If you are a gym-goer, then you’ve probably seen people doing squats all the time. Heck, you’ve probably even done it yourself in one of your gym sessions.
The squat is one of the most common exercises fitness enthusiasts perform while doing their regular workouts. It helps strengthen the core, hence reducing the risk of back injury. It improves joint range and balance, increases endurance, and it trains major muscles like glutes, hamstrings, lower back, adductors and quadriceps altogether. It also naturally elevates your testosterone level which is great for building muscle, improving strength and burning fat.
Squats may look simple, but do you know that it’s actually not as easy as it looks? If you don’t execute it right, you can experience squat-induced lower back pain and this can result in physical harm or injury. The most common type of physical damage you’ll likely experience when you don’t properly execute squats right is lower back pain. This brings us to a very important question, how do you avoid squat-induced lower back pain?
Every movement, every exercise, every activity requires us to be in a proper form because an injury to one of the body parts can lead to severe pain or worse, like serious harm and even disability. When performing the squats in proper form or posture, you are not only decreasing your risk for injury, but also targeting the appropriate muscles.
Doing the squat in the proper form incorporates a number of techniques. Before we delve deeper into that, let us explore more about squats and lower back pain.
Lower Back Pain Overview
Lower back pain is a condition involving muscles, nerves, ligaments and other spinal structures. As per spine-health.com, common known causes include herniated disc, slippage of the vertebral body, fracture of the vertebra, narrowing of the spinal canal, scoliosis, arthritis, pregnancy, muscle strain or spasm and underlying conditions such as kidney infections and colon disorders. Squatting is not a direct cause of lower back pain. What mainly contributes to this condition are poor technique, incorrect footwear, previous back injury and, for weightlifters, hasty progress or shift of weight. As a result, it is advisable for you to wear necessary safety gears such as knee wraps, lifting belts, etc.
There is also what gym frequenters call DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness) or muscle fever, post-exercise pain, and muscle stiffness. It usually occurs 6 to 8 hours after exposure to unfamiliar or intense physical activity and peaks around 48 hours after that. This of course is individualized, meaning not everyone experiences the same level of pain and not everyone experiences DOMS on the same timeline. Nevertheless, DOMS is normal and expected.
Since squat is a compound movement involving many muscles in the body, "a lot of" DOMS is pretty much expected – especially when you are new to exercising or significantly aggrandizing the weight you lift. DOMS usually eases on its own or with rest and other alleviating remedies. If it doesn't, and pain persists for an uncomfortable 7 to 14 days, there is a big chance injury is present or something has gone wrong, so it is important that you seek medical attention.
The treatment for lower back pain highly depends on its cause and its severity. Physical therapists need to assess the area thoroughly so that they can come up with the appropriate treatment plan. Sometimes, squats are recommended, but whatever condition and treatment plan is, it all boils down to proper posture and form which are important in activities as simple as walking, sitting and standing.
When in good posture and form, your spine is in correct alignment. And when your spine is in correct alignment, your body's in equilibrium. Thus, it is optimal. Proper posture is also good for your bones, muscles, ligaments and other structures as it places them in their least stressful positions.
Now that we know that proper form is essential for us to avoid lower back pain induced by squats, we are led to one particular question.
How To Perform Squats Correctly?
Step 1: The Stand
Make sure your back is straight, and you're standing with your feet apart, a little bit wider than your hips. Your toes should be slightly pointing outward (about 5 to 20 degrees out).
Step 2: The Front Arm Raise
Place your arms straight out in front of you, perpendicular to the ground to keep your spine in a neutral position.
Arm positions may, however, vary especially if you carry weights or are on a tailored program.
Step 3: The Gaze
When doing the exercise, look straight ahead and refrain from looking down or up.
Step 4: The Squat
Keep in mind that your weight should be on the heels and balls of your feet and when you begin squatting down, keep your knees in line with your feet, butt out, shin perpendicular to the floor, knees bent but not beyond your toes and chest up.
As you squat down, breathe in and always keep your torso straight up. Bring your hip joint lower than your knees to perform a parallel squat. Anything less than that is called a partial squat, and anything deeper is usually done by old-timers, trained fitness junkies or assisted by their physical therapists or gym instructors.
Step 5: The Ascent
Once at the bottom, keep everything tight and breathe out as you get back up by driving through your heels and keeping your balance. Always bear in mind that you have to keep your feet on the ground at all times. This goes to say that, especially upon getting back up, never raise your toes and heels.
Click the link below to check out this YouTube video from Bowflex to fully visualize the process
Types Of Squats
The basic practice encompasses 3 to 5 sets of 5 to 10 repetitions with a 60-second break between each one, but it all really depends on you and your body as there is no particular protocol for that. It also depends on whether you are training for the Olympics, bodybuilding or you are trying to start a typical strength training routine. (In which case, weights, dumbbells or barbells are often used, and additional equipment like wrist straps, weightlifting belts, specially padded sleeves to place the cushion on the barbells may be needed.)
For barbell squats, which is a common type of squat, the stance or form is basically the same with regular/body-weight squats. Hold the bar on your upper back with a medium-tight overhand grip, and start doing squats. Among the many other types of squats are :
- Jump Squats : A plyometric exercise involving the regular squats and then a high jump upon getting back up. Proper jumping technique and correct landing and takeoff positions are vital.
- Goblet Squats : Involves holding a dumbbell vertically next to your chest with your hands cupping the dumbbell head.
- Braced Squats : A weight plate is held with your arms stretched forward and completely straight as you squat down and stand back up again.
- Sandbag Squats : As the name suggests, it involves the use of a sandbag held over your head in an upright position.
- Wall Squats : An easier way of doing squats with a wall supporting you.
- Frog Squats : A type of deep squat mimicking that of a frog's position.
- Pistol Squat : A tricky stance wherein you hold your arms and your left leg straight out in front of you and in parallel while you squat with your right leg. Your left leg should be fully extended and should just be a few inches above the ground. Upon standing back up, keep your balance without using your lifted leg. Repeat the process switching the legs.
If at any point a body part feels unnaturally painful when doing squats or a movement feels awkward or discomposed, you are most probably doing something wrong. Adjust your technique and try again. However, if there is pain that seems too atypical and severe, stop. Take a break and try to see if you can still go on with your exercise. Otherwise, see your doctor.