Wins, Losses and Lessons: My Steps to Healing Part One

By Tucker Loken

Over the last couple years, I’ve had some things that were just little irritations turn into pretty serious injuries that impacted my ability to train to my full capacity. I got sick of it and decided I was going to dedicate as long as it takes to alleviate the pain and weakness that was hampering my progress. I’ve had really good input from the people around me, specifically Craig Liebenson, who owns LA Sports and Spine, and Paul Oneid on our Power Rack Strength Team. Starting in February, I gave myself a 4-6 week timeline to make an extensive physical therapy list for my issues, not touch a weight, and cross my fingers that by then I’d be better. I understood that it might take longer, but that was my goal and assessment point. So far, I’ve had some wins, losses and a learning curve.


My knee and leg feel much better. There were some occasional discomfort and louder than normal popping that had been creeping up for the last couple years, and finally last summer it started hurting to the point that I took a couple of months off of lower body work to see if rest would help it. It did, but I was still limited in the exercises I could do. I saw Craig, and after a few sessions, we had a pretty confident diagnosis and a thorough rehab plan. Over the last couple months, it’s worked great, and even though I’m not quite 100%, it’s on its way and continues making progress.

My abs and core have come along really well too. A handful of years ago my abs would cramp here or there when I would do sit-ups after a workout. I switched it to light ab work with sit-ups and planks once in a while pre-workout, and it wasn’t a big deal. Over the last two years, it’s been getting worse and worse though, and it seemed like nothing could make it better. My core was so weak to the point that any amount of direct sit-up type work would make the muscles want to cramp, and I would shake all over the place doing plank and stability work. Even getting out of bed was difficult, and I would shake so much on the way up that the headboard would rattle against the wall each morning. I did the McGill Big 3 religiously, but I wasn’t coordinated enough to use it to its full potential, and it wasn’t targeted for my specific needs. Now, I can do direct ab work without fear. I shake way less on plank and stability exercises, and I have a much better mind muscle connection to both my abs and inner core muscles. Add to that the extra pieces that come in with core work – better control of my serratus, sub-scap, lats, rhomboids, glutes, hip flexors and everything else that’s engaged when you do planks and all the core stability work, and you’ve got some real improvement.


Around July of last year, I started having some stiffness and sensitivity on the left side of my neck, traps and shoulder blade area, and some pain in my arm and numbness in my fingers. This was the original reason I went to see Craig – I couldn’t train around being this stiff and hurting this much. Within a couple of sessions, we had improved my thoracic mobility and core strength which was sorely lacking, and within a couple of months, the numbness was more or less gone. I was feeling good. The numbness and sensitivity in that same area have come back now, and I’ve got inflamed and constantly sore lat and middle erector on that side. It flared up for no real reason a couple of months ago and hasn’t gone away since.

My elbows have been bothering me on and off for a couple of years now too. First, it was the left one that was really jacked up, and then it’s been the right one off and on since. It’s gone through several phases over the last year – it hurt to press heavy, then it hurt to just press down lightly on something, which is when I needed some help and backed off. After some rest and some better lat and serratus development from my work with Craig, the pressing stopped hurting as much, and I was able to train around it with machines and dumbbells. Now, it’s been cracking and bothering me when I do pulling exercises. There’s something mysterious going on in there, and I have yet to figure it out. Getting my biceps and triceps opened up with some deep tissue massage made it 50% better immediately, but since then it’s been at a standstill. We can mark this as half a win.


Working in person with Craig, and having phone calls and check-ins with Paul has been an enormous help, and with their input, I’ve learned some valuable lessons about my body.

Weak muscles in the arch of the foot caused me to put more emphasis on the outside “blade” of my foot on that side, which overemphasized the lateral quad and outer muscles of my leg and left them tight and overworked. The adductors, medial quad and everything else on the inside was underdeveloped. Lots of single leg stuff, glute bridges, banded walking and squatting with very deliberate intentions on my foot’s arch and toes, and a couple of deep tissue massage sessions have been a considerable help to sort this out.

We’ve got a couple of theories going on here, and I have a feeling they’re getting close to the explanation. When I first saw Craig, my posture was all jacked up, I had too much of a forward head tilt, and I would often tuck my chin doing chest work to feel my chest better.

My ribs were flared a bit too much, and my lower back was arched/hyperextended more than it should have been.  This was mostly due to lack of core engagement and just a general susceptibility to that type of posture. We got my posture fixed up, my rib cage more neutral and the sway out of my lower back which helped at first. But since I’ve been doing more and more core work, mainly involving much more thoracic mobility to improve my ability to keep my rib cage down with a neutral spine/neck, the numbness has come back, and it’s pretty nasty. Paul’s take is this – I’ve had a specific posture for 20 some years now, and the body is adjusted to it.  Often when you fix one problem, another might surface because none of us are entirely symmetrical. He used an example of someone who might tilt their hips to one direction when squatting; if you were to “fix” that, then you might have to deal with something else down the chain in the knee, leg, or even back. That person has been squatting big weight for years a certain way, and unless they are encountering serious injuries from doing it that way, you might not want to change much besides minor things to mitigate injury. Changing form just for the sake of “perfection” might give you more problems than you initially had.

Craig has mentioned this school of thought as well, and I’m starting to agree. Balance and symmetry are good, but if you’ve been performing a certain way for so long, don’t expect the body to adjust immediately when you deliberately change one little thing. You could unintentionally topple all the stuff you’ve been working to build up. Relating this to my back, I’m hoping I need to let it adjust slowly to having better posture, core strength and mobility. It’s a lot at once and trying to be so perfect with all of it could have crossed a line and irritated it more than I was expecting. I’m going to back off, let myself slouch little more and find a happy medium between old bad habits, new good posture, and slowly work my way towards optimal posture and position.

Who the hell knows. Paul isn’t sure, Craig’s theory of needing more serratus and lat work to help with pressing work, but I’ll be going back to him soon to have him reassess now that it’s bothering me with pulling exercises.

The Next Steps

I’ve taken two whole months off of any weight training, and I think I’ve gotten as much as I can out of it. Per conversation with Paul, more isn’t always better, and in this case going from pushing weights frequently, and developing muscular and neural tone, and then completely backing off can lead to some pain by allowing the muscles to get so soft and untoned that they don’t hold things in position the way they’ve been trained to. Add in lots of mobility work, and there may be some instability created by this scenario. It’s time to tighten up again, shake the rust off, and start working out. For this next phase, I’ll give myself another 4-6 week of doing my upper body and lower body PT work just like I had been for two days a week, and then add in some light bodyweight and DB work. I’m staying away from bars and machines in the hopes that continuing to work stability with light weight and lots of reps will tighten things up and get my tissue moving before I move anything heavy.

The Ultimate Goal

I’m about halfway healed up as of now, so if I can get the elbow taken care of and let the back settle down, we will be in business and ready to go. I’m giving myself such a long timeline because I’m tired of being afraid to lift heavy and having to train around things. I would much rather spend six months working on all these recurring injuries and get 15 years of consistent training out of it, than half-ass it and end up dealing with this again in the next year. I don’t expect everything to be perfect since cumulative damage takes its toll whether you like it or not. But, as long as I can train without pain, be able-bodied and healthy in regular life, and be aware that certain parts of me can be sensitive to injury and may require more PT and tissue work to stay healthy, I’m okay with that. You’ve only got one body, and it may not be perfect, but if you’ve got to live in it your whole life, you might as well not wreck it in your 20’s.

Learn more about the McGill Big 3 and how these three simple movements saved World Record Holder, Brian Carroll’s lifting career in the groundbreaking book “Gift of Injury” by Brian Carroll and Dr. Stu McGill – on sale now!


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Tucker Loken is a Bodybuilder turned Powerlifter turned Powerbuilder from Eugene, Oregon. He did his first bodybuilding show when he was still in high school, and has been training male and female competitors for shows since 2011. Several years ago he decided to take a step away from his normal routine and learn how to get strong. He worked with Brian for 9 months, added 200 pounds to his raw total and qualified as an Elite lifter in the 220 pound weight class. He returned back to bodybuilding much stronger and now incorporates the 10/20/Life philosophy into his training to keep himself healthy and making continual progress in the Big 3 as well as adding size and shaping his physique. Now part of Team PRS, he brings his unique expertise of nutritional knowledge and how to balance Bodybuilding with Powerlifting to help athletes achieve their best potential.
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