Squats are a very popular and one of the most functional exercises used for sports and fitness conditioning. However, since squats involve multiple muscles and joints, a faulty technique can cause undue stress on your lower back. However, by making a few minor changes in the execution of the squat can reduce the strain and pain of this movement.
Why Do Squats Cause Lower Back Pain?
The primary cause of lower back pain when doing a squat is a bad technique. If you over-arch or round your back when squatting, you place pressure on your spinal discs, which can result in lower back injuries such as a herniated disc. Therefore, it is vital that you maintain a neutral lower back when squatting.
How to Stop Lower Back Rounding
One of the easiest ways to stop rounding your lower back when squatting is to make sure you push your knees out harder on the way down and then back up. If you have your knees pointed forward or in, it will usually cause your lower back to round. So, when you squat, make sure your heels are shoulder-width apart, toes pointed out at a 30-degree angle, and push your knees to the side as hard as you can. Make sure that you never squat lower than parallel.
Many people actually don’t even have the ability to squat all the way to the ground. This means that when you try, your lower back will end up having to compensate by rounding at the bottom- which can result in lower back pain.
Keep in mind that you must stop at parallel for a low bar squat. When you try to squat all the way to the ground, you’ll need an upright torso and a high bar position. Additionally, if you squat down with a hyper-extended lumbar spine, you’ll end up with a rounded lower back. On the other hand, if you do a deep squat, it will rarely stay arched. It actually ends up going back to normal, which can seem like rounding, and is known as a “butt wink.” When you stop hyper-extending your lumbar spine, your lower back rounding will also stop.
How to Stop Over Arching Lower Back
Over-arching is a hyper-extension of your lower back and is the opposite of flexion, or rounding of your lower back. However, it is equally detrimental to your lumbar spine because it still puts pressure on your spine, though in the opposite direction. Still, you can end up experiencing lower back pain or even injuries. You should always make sure that your lower back is neutral when you squat, meaning you keep its normal arch, which is known as “lordosis.”
If you go past this neutral position, you’ll end up with pain in your lower back. In the neutral position, your spine handles compression quite well, but if your back is in the hyper-extended or rounded position, it puts too much pressure. If you do tend to hyper-extend, consciously squeeze your abs harder, keeping in mind that you want to keep your lower back neutral. Don’t push your abs all the way out or pull them all the way in- simply squeeze them as if you’re about to be punched in the stomach.
Using a belt for squats is not going to protect you from injuring your lower back or using bad form. Still, it does give your abs something to push against. It will help to remind you to squeeze your abs and fix the over-arching. When you’re unracking a weight, keep your lower back neutral- normally arched, no hyper-extension.
How to Stop Uneven Back Loading
If you tend to squat with the barbell off-center on your upper back, one side will be forced to work much harder than the other. This will end up causing lower back pain on one side when you do squats. Make sure that you pay attention when you’re unracking the weight and place the bar dead center on your back on each and every set. When unracking weight, both of your feet should be under the bar. Never unrack the weight with a lunge movement. If you only have one foot under the bar, you will have an uneven load on your pelvis, which will cause back strain.
Never Lean Forward When Squatting
You should make sure to place both feet under the bar, squat up, and then walk back. If you’re leaning forward, your hips will be driven up faster than your chest. Your torso will be nearly horizontal to the floor and your legs almost straight. This movement will take your quads completely out of it and force your lower back to bear most of the weight.
Instead, when you squat, drive up your chest and hips at the exact same time. It is vital for the bar to stay over your mid-foot at all times. Therefore, place the bar center of your back, and make sure to keep your chest and upper-back tight so it cannot move up. By doing this, you prevent being pulled forward by the weight.
Support For Your Lower Back
The best way to provide support to your lower back is by using the Valsalva maneuver. To do this, take a deep breath standing with the weight on your back. Hold your breath as you squat down. Keep holding your breath at the bottom. As you squat back up, release the breath. Then repeat. When you hold your breath, it keeps your lower back safe by increasing the pressure on your abdomen. Of course, know that your blood pressure will increase, but it will go back to normal when the set is over.
The very worst thing you can do when squatting is to breathe out when squatting down or when at the bottom of your squat. Keep in mind that using a belt will add support for your lower back because it gives your abs something to push against. The harder you contract your abs, the more intra-abdominal pressure you create. Of course, the belt is not going to keep you from injuring your back if you have bad form. Make sure that you make the time and effort to fix your form before adding a belt when squatting. If you’re already experiencing back pain, you should not squat until you have treated the source of your back pain.