Squats Without Lower Back Pain

Posted on by BEAST Sports

Squats Without Lower Back Pain

Squats are one of, if not the most, physically demanding exercise. It’s hard to argue a reason not to do squats, yet many people stay away from them because of lower back pain. One of the biggest pushbacks I get is, “I don’t squat because it hurts my lower back.” Well, my response is always, "You hurt your lower back because you’re not squatting right." Lower back pain has plagued my powerlifting career, stemming from a football injury that ultimately resulted in herniated discs in my lumbar spine. Here are some things that have helped me and allowed me to keep progressing when it comes to my squat.
Warm Up Properly
Use a generalized warm-up as a way to get blood flowing. This will decrease the likelihood of an injury. width=
Strengthen Your Core
If the musculature around the spine is strong, it’s almost impossible to hurt your lower back. The core muscles are made for stabilizing, so heavy loads through movement has been my favorite. Crunches and sit-ups are not enough. Things like farmer's walks, weighted rotational work, bird dogs, and glute ham raises (GHRs) have always been my go-to exercises.
Improve Your Technique
A strong core means nothing if you’re not bracing in the squat or keeping a neutral spine. The movement looks so different for each individual due to the anatomical structure of each athlete. Not everyone has the mobility to back squat ass-to-grass right away. It’s something you’ll need to work on in your specific range. Everyone needs a third eye on this. If it's not a professional, then it needs to be someone with a lot of experience.
Utilize Proper Programming & Progressions
The long and short of it is you have to squat heavy to get stronger. But knowing when to squat heavy, and at what percentages, followed by the frequency of how much you squat will dictate your results. There’s not one right answer or magic formula, and the majority of it is individualized. I have a rule: if what you are doing is working for you, keep doing it. If it’s not working for you, try something else. Ideally you would work with a coach on this, but there are a lot of free templates out there. Squatting too heavy, too often will increase the risk of injury.
Use Different Squat Variations
You’ll find that you’re better at one type of squats more than others. It’s a good way to find your weakness and also where to improve. Also, using high-bar, Safety Squat bar and front squats put more pressure on the musculature in the lower back, and can help strengthen them, if they are done properly. When my discs were flared up, I couldn’t load my spine, so using a belted squat and doing dumbbell squats allowed me to keep working without pain.
Use Your Belt Less
This doesn’t mean test your 1-rep max without a belt, but use it less with lighter loads. The belt can be a helpful tool for bracing, but you don’t want to become dependent on it. I try not to use it during warm-ups, or until I reach 70% of my 1-rep max.
Work On Flexibility & Mobility
The best way to work on both is using a full range of motion throughout the movement with proper technique. It takes work and time, but stretching (both dynamically and passively) and myofascial release can free up stubborn joint motions to allow full range of motion.
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