10 Fixes for Lower Back Pain During Squats

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Prevent Lower Back Pain During Squats

There are many reasons why you may be suffering from lower back pain during squats.

The most common cause is incorrect form by using too much weight.

However, there may be more complex factors contributing to the pain.

Such as a lack of hip mobility or weakness in the supporting muscles and joints that are engaged while squatting.

That’s why in this article I am going to share with you 10 ways to identify, fix, and prevent lower back pain by improving your form and strengthening the right leg muscles.

10 Ways To Fix Lower Back Pain From Squats

If you suffer a lower back injury while squatting it is VITAL to find the root cause and work to fix it.

DO NOT try to tough it out.

This will only make the road to recovery longer and lower your chances of being able to squat again anytime soon.

Below are 10 of my recommendations to help you out.

1. Learn the Proper Technique

Using proper form is the first fix you should look to make.

You can spot basic flaws by recording yourself doing squats with just body weight or by placing an empty barbell on your back.

Set up your phone camera at a few different angles to get a full view.

Make sure:

  • You distribute weight evenly on both legs
  • Avoid overly pushing your pelvis forward or backward
  • Push your knees out over your toes as you come up
  • Look straight ahead to avoid spinal column overload
  • Drive up through your heels not your toes

2. Build Core Strength

Having strong core muscles will make it easier for you to squat in the correct form.

This is because the core plays a major role in supporting the spinal column.

On top of that, when properly engaged it works to transfer power throughout your upper and lower body for maximum efficiency.

Here are a few good core exercises:

  • Reverse Crunches
  • Ab Rollouts
  • Deadbug Pullovers

To get the most out of these movements it’s best to perform them 2-3 days per week using moderate to high repetitions.

3. Speak With a Medical Professional

If you’re having trouble identifying where the pain radiates from, speak with a medical professional such as a personal trainer.

They’ll be able to help you make a plan to overcome your injury.

Always be honest with them about any previous injury, current disabilities, and your goals.

This way you’ll be able to work together when creating an effective workout routine for your specific condition.

4. Stretch Your Hip Flexors

Tight hip flexors can prohibit your ability to go deep into the eccentric (downward) phase of a squat without over-rounding your lower back.

They also stabilize your pelvis and spine during hip extension in the concentric (upward) phase.

A popular exercise to maintain your hip mobility is the banded hip march.

It allows you to get used to the feeling of flexing against resistance from a lying position that minimizes impact.

5. Strengthen Your Hamstrings

Most people think that the quads (front of the thighs) are the only significant movers during squats.

While they are the primary muscle being used, when performed properly, the hamstrings are also involved to support knee joint flexion and hip extension.

When these squat mechanics are properly utilized, there won’t be as much direct stress placed on the vertebral column in the back.

That’s why it’s important to perform accessory exercises to build strong hammies.

My personal favorite is the banded hamstring curl.

I’ve been doing them in my pre-squat warm-up routine for over a year.

I’ll typically do 2 sets of 25-speed reps per leg.

These have drastically relieved my knee pain and allowed me to get rid of the butt wink (spinal flexion) at the bottom of my squats.

6. Maintain a Neutral Spine

Failure to maintain a neutral spine during squats can place a heavy load on your vertebral column.

Possibly leading to excruciating lower back pain.

To fix this, focus on keeping your chest up with a slight curve in your upper back and core muscles tight.

Also, make sure your squat pattern is comfortable for YOU.

Meaning only go down as far you can without allowing your pelvis to posteriorly tilt.

7. Use Recovery Techniques

Using recovery techniques will help your legs recover between training sessions.

This is important since tight or sore muscles can lead to postural imbalances and compress your spinal column.

Start by stretching once per day for 10-30 minutes after physical activity.

Take it a step further by alternating between heat, then ice for five to ten-minute intervals on your rest days.

8. Perform Different Variations or Alternatives

If you’re new to BACK squatting or have trouble doing it without pain, try doing another variation or scrap the movement entirely.

After all, there are many equally effective alternatives that will put less strain on your back.

A couple of good exercises include:

  • Leg Press
  • Front Squats
  • Bulgarian Split Squats
  • Body Weight Squats
  • Goblet Squats

9. Practice Lumbar Spine Extensions

When you practice lumbar extension, you will build strength in the stabilizer muscles around your spine, such as the erector spinae.

By performing an exercise like the back extension, you can increase the range of motion in your spine while also working on the areas I discussed previously.

IE: hip flexors, hamstrings, and core.

10. Stop Squatting

If you experience pain or discomfort that is NOT related to muscle soreness then stop squatting.

The worst thing is to continue without regard as this may put you at a higher risk of developing a permanent injury.

Work on figuring out what’s causing the pain and create a plan to fix it.

Implement some of the steps previously outlined and be patient with your recovery.

Mistakes To Avoid When Squatting

There are several mistakes to avoid when squatting.

Let’s start with a common error in most people’s squat technique, which is rounding their lower back.

This is usually caused by improper breathing or a lack of flexibility.

In terms of breathing, always inhale into your stomach before beginning each rep, then exhale as you go back up.

This ensures that your body stays properly flexed to avoid instability.

For flexibility, a couple of common tight spots are the hamstrings, hips, and glutes.

Find 1-2 stretches that work for you and do them consistently at the end of your workouts.

Another mistake is incorrect bar placement.

There are two methods, known as the high bar and low bar squat.

The one you use is dependent on your goals and body type.

With the high bar, the barbell is placed on top of your traps while maintaining a more upright torso position.

This one puts more emphasis on the quads and is not recommended for people with knee injuries.

Low bar, on the other hand, places the bar under your traps with a forward torso lean.

This puts your pelvis in a forward position, which as we know now, is an issue for someone with lower back pain.

(Detailed article comparing the two)

In general, high bar squats require less back muscle activation, making it the preferred choice if you have any back discomfort.

The final mistake I will discuss is improper foot placement.

Some people can squat pain-free with a narrow stance, while others (including myself) have to use a sumo (wide) stance.

Using a wide stance will engage your hips and hamstring more while having your feet close will prioritize the quads.

This makes sumo better for anyone experiencing low back pain.

Furthermore, the right foot placement for you depends on several individual factors.

Either way, make sure to keep your toes facing forward at roughly 15-30 degrees to maximize hip activation.

Effects of Squat-Induced Back Pain

  • Muscle Strain

With the lack of ability from lower back injuries, the surrounding muscles are going to have to compensate.

This puts them under extra stress, which could potentially lead to overuse syndrome in the stabilizers and legs.

  • Herniated Disc

A herniated disc happens when the weight during squats isn’t evenly distributed, which places higher amounts of pressure on the lumbar spine.

  • Spinal Stenosis

Spinal stenosis can be caused by disc, nerve, and bone injuries around the spine.

Although squatting, in particular, isn’t the main factor for this condition, it can make things worse.

  • Hyperkyphosis

Hyperkyphosis is formed through excessive forward curvature in the upper back.

Squats can play a role in worsening this condition when compression is placed on the spine.

Benefits of Proper Squatting Technique

  • Higher Athletic Performance

When performed consistently squats improve power, flexibility, stamina, and speed for activities like running and jumping.

  • Improved Posture

Assuming you use proper form, squats can improve your ability to stand upright.

This is because they strengthen the abdominal wall, which is responsible for spinal and core stability.

  • Weight Loss

Squats are an effective exercise for building muscle.

And the more you have, the higher your resting metabolic rate will be, which leads to more calories being burned during and after your workouts.

  • Stronger Bones

Heavy compound movements like squatting have been shown to a release hormone into the body known as HGH.

This is responsible for increasing bone density and muscular size.

On top of that, placing your bones under heavy stress has been found to spark the osteoblast cells into forming new tissue.

Squat Variations

Before attempting any squat variation, always be sure to warm up with 5-10 minutes of light cardio and dynamic stretches.

This will improve your blood circulation to minimize the risk of injury.

Back Squat

When most people think of squatting, they think of the back squat.

As the name suggests, you perform it with a barbell on your back.

This allows you to overload your lower body with more weight than other variations.

However, due to the bar placement, it’s also the one that tends to cause lower back injury.

  1. Set up the bar in a squat rack at chest height.
  2. Place your hands shoulder-width apart on the bar.
  3. Secure it comfortably on your traps and un-rack it.
  4. Step backward and place your feet shoulder-width apart with your legs straight.
  5. Inhale, then flex your lats and core.
  6. Begin the downward motion until your butt is at least parallel to the floor.
  7. Reverse to the starting position by extending your knees and exhaling.

Front Squat

For front squats, you’ll be holding the bar in front of your body, above your chest.

This is going to turn it into a quad-dominant movement while also helping you maintain a more upright position.

  1. Cross your arms in front of you and place the barbell on your shoulders.
  2. Unrack it and step back with feet shoulder-width apart.
  3. With your torso upright, squat down so that your upper and lower legs form a 90-degree angle.
  4. Reverse back up until your knees are locked.

Goblet Squat

Goblet squats are similar to the front squat, but instead of holding a barbell in front of your body, you’ll be using a dumbbell.

  1. Grab a single dumbbell in both hands with palms facing up.
  2. Hold it directly under your chin.
  3. Lower yourself down as far as you can go.
  4. Return to the start and repeat.

Bodyweight Squat

If you’re a complete beginner, rehabbing from a previous injury, or want to burn out your legs at the end of a workout then bodyweight squats are ideal.

They place minimal stress on your spine so you can focus on perfecting your form.

  1. Assume a comfortable stance with your toes pointed forward.
  2. With your knees extended, squat down until they reach full flexion.
  3. Move back to the start and repeat.

FAQ for Lower Back Pain From Squats

Why Does My Lower Back Hurt During Squats?

A few reasons why your lower back may hurt during squats may include:

– Inadequate hip mobility
– Inadequate core strength
– Excessive posterior or anterior pelvic tilt

Should I Avoid Squats With Lower Back Pain?

Yes, you should avoid squats with lower back pain until you’ve gotten clearance from your physical therapist to resume doing them.

How Do I Stop My Lower Back From Hurting When I Squat?

You can stop your lower back from hurting when you squat by:

– Maintaining a neutral spine through the entire motion
– Tightening your lats and core to support your lower back
– Assuming a wide stance with feet past your shoulders
– Pointing your toes slightly out
– Pushing your knees out as you drive upwards





Eric De Cremer
Eric De Cremer

Eric is an NCCA-accredited Certified Personal Trainer and competitively trained powerlifter. Feel free to contact him anytime at edecremer@wildnswole.com!