Lower Back Pain After Squats – Introduction
How can you prevent lower back pain from squats?
Whatever you are training for, squats will help you reach your goals faster.
Along with deadlifts, push-ups, and pull-ups, squats are one of the most productive exercises you can do.
It doesn’t matter if you are trying to burn fat, build muscle, get toned, or stay fit and healthy; if you can squat, they ought to be part of your workouts.
Squats are a compound lower body exercise, which means they work multiple muscles and joints simultaneously, making them very time efficient.
As well as being the so-called king of exercises, squats are also a functional movement pattern that most people do many times a day.
Sitting down and standing up, getting in and out of your car, bending down to tie your shoes, and walking up and downstairs are all examples of squats and squat-like movements.
But, while squats are one of the most productive exercises you’ll ever do, they’re not without drawbacks.
They require good mobility, can be hard on your knees, and some people find that squats cause back pain.
This article will reveal the ten strategies you need to use to avoid low back pain from squats.
Top 10 Tips to Prevent Low Back Pain From Squats
#1. Don’t go too heavy too soon
The world record for squats is well over 1000 pounds!
While most of us will never squat anywhere close to that amount of weight, training loads can still be significant. The more weight you have on your back, the greater the chance of injury, so make sure you progress slowly.
Start with light weights to avoid overloading the discs, ligaments, and muscles of your spine.
Increase your weights a little at a time over the coming weeks and months.
It’s better to make slow progress for months at a time than it is to rush and end up injured.
Remember that even a couple of extra pounds per week will add up to 100 pounds or more over a year.
That’s GREAT progress.
#2. Perfect technique
There are two ways to do any exercise; the right way and the wrong way.
The right way places your joints in a mechanically advantageous position, putting stress on your muscles while keeping too much pressure off your joints and minimizing the risk of injury.
The wrong way increases your risk of injury and, in squats, that invariably means more stress on your lower back.
It’s beyond the scope of this article to explain the ins and outs of proper squatting techniques, but your chances of suffering back pain will be a whole lot lower if you always squat with good form.
In short, learn how to squat properly!
#3. Brace, brace, brace!
While squats are a lower body exercise, in most variations, whatever weight you are using is supported by your upper body.
Supporting the weight with your upper body requires that you stabilize your lumbar spine so that the forces generated by your legs are transferred efficiently to the load you are lifting.
The most effective way to stiffen and support your lumbar spine is to brace.
Bracing increases intra-abdominal pressure or IAP for short, and IAP supports your spine from within.
To brace, contract your abs as if you were expecting to get punched in the stomach.
Next, inhale down into your belly and hold it.
Your entire midsection should now feel solid.
Congratulations, you are braced!
Ideally, you should maintain your brace during your squat but, because you can’t hold your breath indefinitely, this usually means inhaling at the top of each rep and exhaling as you come back up.
Proper bracing and breathing ensure that IAP is highest where it’s most needed.
#4. Do not round your lower back – ever!
A rounded lower back is a weak lower back.
When you round your lower back, the stress that your muscles should support falls onto your intervertebral discs and spinous ligaments.
These passive structures have a poor blood supply and are relatively inelastic, which means they’re easily damaged and slow to heal.
In contrast, your muscles have a good blood supply and heal pretty quickly.
Rounding your lower back is a common cause of back pain.
Reasons that lifters round their lower back include:
- Squatting too deep
- Poor hamstring flexibility
- Insufficient ankle mobility
- Core weakness
- Lack of postural awareness
- Not knowing any better
- Using too much weight
Whatever the cause, do your utmost to avoid rounding your lower back during squats.
#5. Strengthen your core
Whether you wear a belt or not, you can avoid a lot of lower back pain by strengthening your core.
The core is the collective term for the muscles of your midsection, including the rectus abdominis, obliques, transverse abdominis, and erector spinae.
These muscles are your natural weightlifting belt.
The stronger your core muscles are, the more intra-abdominal pressure you’ll be able to generate, and the lower your chances of back pain will be.
A lot of coaches think that squats and deadlifts alone are sufficient for building core strength.
While these exercises engage your core, exercises like planks, hanging knee raises, and rollouts involve more recruitment and produce stronger core muscles.
Make sure you strengthen your core by working it directly 2-3 times a week.
#6. Warm-up properly
Modern life is generally relatively sedentary, and we spend most of our time seated.
Going from inactivity to a challenging squat workout could cause back pain.
You can make this transition more gradual by warming up before squats.
Most effective warm-ups involve several stages:
- Pulse raiser – the part of the warm-up that makes you feel warm! 5-10 minutes of light cardio should suffice.
- Dynamic flexibility – loosen off your hamstrings, quadriceps, abductors, adductors, hip flexors, and calves with some dynamic stretches. Examples include leg swings and shallow progressing to deeper squats and lunges.
- Muscle activation – wake up your muscles with things like mini-band side steps, abdominal bracing (planks), and band pull-aparts.
- Ramped sets – never start your squat workout with heavy weights. Instead, do several progressively heavier sets to acclimate your body to the loads you’re going to use. For example:
- 10 reps 20kg or 45lbs– empty barbell
- 8 reps 30kg or 65lbs
- 6 reps 40kg or 90lbs
- 3 reps 50kg or 110lbs
- 5 reps 60kg or 130lbs (first work set)
While you could save 10-15 minutes by skipping your warm-up, you could lose months of productive training if you end up injured.
So, make sure you leave yourself enough time to warm up properly.
If you don’t have time to warm up, you don’t have time to work out!
#7. Wear a weightlifting belt
Weightlifting belts give you something to brace your abs against, so you can produce even more intra-abdominal pressure.
You don’t just strap on a belt and forget about it.
Instead, you work with a belt by pressing your abs out against it.
If you are lifting heavy, you may find that, try as you might, your abs bow outward when you squat, lowering IAP.
While strengthening your core is a must, wearing a belt can undoubtedly help, too.
The best belts for bracing against are as wide as the front and back, and they’re also tight and stiff.
Worn correctly, you should need to take your belt off between sets.
They are not supposed to be comfortable!
Most lifters should be able to generate plenty of IAP without a belt just by bracing.
But, if you feel that you are losing your brace because you’re lifting heavier weights, it may be time to add a weightlifting belt to your training wardrobe.
#8. Make sure you’re balanced
Your body likes balance.
After all, you are a proportional creature!
Leaning to the side during squats will put asymmetrical stress on your spine, which could cause back pain.
Avoid squatting an unbalanced load by using the same amount of weight on both ends of the bar and placing the barbell on the center of your back.
Also, ensure that you are pushing equally with both legs.
Include some unilateral (single leg) exercises in your workouts so that both of your legs are equally strong, such as lunges and Bulgarian split squats.
Finally, keep an eye on your hips and shoulders. If you see that they aren’t level, you are probably leaning to one side. Pay attention to your technique to make sure your spine is upright.
#9. Avoid hyperextending your spine
To avoid rounding your lower back, you could fall into the trap of hyperextending your spine.
In other words, you could end up arching your lower back excessively.
This issue is often compounded by pushing the hips too far to the rear.
Hyperextension is as likely to cause back pain as rounding!
So, please don’t do it!
When squatting, your spine should be neutral, which means there is a slight lumbar curve.
This curve is usually big enough to accommodate a flat hand if you’re lying on the floor.
More than this is excessive.
Proper bracing should minimize lumbar hyperextension, and a strong core will help too.
Monitor the position of your spine to ensure it remains neutral during squats.
#10. Train smart as well as hard
While back pain can come on suddenly and unexpectedly, there are often warning signs.
Ignoring these signals can mean a minor issue that would have healed in days turns into a severe injury that takes weeks to overcome.
Listen to your body and back off if you feel that something is not quite right.
For example, if your form is starting to break down, reduce the weight or do fewer reps on your next set.
Don’t stubbornly stick to your planned workout and end up injured.
You could just be having an off day.
Alternatively, if your lower back feels sore and stiff despite your warm-up, reduce your weights and take it easy rather than risk hurting yourself.
While you need to work hard to progress toward your fitness goals, you also need to train smart to avoid unnecessary pains, which applies to squats, deadlift injuries, and even elbow pain from lifting weights!
Taking it easy today could mean you avoid the back pain that could affect weeks or even months of workouts.
Low Back Pain From Squats – Wrapping Up
Squats are a very natural movement.
So natural that it’s hard to avoid doing squats at least a few times a day.
Doing squats in your workouts will help you reach your training goals more quickly, too.
However, as beneficial as squats can be, they can also cause problems.
While many of these problems are avoidable, some are tougher to deal with.
In some cases, you may need to change the squat variation to prevent unwanted aches and pains.
For example, while back squats are the most widely performed squatting exercise, other variations may suit you better.
Goblet squats are usually easier to master, and hip-belt squats put next to no stress on your lower back.
So, while squats are essential, there is more than one way to do the king of exercises.
Choose the variation that provides you with the most benefits and the least amount of risk.
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