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Lower back pain after squats is something that plagues many lifters. In fact, it’s arguably the #1 reason trainees (especially those new to the gym) avoid what is often called the “king of all exercises”. While lower back pain after squats definitely is a real issue, there are multiple ways it can be addressed and solved. If this is something you deal with, read on to see if any of the below is applicable.
While not being strong enough might seem like the overly simplistic reason why you’re suffering from lower back pain after squats, it’s still often the culprit. You’re only as strong as your weakest link, and if your lower back isn’t strong enough to support your body, a barbell across your shoulders, and to remain tight throughout a full range of motion, it could be why you’re hurting. Adding (weighted) back extensions to the end of your lower body workout for 3-4 sets of 8-10 reps can help.
One of the biggest and potentially most dangerous reasons newer lifters have lower back pain after squats is that they’re not actually squatting. Rather, they’re unknowingly doing good mornings. What happens is they unrack the bar, take a step back, and start to squat. However, instead of coming down to a fully squatted position, they only come down maybe ¼ of the way, then bend forward at the waist.
They then lean forward to the point that their thighs are near their torso, having them think they’re in the bottom position of a squat. Then they reverse the motion, contracting the lower back until the body is upright, and finally squatting back up to the standing position. This acts more as a good morning, putting almost all the emphasis on the lower back.
If you think you may be doing this, have someone that knows squat form watch you to assess your squat. If you don’t have anyone, try to set up a camera or your phone to video your squat form from the side to get a “3rd party” view of what you’re actually doing. If this is how you’re squatting, lower the weight and take a few weeks to learn proper squat form.
There are many styles and stances you can use when squatting. A popular variation is a take on a powerlifting style, low-bar squat. You take a very wide stance, keep the lower leg vertical (don’t let the knees come out past the toes), and stick your butt back. Rest the bar as low as possible on the shoulders, and as your thighs come down to parallel, lean very far forward.
While this variation is good for letting you move a lot of weight, it’s also very stressful on the lower back. If you’re new to lifting, it’s possible that even though you’re progressing, your lower back isn’t keeping up with the newfound strength in your glutes, hips, and legs. Add in the (weighted) back extensions mentioned above, or go to a narrower stance, more high bar squat for a while, instead.
There’s no reason to deal with lower back pain after squats. Ensure you’re actually squatting (and not doing good mornings), use a squat style that suits you, and even add in some direct lower back work. Soon your lower body be getting bigger and stronger with minimal risk of lower back injury. If you enjoyed this article, have look at our write up on squatting every day.