. So this happened, that’s your confession Adam, in
your blog post was —

Adam: The confession is here I am, exercises quote unquote guru with a bad back. It’s like being
an obese nutritionist or something.

Mike: They’re out there.

Adam: I interviewed one, not to change the subject, but somebody came looking for — making
some nutrition referrals and she was overweight, I was like come on.

Tim: So here you are, again like we said, founder of InForm Fitness, on one of your machines.
You just lost focus, and maybe one of the mistakes you made I guess was training yourself, and
someone not watching you as closely as all of the trainers at InForm Fitness do with their clients,
and this happened. So there’s that confession. So since this incident Adam that you mentioned in
your blog post, have you had any back spasms?

Adam: No I haven’t, and I think there are a couple of reasons for it. One reason we’ll talk about
now, and another reason we’ll talk about in another episode of our podcast.
Mike: Real quick Adam, is this the longest period you’ve gone without a back spasm?

Adam: This is — I’m approaching the longest period I’ve gone without a back spasm right now.
The last five years, I’ve been getting about maybe two or three back spasms a year, now it’s been
about a year since I had one. When I was in my twenties, I only got one a year. The difference
between when I was in my twenties and recently was they came more often, and they healed a lot
slower when I got older. When I was in my twenties and thirties, I would get one, a couple of
days later, back to new. Now, been lingering, my wife has been saying, wow Adam, it just seems
like your back is always hurting now, always crooked. Even when I wasn’t in spasm, my posture
was just off, and there was always this like — I would say, I would give it a 4/10 in terms of
pain, just ongoing. So I was always feeling something in my back at a level four, spasms are a
ten plus. When I’m about to go into spasm, sometimes there’s an eight and seven, and I can
work. I can go into work with an eight and deal with it, and I kept saying this is muscular, this is
neuromuscular, this is not structural. I know my body, I know an MRI is going to be what they
say in medicine as remarkable, it’s not going to show much of anything, but of course because
they were lasting longer and becoming more frequent, I was like what do I have to do lose? Go
get an MRI, what’s the big deal? So I got it, and I got it about a year ago, and it showed some
slight herniations, grade one vertebrate slippage, but there are MRIs out there that show a lot
worse, and the patient is asymptomatic and they don’t have any back problems. And there are
people that don’t show anything that have severe back problems, so my MRI was basically
unremarkable, and it didn’t indicate anything major that would be causing all of these spasms,
let’s put it that way. So I was frustrated, I trained people day in and day out with safe exercise,
and I strengthened their lower back, and there’s that expression that cobblers’ children don’t have
any shoes. I have to — here’s another confession, I was not doing my back exercises that I keep
imploring my patients or clients to do, to do that regular back extension, back strengthening
exercise, and I wasn’t doing any follow up type of work like pelvic tilts, hip thrusts, things that
could create movement of that hip and lower back area. I was working all the time, I was sitting,
I was commuting long commutes, and I really wasn’t doing what I thought I should be doing. I
just couldn’t take it anymore, after the MRI came back and showed that there was nothing to
really write home about, I said you know what, I’ve just got to start taking care of myself. I was
doing all of the major exercises, the leg presses and the chest presses and all of the things that
guys like to do, but I was ignoring the lower back. So I’ve been doing that regularly now,
absolutely regularly for the last year, and I have to say especially in the last four or five months, I
am, well, for the first time since I was in my twenties, I can say that I don’t feel my back
anymore. I don’t feel that thing there that’s been following me around like a black cloud. I have
literally no pain in my lower back, and it hasn’t been this way for quite a while now, knock on
wood, because it can come at any time, but I don’t remember the last time that I could say that I
have no pain in my lower back.

Sheila: And would you say consistently?

Adam: I was at a three or four for months at a time, I can keep it at a three or four. The one long
airplane ride or car ride and I’m back to a five and six, or funny enough, when I would do sports,
it would feel better. So there’s something to that movement that would make it feel better. I
remember going to skiing and thinking to myself, I don’t know if this is a good idea dude. I
know you love skiing, but maybe it’s time to hang up the bindings, and well I went, and I’m
telling you, it felt batter. My back would feel better after something like that, or long bike rides,
my back would feel better. So there was something to that movement, and all these things
together made me say let’s take care of your back finally. Get on that lower back extension
machine on a regular basis, do your pelvic tilts. Ice, I would ice my back on a regular basis. I
would get massages on a regular basis, and now here I am.

Sheila: You say on a regular basis, are you talking weekly, weekly you’re doing a routine that
supports your back?

Adam: Yes, weekly and daily. The weekly thing is the high intense, lower back extensions. The
daily is the icing it once a day for twenty minutes or so. I would do pelvic tilts, I would do some
light stretches, and I would also on a weekly basis, I’d have some manual therapy. Some deep
tissue massage, and the combination thereof — I’ve been doing a lot of things, so it’s hard to
know which one of those things is the answer. It’s probably the combination, and the reason
we’re doing this podcast, this episode of the podcast right now is because I think I’m onto

Tim: You see a very dramatic change.

Adam: Mike has also been doing a lot of this stuff recently with his patients or clients.

Mike: The thing is, I think all around health, this is from my experience and I’ve talked to
chiropractors, physical therapists, orthopedists, and we’ve read lots of books on the matter, and
I’ve taken other courses in fitness, and what I’ve learned is there is our weekly exercise that we
need to do for our strength, and we’ve found a nice, safe, efficient way of doing that, but Adam
mentioned some daily exercises, and I’ve prescribed very, very simple little things that take
about five minutes on a daily basis, and people who are compliant to these little things — and
these are just mobility exercises, activation of the muscles, nothing intense at all, and they
involve little pelvic tilts. Whether you’re laying down on your back or you can be on all fours,
like a child pose, bird, dog, some little glute bridge leg raises type of things, and very light
stretches of the hamstrings and calves, and I’ve found unbelievable results from people, in
addition to their workouts that they come for once a week. The ones that are compliant, doing it
three, four or more times a week, within two weeks they’re feeling a lot better. So I think the
formula involves some small daily exercises as well.

Tim: In addition to that Mike too, I’ll just speak for myself. I had some lower back issues and
when I first started at InForm Fitness, the leg press was really giving me some problems, and
Anne Kirkland, one of the trainers at the Burbank location, went in and made some adjustments
to how I was sitting in the leg press. She put something behind my back I believe.

Sheila: A lumbar pad. Anne has additional certification in low back.

Tim: And immediately fixed whatever issues I was having with the leg press, so you do the same
thing there I’m sure as well in New York.

Mike: I’m sorry to interrupt — if you’re in the wrong position, things are not going to be good
no matter where you are, and I think that’s the benefit to being here is it’s one on one, it’s slow
motion. We have time to sort of assess and see where we are, first of all, to make sure that the
seat position is correct, and then to monitor your form throughout the set.

Tim: That’s right, and that’s what happened to me as I mentioned a few moments ago. I was on
the leg press, having a few issues with my back, just a few minor adjustments from my trainer
and the back pain went away. Hey guys, as you can tell by the music, our twenty minutes allotted
for this episode is up, so it’s time for us to wrap it up. It also means that for you, on the other side
of the speakers, if you began your high intensity strength training workout at an InForm Fitness
when we began this episode, you too, would be wrapping it up. For the entire week, now you’ll
be wiped out, but you’ll be done, and you can begin enjoying your rest and recovery, to prepare
for next week’s workout. We’ll do the same here at the InForm Fitness Podcast, we are going to
continue our talk regarding back pain. We’ll also be joined by Dr. Louis Fierro, a chiropractor
who works with Adam in the InForm Fitness Active Rehabilitation program. Dr. Lou will offer
up his suggestions and solutions for those experiencing back pain of their own, plus we’ll dive
into the psychological aspects of a negative diagnosis, such as a back problem, and how that
alone can prolong an illness or an injury. We’ll share some interesting data that supports the
notion that a simple attitude adjustment can change the course of your rehabilitation. Hey, if
you’d like to give this workout a try for yourself, to find an InForm Fitness location nearest you,
just fitness informfitness.com. At the time of this recording, we have locations in Manhattan, Port
Washington, Denville, Burbank, Boulder, Leesburg, and Reston. If you’re not near an InForm
Fitness location, you can always pick up Adam’s book: Power of Ten, the Once a Week Slow
Motion Fitness Revolution. Included in Adam’s book are several exercises that support this
protocol, that you can actually perform on your own at a gym nearest you. Hey we have a lot
planned here at the InForm Fitness Podcast that we can’t wait to share with you. In the next few
weeks, we’ll be speaking with Gretchen Rubin from the award winning Happier podcast. We’ll
also be talking to Dr. Martin Gibala, author of the One Minute Workout, and in another episode,
Adam will be discussing a diet plan that, in his words, has changed his life, and of course as I
mentioned earlier, chiropractor Dr. Lou Fierro joins us next week. For Sheila Melody, Mike
Rogers, and Adam Zickerman of InForm Fitness, I’m Tim Edwards, with the InBound
Podcasting Network.