Squatting pain-free is crucial to improve your day-to-day movement patterns.
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A key movement to build a strong, muscular and more resilient body, squats are a commonly prescribed exercise for athletes and the fitness enthusiast.
Unfortunately, though, squats have been known to cause unwanted low back soreness, so if you're wondering why your lower back is sore after squats, you're not alone. While the squat will work the muscles of your lower back, if your low back becomes the most targeted region during the squat, chronic soreness and overuse injury can occur.
To prevent lower back pain after squats, and to continue to maximize the benefits you can experience with the squat, keep in mind the following key considerations.
Review Your Technique
Understand first the technique for a safe and effective squat. In a squat, you want to sit back and down — producing the movement from your hips and knees, and not your lower back.
If your hips roll underneath you and your back rounds, you place your lower back in a position that is at a greater risk for injury. The more your back rounds the greater the shear force on your spine, which is dangerous.
Likewise, if you overarch your lower back, when your hips tip forward and your butt pops out, you're not only compressing your spinal segments, but using the muscles of your lower back to keep your spine from rounding forward.
While preventing your spine from rounding is a good thing, doing so by only using the muscles of your low back will overwork those muscles and create soreness and potential injury. You can tell this happens when you complete the squat and your lower back feels overworked and tight.
Aim to keep your back neutral throughout the movement, meaning you don't allow it to round or overextend. Use a mirror to monitor your low back position.
How to Do a Squat With Proper Form
Skill Level All Levels
Activity Body-Weight Workout
Body Part Legs, Butt and Abs
- Stand tall with your feet hip-width apart and brace your core. Focus on keeping your feet rooted into the ground and your core tight the entire time.
- Extend your arms out in front of you and slowly bend your knees as you push your hips back to lower toward the floor. Focus on lowering your body as if you were going to sit on a chair.
- Lower down as far as comfortable, or until your thighs are parallel with the floor.
- Pause for a moment at the bottom of your squat.
- On an exhale, reverse the motion by pressing through your heels to return to standing. As you stand, lower your arms back to your sides.
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3 Tips to Alleviate Lower-Back Soreness From Squats
1. Strengthen Your Core
Your core is a group of muscles that has a major influence on the position of your hips and spine. When your core muscles — particularly the fronts of your abs, hips and low back — are strong and working in unison, they help to stabilize your pelvis and spine. This reduces the demand on the muscles of your low back, therefore preventing them from becoming overworked.
Some exercises that help to strengthen your core and encourage it to hold your back in a safe position are planks and side planks. Add these to your regular workout routine to help prevent lower-back pain after squats.
Skill Level All Levels
- Start kneeling on the floor with your hands at shoulder-width distance on the ground.
- Take a deep breath and press through your palms, stepping your feet back to straighten your legs. Your body should make a straight line from your heels through your hips to the top of your head.
- Draw your navel toward your spine and squeeze your glutes.
- Look at the floor directly below your head to keep your neck in a neutral position, and breathe normally.
- Hold for at least 10 seconds and lower yourself back to the floor.
If holding a high plank feels painful for your wrists, try and lower to your forearms.
Skill Level Intermediate
- Lie on your side with your legs and feet stacked on top of each other.
- Prop yourself up on your forearm.
- Keeping your knees straight, stiffen your torso and lift your hips off the ground, balancing on your forearm and outer foot
- Hold here.
You can progress this move with a few side plank variations, like the side plank leg lifts.
2. Squat to an Appropriate Depth
While you may have heard that you need to squat to or past parallel (when your thighs are parallel to the ground), no one's hips are exactly the same. This means you may have a hip that is built to squat to parallel or below, or you may have a hip that is built to squat to above parallel before running out of room.
If you squat past your available range of motion, you likely compensate and move through other joints (like your back). This creates extra movement through your lower back that can result in soreness and injury over time.
So, only squat to the depth that you can control with good form and a neutral back. If you push past this and go deeper, you put yourself at a greater risk for injury and a sore lower back after squats.
How Deep Do You Really Need to Squat?
3. Try Different Squat Variations
The back squat is the classic squat variation, but is also the most difficult variation to do. Because of the position of the bar on your back, it places more direct stress on your back than other variations. Venture beyond the back squat and use different variations to prevent low back soreness.
Skill Level All Levels
Region Core and Lower Body
- Stand with your feet about shoulder-width apart. Hold a dumbbell in front of your chest vertically. Your hands should cup the head of a dumbbell — like you’re holding a goblet. Brace your core.
- Push your hips back and bend your knees to lower down as far as comfortable. Keep your chest up and your weight in your heels. Keep a straight, largely vertical torso.
- Press through your feet to stand back up.
How to Do Dumbbell Squats for Strong, Sculpted Legs and Glutes
Barbell Front Squat
Skill Level Advanced
Region Core and Lower Body
- Set up in a rack with your feet about shoulder-width apart and place the bar in front of your shoulders. As you prepare to unrack the bar, it should be barely touching your neck in the front.
- Unrack the bar and set your feet at a comfortable stance. Your feet can be slightly turned out or facing straight ahead. If you don’t know where you’re comfortable, play with your foot placement with some light warm-up sets.
- Brace your core and upper back. Maintain a tight torso throughout the movement with a small, natural arch in your low back.
- Keeping your weight in your heels, push your hips back and bend your knees to lower as far as comfortable or until your thighs are parallel to the floor.
- Press your heels into the ground to stand back up.
- Stop squatting. If your lower back is protesting, don't push it. ...
- Adjust your technique. Improper technique is a common cause of injury and should be your number one priority. ...
- Talk to a professional. ...
- Lower the weight. ...
- Try to manage the pain. ...
- See your doctor.
Lower back pain felt during a squat may be a sign of poor alignment and form. To correct your alignment when squatting, notice if you are rounding your back, overarching or whether you are lifting too much weight. All these factors may hinder your form and cause lower back pain.How long does a lower back strain last? ›
More than 90% of patients completely recover from an episode of lumbar muscle strain or sprain within one month. Heat and ice treatment are recommended on an as-needed basis at home to treat sudden flare-ups of low back pain, along with anti-inflammatory medications.How do you relieve lower back pain fast? ›
Hot and cold therapy
In general, cold temperatures lower inflammation and decrease swelling. Heat can assist with relaxing your muscles. Depending on your low back pain symptoms, you may try cold or hot therapy for 20 minutes at a time, several times a day, until back pain lessens.
Weak back and abdominal muscles can cause or worsen low back pain. That's why stretching and strengthening your back and abdominal muscles are important not only for treating low back pain, but also for helping to prevent a recurrence of the problem.Can you fully recover from a lower back strain? ›
Most lower back strains and sprains should recover in 2 weeks, and according to the American Association of Neurological Surgeons (AANS), more than 90% of people recover fully in 1 month. A person should avoid vigorous exercise for 8 weeks to reduce the risk of damaging the back further.Is it better to sit or lay down with lower back pain? ›
If you're experiencing back pain when sitting, your impulse may be to lie down and then try to slowly progress back to sitting, says Dr. Atlas. But this is the wrong approach. You should lie down to relieve the pain, but the goal should be not to return to sitting, but rather to regain your ability to stand and move.What is the single best exercise for lower back pain? ›
Walking, swimming, and biking may all help reduce back pain. Start with short sessions and build up over time. If your back is hurting, try swimming, where the water supports your body. Avoid any strokes that twist your body.Do hot showers help back pain? ›
Studies show that it can provide short-term pain relief. A hot shower, bath or heating pad can help relax tense muscles and reduce inflammation.How long does it take for squat soreness to go away? ›
DOMS or delayed-onset muscle soreness can set in 24 to 48 hours after performing your squats says Len Kravitz from the University of New Mexico. Usually disappearing after three to seven days is the norm, but can linger up to 10 long days.
- Lie on your side on your bed or couch.
- Lie with your knees bent and heels together.
- Drop your shins off the table.
- You should feel your pelvis drop on one side and your lower back being stretched. You want to hold for 20-30 seconds. ...
- Complete as needed throughout the day.
First you need to lay straight on the floor. Now position a chair right next to you. Then slowly place your lower legs on the chair with the corner of the chair positioned on the back of your knees. Stay in this position for a good five minutes before relaxing.
Massage therapy can provide substantial healing and pain relief for many lower back problems. Specifically, for pain caused by a back strain, when the correct muscle is targeted, the pain can be controlled at its source—for quicker and lasting relief.Should I squat if I'm still sore? ›
"Working out when sore is okay as long as it isn't affecting your movement to the point where it's causing you to compensate and do something in a way that's unsafe," says Dr. Hedt. "Muscle soreness can be a deterrent to exercising, but it's temporary and the more you exercise, the less you should feel it.Should I do squats if it hurts? ›
Build Strength with Wall Squats
Stop at the point where you feel muscle pain, but continue to perform the exercise regularly, so that the non-painful range will increase as thigh, buttocks and core muscles become stronger.
Squats can be a great way to condition your back muscles in order to help reduce back pain. Back pain is rampant in our country and there are plenty of people who could benefit from performing squats daily.Why does my higher back hurt after squats? ›
Your squat variation can lead to back pain
Because you're loading the weight across your back, if you go too heavy, you put more pressure on your spine to do the work.
If you feel off balance when you finally do get off the floor, it's likely due to weak abdominal muscles, the core muscles that help stabilize your body. Weak muscles. If your legs feel weak and you wobble as you come to a stand, it may indicate a lack of overall strength.What is the best thing to do after squats? ›
"It is so important to stretch right after working out — because the moment you work out muscles, the body produces lactic acid," Amato says. This is what causes your muscles to feel so sore and tired, she says. Stretching, however, helps to get rid of that lactic acid and also helps relax the muscles.