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Back Pain and Squatting

In this article, I will delve deeply into the most common reasons why squatting hurts your back and what you can do to manage and prevent pain.

Common Reasons Squatting Hurts Your Back

Put your hand up if you’ve ever experienced low back pain while squatting. You can’t see it, but my hand is definitely up there too! 

Like many, I’ve dealt with lower back pain for most of my life. Standing, sitting, walking, running–I’ve never known when the pain was going to come up and blindside me. Squatting, while not always painful in the moment, can leave me in debilitating back pain for days (or even weeks) afterwards. Over the years, I’ve delved deeply into the topic and there seems to be no shortage of expert opinions on WHY you have back pain and WHAT you should be doing about it (also, if I hear one more ‘expert’ say that all I need to do is ‘strengthen my core’, I’m going to blow a gasket). 

In this article, I will delve deeply into the most common reasons why squatting hurts your back and what you can do to manage and prevent pain. As a disclaimer, please note that it is possible that your back pain is the result of a condition that only a doctor or medical professional can help to resolve, which may include acute or repetitive trauma, degenerative disc disease, or a herniated disc. One study found that weightlifters are much more likely to suffer from back conditions such as “muscle strain or ligamentous sprain, degenerative disk disease, disk herniation, spondylolysis, spondylolisthesis, or lumbar facet syndrome.” So, please speak to a doctor! Together, we can figure this out and send you on your way to pain-free squatting!

By the way, if you’re not sure that you’re squatting properly, please refer to this article, which breaks down point-by-point the ideal squat form! A knowledgeable personal trainer, as well, will be able to identify and help to correct your squat concerns. If you’re interested in hiring a personal trainer, or becoming one, feel free to check out Infofit’s wide range of services here

So, let’s get into it! Why does the squat hurt our backs? And what can we do to help?

  • You might have a disc issue. According to the Mayo Clinic, if you have lower back pain, plus weakness or tingling sensation in your legs, pain in your butt, legs, calves or in the bottom of your foot, you should speak to a doctor! It’s possible you have a disc issue that will need the intervention of a medical professional.  
  • You might have poor ankle mobility. One study found that poor ankle mobility was strongly correlated with the ‘butt wink’ at the bottom of the squat. While the ‘butt wink’ is a hotly contested issue in the fitness community, with some professionals arguing that it isn’t as dangerous as it has historically been made out to be, there is evidence to suggest that the butt wink will restrict other important joints, such as the knee, and which will cause overcompensating in other muscle groups and joints. And which can lead to low back pain!

What you can do:

  • The exercise specialists at Infofit have developed an innovative ankle rehabilitation program! You can check out the article here for free. 
  • Try a wobble board. Even just standing on a pillow or other unstable surface can help to improve your ankle proprioception. Try standing on one leg on an unstable surface for one minute—if that’s too hard, try 30 seconds, and aim to increase your time every day!
  • Do your ABCs! This is one tool that a physiotherapist gave me years ago—with your toe, draw out the ABCs in the air; perform as many times as possible without fatiguing your ankle. The goal is to strengthen, not weaken the joint!
  • Are you sitting too much? Spending too much of your day in a seated position is detrimental to your health for a number of reasons, one of those reasons being that your lower back will feel the pain! Sitting for an extended period, day in and day out, shortens your hip flexors and your hamstrings—the pain of which you may not feel in the moment, but that can rear its ugly head at the bottom of a squat.

What you can do:

  • Take breaks! I’m sure you’ve heard this already, but I would recommend standing up and walking around at least every 50 minutes. If you can, take phone calls and meetings standing up or walking.
  • Whether you’re sitting or standing, it’s essential to consider your postural hygiene; postural hygiene is the foundation of pain-free and unrestricted movement and it’s a daily and continuous practice. It’s a huge topic, but some general recommendations for ideal posture are:
    • 1) make sure your shoulders are back and down—sitting in front of a computer tends to round our shoulders and make our chest muscles shorten, which can lead to muscular imbalances and believe it or not, back pain! 
    • 2) Keep your core engaged—this is a tough one to always remember but think about engaging your core even while sitting. A cue that I use for myself is to brace my core as if I’m about to be hit in the stomach. If it’s difficult to maintain for an extended period of time, try just a couple of minutes, take a rest, and try again! Rinse and repeat!
    • Are you symmetrical while standing? I am very guilty of leaning on one hip while standing, which leads to an imbalance in my hips and yep, you guessed it, back pain! Take note: are you standing tall, with your weight equally balanced on both legs and feet flat on the ground? If yes, nice work! If not, no worries—take a second to adjust yourself, make sure your hips are level and that your weight is evenly distributed.
  • What does your squat look like? There is some evidence ( to suggest that an excessive forward lean in a squat can place more pressure on your low and mid-back. Also, some professionals argue that back-squatting can put more force on your low back, as opposed to other squat variations.

What you can do:

  • A cue that I use to check that I’m not leaning too far in my squat is to check the angle of my tibia, which should be the same as the angle of my spine and torse, like two almost-parallel lines. Your thighs, as well, should be parallel with the floor. For a complete breakdown of the perfect squat, please refer to our Infofit article here:

o   Try a different type of squat. There are so many different varieties! If you primarily back squat, try a front squat; some argue that a back-racked squat puts more pressure on your low back, whereas a front-weighted squat demands more from your core. 

  • Are you warming up? I know it’s tough when you only have so much time in the gym and you’re trying to blast through your workout as quickly as possible, but seriously—a warm-up is a game-changer, especially during the colder months, when your muscles are more likely to be stiff and unresponsive. It might seem obvious, but squatting with muscles and joints that haven’t been properly lubricated and activated is much more likely to lead to injury and pain.

What you can do:

  • Thankfully, Infofit President, Andre Potvin, demonstrates an excellent lower body warm-up at the link here: Check it out!         
  • Try incorporating foam rolling into your warm-up and post-exercise stretch. This is a topic for a whole other article, but I can personally attest that foam rolling and myofascial release has improved my back pain more than any other technique. The idea behind the practice is that foam rolling will increase the blood flow to your muscles and break down adhesions between the muscle, the fascia, and the skin. It’s seriously worth looking into—there are many ways to perform foam rolling incorrectly, so please ask your personal trainer or other elite fitness professional! For more information about the theory behind myofascial release, check out the article here.

Take these recommendations into consideration and see if they don’t help make your squats a little less painful. Perhaps the most important action you can take to prevent low back pain, and all pain in general, is to keep exercising and keep strengthening your muscles! So, if you’re active and doing your best to stay strong, give yourself a pat on the back. Being deconditioned and sedentary is highly related to low back pain, so you’re already ahead of the game!

The topic of low back pain is a huge subject, but we hope these tips helped! Let us know if these recommendations work and if there are any that we missed!

Wishing you all the best on your journey to optimum health!

Written by Theresa Faulder, Master’s in English, Certified Personal Trainer and Infofit fitness blog writer.