How to Squat to Protect Your Back

Susan Hoff
January 5, 2022

Save your back and learn how to perfect your technique before resting the bar on your shoulders.

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When toning and shaping you legs, you will inevitable run into workouts that require you to squat. A body weight squat presents little danger, but, once you position yourself under a bar and start adding plates on either side, you can risk injury—especially to your lower back.

Squats are essential for strengthening your quadriceps, hamstrings, calves, abs, and glute max. But, you must have the right form and technique before resting the bar on your shoulders or picking up free weights.

Below are six tips to refine your form for better strength training and less back pain!

1. Keep a Neutral Curve in Your Spine

You will hear trainers tell you to keep a straight back. Listen to them! They are trying to keep your upper body from rounding forward. But, it is possible to over-straighten, which leads to a flexing of your lumbar spine. Pretend as though there is a rod connected to the back of your head all the way down to your hips. Keep your whole back touching this rod at all times. If you flex, your lower back will come off the rod. If you round, your upper back will come off. Especially pay attention to this when you come out of the deepest point in your squat.

2. Reduce Your Weight or Your Reps

When your glutes fatigue, your supporting muscles will come to the rescue. Unfortunately, your lower back cannot handle that kind of pressure on its discs and it can lead to compression, and eventually herniation. Finish your set prior to full fatigue or reduce the amount of weight you squat in order to prevent your lower back form taking over.

3. Squat a Little Shallower

You only want to squat as low are you can maintain a neutral spine. If you squat too deep too soon, your lower back will, once again, steal the show and try to take over. Once you have re-trained your glutes as the primary muscle working, you can begin to deepen your squat. But, first focus on form and control.

4. Check Your Stance

Make sure to place your feet at least shoulder-width apart. Your feet should face forward in order to solidify the stability through your knees. You also may not realize that you look down while squatting, which causes your whole body to round forward and puts extra stress on your spine. Try staring at a focus point straight ahead or slightly above eye level.

5. Try a Different Squat Variation

The barbell back squat is the most common culprit for back pain. It might behoove you to try front squats, dumbbell squats, goblet squats, or smith machine squats first. You can always circle back to the back squat, but try a variation that doesn't literally stack the weight onto your back.

6. Ask a Trainer to Spot You

Have someone, preferably a professionally-trained fitness coach, keep an eye on your form. If you can't see what's causing your back to engage, maybe they can.

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