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Squats are a staple exercise in any fitness routine, hailed for targeting multiple muscle groups and improving your core strength. There are several ways in which to squat whether that’s back squats or front squats and no matter which squat variation you choose they all offer numerous benefits.
Aside from improving strength and adding muscle, they can aid with ankle mobility and help to strengthen the hip flexors.
However, even when a squat is executed with good form, the exercise can still have its disadvantages. A common problem encountered is lower back pain while squatting.
Lower back pain during squats is a common issue that will typically arise from poor squat technique. Squatting is a challenging compound exercise that requires good mobility to be able to execute the movement with good form.
If you have limited mobility and a weak core, this could result in a poor technique which may lead to a sore lower back. This is further exacerbated when squatting heavy weight, putting you at a higher risk of injury.
So, whether you’re a seasoned weightlifter or just starting out in your fitness journey, understanding the proper form and technique for squats can mean the difference between pain and gain.
This article will look into the connection between squats and lower back pain and uncover the ways to help you prevent pain and injury whilst reaping the countless benefits of this powerhouse exercise.
The Connection Between Squatting and Lower Back Pain
When done correctly, squats are an excellent exercise to build overall strength to the entire body, increasing muscle mass and helping to burn calories by boosting your metabolism.
An effective squat can activate many muscles in the body. This lower body exercise primarily targets the muscles in your legs, specifically the quadriceps, hamstrings, and glutes. It will also target muscles of the lower back and help to improve hip mobility and ankle flexibility.
However, if you perform a squat incorrectly you may put pressure on the lower spine putting you at greater risk of lower back injury. When your squat form is wrong, your lower back muscles try to compensate for the lack of mobility, leading to excess strain and pulling.
What’s more, a poorly executed squat can worsen previous injuries such as a herniated disc or spinal stenosis. So, if you have a history of lower back pain, it’s always a good idea to consult with a medical professional or physical therapist before adding squats into your workout routine.
What Causes Lower Back Pain From Squats?
Lower back pain is all too common among squat enthusiasts, especially when they’re starting out or squatting heavy loads. Whilst squatting is one of the best exercises for muscular development it takes time to condition the body and improve flexibility to perfect squat your squat form.
Below are some of the main reasons why you might be suffering from back problems during your squat workout.
1. Poor Squat Technique
Poor squat technique is one of the primary causes of lower back pain which is usually encountered at the bottom of the squat and just prior to squatting back to an upright position. This phenomenon is known as butt wink.
Butt wink happens as a person begins to lower themselves into the deepest part of a squat. As they squat beyond 90 degrees, their lower back rounds and hips and pelvis naturally begin to tilt under the body, this is known as posterior pelvic tilt.
This tilting can influence the lumbar spine. When the forces of the weight load are placed through the spinal column, this can cause the lumbar discs to bulge resulting in lower back pain.
The most common cause of butt wink is poor mobility at the ankle joints.
To solve this problem, it’s helpful to perform bodyweight squats. This limits the forces going through the spine as there is no weight load applied and, overtime, will help increase ankle mobility.
For a quick fix, you could simply elevate the heels during your squats. This can be done by resting the heels on something such as weight plates or a squat ramp, which will improve your range of motion and alleviate pressure on the ankles.
2. Using Too Much Weight
Don’t fall prey to ego-lifting. You might be in a rush to see results but using weights that are too heavy for you is actually counterproductive in the long run. If you use weights beyond your strength thresholds, your lower back will have to work extra hard to keep you upright and complete the movement.
Squatting with heavy weight when your body is not conditioned properly and your form is off, results in you losing the neutral position of your spine increasing the likelihood of injury and back pain.
3. Poor Warmup Routine
Warming up the muscles is essential prior to undertaking a challenging exercise like the squat. Do several sets using a light weight (or no added weight) on a machine such as the hack squat and also perform some dynamic and static stretches. The benefits of warming up the muscles prior to squatting will ensure you are reducing the chance of injury and improving overall squat performance, so you may be able to lift more weight and with better form.
4. Muscle Tension
Tension around the hip flexors can cause tightness in the hip joints, this is usually as a result of sitting for long periods. This can affect your squat performance resulting in reduced mobility. Undertaking specific hip flexor stretches will help improve circulation and loosen up the hips. Other exercises to improve hip flexion include lunges and even walking.
5. Insufficient Recovery Period
If you don’t give your muscles time to rest and recover in between your workout sessions, they can’t perform at their full capacity. Soreness, tightness, and pain can lead to improper form and put excessive strain on your lower back.
As a rule of thumb, when you are lifting heavy weights, your body will need more time to recover. Listen to your body, if you are no longer feeling the effects of delayed onset muscle soreness then you should be OK to train the muscles again.
Proper Form and Technique For Pain-Free Squatting
As mentioned above, squatting is a technical exercise and good form comes with practice. Below are some tips to adhere too during your next squat session.
- Keep your head and chest up throughout the exercise, this will help to keep your spine neutral and prevent any rounding.
- If you have poor ankle mobility, raise the heels by resting them on a small platform.
- Always look straight ahead, so you don’t unknowingly compromise your posture.
- Hinge at the hips and push the glutes back as though you were sitting in a chair.
- Lower your body until your thighs are parallel to the floor (or as low as possible without compromising form)
- Make sure your knees always remain behind your toes to limit stress on the knee joint.
- Distribute your weight evenly on both feet.
- Keep your core muscles engaged throughout to help with stability.
- Power up through your heels and squeeze your glutes to return to the standing position.
- Keep the movement smooth and controlled throughout the entire range of motion. Squat down slowly but power up faster.
Tips For Avoiding Lower Back Pain While Squatting
Considering everything you have learned about common squatting mistakes and incorrect form, here are some tips to avoid lower back pain while squatting:
- Focus on proper form.
- Start with a light weight (or just bodyweight) and gradually progress to heavier weights.
- Warm up sufficiently.
- Stretch before and after the workout, focusing on your hips and legs.
- Strengthen your core.
- Avoid overtraining.
- Get advice from a personal trainer if you’re unsure as to proper squat technique.
How to Alleviate Lower Back Pain Caused by Squatting
If you’re already suffering from unwanted low back soreness, below are some ways to help alleviate the symptoms.
- Give your muscles plenty of time to rest and recover
- Apply ice packs to the affected area to reduce inflammation
- Try physiotherapy
- Seek chiropractic care
Squats are without doubt one of the best exercises offering huge benefits when they’re done correctly. However, poor form, over training, and excessive weight loads can lead to lower back pain.
Hence, it’s important to follow proper form and technique, do adequate warmup and cooldown exercises, and add only as much resistance as your body can comfortably handle. Remember to always listen to your body.