The squat is one the most effective exercises to improve movement patterns, mobility, and strength. However, for many people the squat aggravates their lower back pain which leads them to avoid the movement all together. Lower back pain with squats can happen for a number of reasons and shouldn’t be ignored. If this sounds like you, don’t worry. By assessing and addressing different areas of the body we can perfect your squat and take the load off your lower back.
Six Reasons For Lower Back Pain With Squats
And How To Fix
The Wrong Stance
When I ask clients to squat many default into the ‘hip width, toes pointed forward’ squat stance. This is how I was originally taught to squat all the way back in high school. The reality is that each person will have a unique stance based on their anatomy. The width and amount of ‘toe out’ will be different based on your anatomy. Squatting with the wrong stance (too narrow, too wide, wrong toe out, etc.) can place more force on your lower back and lead to pain.
Yes you read that right. Tight ankles can lead to lower back pain…especially when squatting. Your body is smart. And when it lacks range of motion in one area it will compensate at other areas to be able to perform the movement. With squatting, tight ankles can cause your trunk to fall forward, placing more load on the lower back and lead to pain. If you have tight ankles, be sure to stretch and mobilize before a squat workout.
Tight ankles can lead to your trunk falling forward and placing more force on your lower back.
Stiffness in your hips can also lead to lower back pain when squatting. If we don’t have full range of motion of our hips, sinking too low into our squat can result in backwards tucking of our pelvis (also called the butt-wink). This puts our spine in an unstable position and can be the source of lower back pain (especially at heavier weights).
The short term fix would be to limit the depth of your squat before your pelvis starts to tuck (usually when your thighs get to parallel w/ ground). The long term fix would be to work on improving hip mobility to keep a stable spine with full depth squatting.
Hypermobile Mid Back
While some back pain with squatting can be attributed to lack of mobility and flexibility. Others can be attributed to being too flexible (also called hypermobile). A common reaons for lower back pain with squats is caused by too much flexibility in the mid back. This causes an overextension of the spine that overloads your facet joints and causes lower back pain when squatting. Keeping an Abdominal Brace when squatting is needed to control spinal movement and avoid this over-extension.
Overextension of the mid back when squatting lead to lower back pain.
Side To Side Imbalances
Most people have subtle muscle and strength imbalances in their leg due to having a dominant leg. These imbalances can be exagerated if you’ve ever injured or had surgery to one leg. This can cause what’s called a ‘Lateral Weight Shift‘ when squatting. This subtle shift can lead to on portion of the lower back taking more impact than another. Too much weight and too many repeptitions will lead to lower back pain with squats.
A lateral weight shift when squatting can cause lower back pain
Lack Of Pelvic Control
A common movement pattern mistake I see people make when squatting is to initiate the movement by rocking their pelvis forward. This leads to an overextension of your spine that compresses the facet joints. Too many repetitions or too much weight and this will cause lower back pain when squatting. Maintaining an abdominal brace througout the movement will control pelvic and spinal movement.
Initiating the squat by rocking the pelvis forward compressing the joints in the lower back and
When it comes to overcoming back pain, squats should be part of the solution…not the problem. By taking the time to addess mobility, stability, and patterning of the entire body we can perfect your squat and keep you moving without pain.
For a more complete understanding of how to move without pain and answers to low back pain be sure to download our free program ‘Solving Pain With Strength’ down below.