I'm now 19 years old, and in college. I was at my "prime" in high school. I'm about 5'9", and on a thin frame (I'm chinese). 145 lbs was always my "max" weight, and I never could, or really tried, to get above this. In HS, when I didn't know there were exercises besides chinups, benching and curls, I could do 3 sets of 10 chinups, 3 sets of 7 of 180 lbs bench, and I don't remember my curls. I've always wanted to get bigger, but never got around to trying because... My senior year I was diagnosed with hyperthyroidism. I didn't know at first because we couldn't afford health insurance so I kept on trying to work out, getting insanely sore, but I kept on losing strength. Conveniently, I also moved into my new house, and my friends and I did most of the moving. Eventually, in the worst couple months of my life, I dropped down to 115 and could barely walk because my legs would give out. Fast forward about a year, I start having back and shoulder problems. Turns out I have a herniated disc in my lower back (I don't remember the exact locations, but I can look them up if I need to). I think it was because I was lifting so heavily when I was at my weakest point. I'm not sure if there's anything wrong with my shoulder, but my shoulder pops everytime I make a full circle, or when I'm doing the exercise where I'm holding the DBs and I lift straight out to the sides. Fast forward another year (about 3 months ago), hyperthyroidism came back, and I dipped down to 130. I wasn't nearly as bad as I was about 2 years ago. I'm back normal again, and gaining weight. I'm at 142 now, same height (5'9"). I really want to start right, gain more muscle mass, and protect my back from further injury. There are a couple questions that I had... -I know there are alot of exercises that help your "foundation" (squats, deadlifts). They increase your practical, usable strength. I'm not sure if I should try these exercises with a herniated disc, because I fear compressing my spine too much may cause another injury. Are there any exercises that can increase my "foundation" without risking injury to my back? -For some reason, when I exert myself, my ears end up popping. I'm not sure if it's an inner ear problem, but I feel like I'm under water and I can hear myself breathing really loudly in my own head. It's really weird, and doesn't happen to anyone else that I know of. After I cool down, it will go away. Any ideas as to what this might be? -Are dips/benching/flys bad for my shoulder? I know of many other people that have the clicking in their shoulder, but they don't experience the pain that I do when doing the side lifts. Should I try "reinforcing" my shoulder with more exercise? I know that most of these questions would be better answered by a doctor, but I don't have health insurance. It's very expensive to see a doctor, and most of the time they'll just refer you to someone else. Any help is greatly appreciated. Thanks a lot!