When I was 21 years old, I herniated a disc in my lower back L4-L5.
I played a full collegiate year of lacrosse through this injury. My running speed decreased significantly and I remember a constant gnawing and sometimes debilitating pain that radiated down my leg.
After a few epidural shots to help manage the pain, that summer, I decided to get lower back surgery. I had a microdiscectomy so the protruding piece of a disc is removed, which relieved the sciatica.
After the surgery, I was walking around with a cane for 2-weeks.
The doctor told me I had “degenerative disc disease”. I should not lift any heavy weights again. I wondered if my athletic career was over. After a lot of physical therapy, I played through my senior year, but I wasn’t the same athlete.
Fast forward 17 years, and I have rehabilitated my body. In fact, I can swing a 100lb kettlebell for 20 reps and a couple years ago I deadlifted over 2x my bodyweight. I would have never imagined I would deadlift weight again, as the deadlifting is what caused the disc herniation.
My flexibility is dramatically better than I can remember. The last time I was as flexible as I am now I was maybe 10 or 12. My hips and hamstrings may be even more flexible now.
The “Active Straight Leg Raise” Test Helped Me Identify The Root Cause Of My Lower Back Problems
A turning point in my transformation journey was doing the active straight leg raise test at Functional Movement Screen certification in 2014.
While I had the low back surgery 9 years prior, I had not fully addressed the dysfunction that caused my lower back injury. I had done a heck of a job working around and masking the dysfunction, and had even attained a fitness model type of build.
Up until that point, I had several fitness assessments from some very smart people. But none of these assessments was as powerful as a single test.
During the certification, one of the participants took me through the functional movement screen, which consists of 7 exercises. After the first few, my results were not looking so good. I had relatively limited mobility. Then came the active straight leg raise test.
I start by lying on my back with my arms and legs straight. While my body is motionless, I lift my left leg off the ground…and it barely goes up 3-inches. I did it again. Same result.
I then lifted my right leg up and it went a full 90-degrees. What the heck?!?!?! I had a massive asymmetry between the right and left sides of my body.
I did 1 corrective exercise for 60-seconds. I did the test again on my left side. My leg went up to 90-degrees.
The Active Straight Leg Raise tests your core and pelvic control, along with hamstring flexibility, which combined help you see if you can hinge your hips properly. Clearly, I was not hinging my hips properly. I was protecting my lower back and had developed a major asymmetry.
That weekend changed the course of my life and everything I’ve created and taught since. I’ve done this test with dozens of guys and 30%+ do not pass.
How To Do The Active Straight Leg Raise Test (At Home Version)
- Lie in a doorway on your back with your feet together, toes pointing toward the ceiling, arms straight out to your sides with your palms facing up.
- Your knees should be in line with the edge of the doorway
- Lift your right leg up as high as you can while keeping the leg completely straight and making sure your left leg and foot do not move at all.
- Your right heel should clear the plane of the doorway, which is a pass. If it does not, you do not pass the test.
- You get 3 attempts, then repeat with the other leg.
What Happens If You Don’t Pass The ASLR Test?
Please keep in mind this test and correctives are not a substitute for seeing a qualified professional if you are feeling pain. There can be many reasons why you may have low back pain or issues.
1. Leg Raise With Core Activation
This a modified version of the active straight leg raise with core activation, which does not require a band. You may be able to lift your leg higher by pressing your hands into the ground, which activates your core.
- Lie on your back with your feet together, toes pointing toward the ceiling, arms straight out to your sides with your palms facing down.
- Press your hands into the ground. You should feel your core muscles activated.
- Lift your right leg up as high while pressing your hands into the ground and while keeping your leg completely straight. Make sure your left leg and foot do not move at all along with your head. Breathe deeply.
2. Half-Kneeling Stretch
- Start with your left foot forward, and right knee down, with the top of your right foot flat against the ground.
- With hands on your hips, contract your core to keep from over-arching your spine, and begin to push your hips forward until you feel a stretch in the front of your right leg.
- Squeeze your right glute to increase the stretch. This position might be a big enough stretch for you. If so, hold here.
- For more of a stretch, keep your left hand on top of your left thigh, and raise your right arm towards the sky. Then reach that hand up and over towards the left.
3. Assisted Lying Hamstring Stretch
- With your feet together, toes pointed upwards, and legs straight, place a strap around your right foot
- Lie on your back
- Lift your right leg up while using the strap to assist you so you pull the leg even higher with both arms
- Hold for 10-20 seconds, then return to the starting position. Consider flexing the quad of the moving leg to release hamstring tension.
Let me know how you did in the comments below, or leaving a comment under the Youtube video.