Avoiding Back Pain with Squats


Question: Whenever I do squats and get heavy, I get pain in my lower back just above my rear end. What can I do to get around that pain and increase my squat weight?
Answer: First I suggest you consult your doctor about that pain and make sure you haven’t done any serious damage to your lower back or disks. You could have a bulging disk or worse. Once you have medical clearance, change your training routine. No one has to do squats to build good legs or in your case get stronger for football. Though squats are absolutely one of the best exercises for strength and building explosive power, there are other exercise combinations that will do the job extremely well.
Begin with a few minutes of cycling on a stationary bike which gets the blood flowing and the joints warmed up. Start your weight training routine with Leg Curls alternating those with Lunges. Leg curls hit the often neglected hamstrings first while you are fresh without diminishing your ability to train your quads. Lunges whether stationary or walking loosen the hip flexors and in conjunction with the leg curls get your hams ready for heavy weight. Do 3 to 4 sets of each of these exercises increasing the weight on each set keeping your reps in the 8 to 10 range. Next on your list is the Leg Press. Begin with a set of 15 reps getting a mild burn going on in your quads. Your range-of-motion should allow your upper thigh to be at a 45 degree angle in relation to your hips without your lower back curling up off of the support pad. If you back is curling up you have to tighten your spinal erectors to force your back onto the pad again in order for your hips to be in position to drive the weight up with your glutes and quads. The after-effect of poor form is a sore lower back. Force your lower back to remain on the pad while you do this exercise. After you warm-up to a working weight you should do 2 to 3 sets at that weight doing 10 to 15 reps per set. Finish with a drop set beginning with a heavy weight for 5 reps, decrease the weight by 90 pounds do a set of 7 reps. Drop 90 pounds and finish with 8 reps. There are several leg press routines that you can use to build tremendous results.
After leg presses, since your high school team tests the squat, do a few sets of squats to remain physically familiar with the movement. However, since your legs are already tired you won’t be able to handle as much weight and exceed the limits that you have with your back. These are only to help you maintain form and work on your range of motion for the exercise. To improve your back there are two exercises you can do to benefit it; rack deadlifts and reverse hypers. For rack deadlifts you will need a power rack to limit your range of motion. Since you are not a powerlifter and we are doing deads to strengthen your back, you will only lower the bar to an inch below your knees. Set the rack to stop the bar there and lock a second set of supports higher to place the bar when you start the exercise and when you finish. This keeps your lower back out of a difficult position at the beginning and end of the set. Use a moderate weight and do 3 sets of 8 reps. Reverse hypers are done with a waist high bench and ankle weights. Video examples of both of these exercises and additional training routines for the leg press can be found on daryllaws.com.
The final word is that though squats are the first choice for strength and power there are other options for getting the same results without causing lower back pain.
To strengthen legs without doing heavy squats to protect your lower back we have the basic routine which is as follows:
Basic Training Routine:

  • Leg Curls – 1 x 10, 2 x 8, 1 x 6/1 x 6 (drop set) Decrease the weight by 25 to 30% and do an additional 6 reps. The first 6 reps should be all that you can do at that weight.
  • Lunges – (walking lunges, incline block lunges or reverse block lunges) 3 x 8 reps per leg
  • Leg Press – 4 x 15 adding weight each set
  • Squats – 3 x 10
  • Leg Extensions – 3 x 10 focus on getting a strong contraction not using heavy weight

Alternative Training Routine:

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Use this routine after you have gotten the form for leg presses.
Leg Press
Short Range/Long Range 5/10/5/10/5/10/5 The deep reps are for 5 reps and the shorts are for 10. The short reps are about 1/3 to 1/2 of your normal rep range deep. Then you do a set of 8 heavy reps. This weight should be 30% more then the 1st set. The 3rd set is back to short/long but about 50 pounds heavier if possible. the last set is another heavy set of 8 and it should be heavier than the 2nd set.
What this routine causes is a flood of blood into your legs on the 1st set. The second set taps into a different energy/drive system or mindset and the heavy weight does not seem to be as heavy. On the third set your body is prepared to get heavy again but the weight is lighter than the previous set though heavier than the 1st set. It plays with your mind as you knock out another short/long set of 50. On the final set you’ll go heavier than the second set for another set of 8 to 10 reps full range. This combination of rep ranges is brutal but extremely effective for both growth and strength.
God bless and keep training,