How a Back Injury Changed Jillian Michaels' Approach to Fitness

The famous trainer opens up about fracturing her spine in 2021.

Getty Images.
Getty Images.

Jillian Michaels is gaining a newfound appreciation for those dealing with pain, injuries, and chronic conditions after sustaining a serious back injury in 2021.

She wasn't trying a hot new workout trend or dangerous activity when the injury occurred. No, she was simply running to the bathroom to talk to her fiancée when she slipped on the wet floor and fell onto the edge of the bathtub, landing on her lower back.

"I had no idea at the moment," she explains. "I had fractured my spine, and I had no idea."

While she was in extreme pain, she didn't realize how serious the injury was. For three months, she continued to live her life, largely exercising as she always had before, chalking the pain up to stress. "I was doing all the wrong things because I didn't know what was wrong."

Despite owning a sports medicine facility and working under the supervision of physical therapists for years, Michaels didn't understand the pain she was feeling. She got massages, used a Theragun, and did stretches, but nothing seemed to help.

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Finally, her wife took her to the hospital after the pain became too much to bear. "I can't stand, can't walk...I'm crawling on the floor, and it was the most humbling experience." After receiving a CT scan, she learned she fractured her L4 vertebrae and herniated three discs from L3 to L4, L4 to L5, and L5 to S1.

Once she determined the cause of her pain, Michaels began a long recovery process. As someone who built her career around physical exercise, the journey was challenging. "You don't have a choice [but to rest]," she says. "So, what was scary was, you're like, okay, what is the future going to hold for me? Am I ever going to be okay again?"

It took the fitness pro about three months to stand and walk again. Recovery started with getting the inflammation under control through rest and doing exercises, such as "tummy laying," explains Michaels. "You've got intervals of laying on your stomach, and trying to relax your pelvis into the ground, just to calm down the inflammation, and then you're working to stand up and walk."

Thankfully, after months of this kind of work, Michaels is back on the mend, and she's even found a silver lining to her experience. "I have a completely different respect and understanding for injuries, autoimmune conditions, and chronic pain," she says. "I think I was meant to learn this lesson so that I could, down the road in my career, help people going through this."

She's also found a new way to exercise in The DB Method, a home workout machine used by celebrities, including Hailey Bieber, Kim Kardashian, Martha Stewart, Ayesha Curry, and Tracee Ellis Ross. Michaels discovered the supported squat machine on Instagram and has since partnered with the brand to share how it helped her injury recovery process.

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"[The DB Method] takes the stress off the knees and the low back and helps target glutes and core," she explains. Struggling to relearn how to squat following her injury, the machine turned out to be a game changer for the former The Biggest Loser trainer.

Courtesy of The DB Method
Courtesy of The DB Method

While Michaels may physically be able to return to her past workout style, her injury has forever changed the way she approaches exercise. "The days of me doing handstands on Instagram while putting my pants on for some sort of viral fitness challenge are over," she says. "I just don't mess with it anymore. No way," she continues. "Now, I'm very intelligent and careful with my movements, and I stick to all the fundamentals: squats, lunges, push-ups, pull-ups, all the variations, all the plank variations."

Modification is the name of the game for Michaels. "You work around it [the injury], you modify," she says. "I function [at] 100 percent. I'm back to life, you know, back to my way of life prior [to the injury]. It's just about being aware that, hey, now you do have this," explains Michaels. "It's almost like a little time bomb in your back. And you've got to be mindful and respectful...You just have to function a little bit differently than you did before."

Her biggest piece of advice for anyone dealing with an injury is to stay off of the internet and find a medical professional who can give you a specific diagnosis. She also recommends taking your time to rehabilitate your body gradually. If you do so, you might even find yourself better than you were before in some ways, adds Michaels. "Put it this way, I can do 20 pull-ups in a row now."