Squat Clinic: Why Mitch Gets Lower Back Pain Squatting

Something new – technique reviews. Here’s how it works: you send me a video of yourself Squatting, Deadlifting, Rowing, Pressing or Benching, and I’ll select one to review on this blog. This was what Mitch sent me…

I know you don’t usually reply to emails but I really need some help. I have been getting your emails for quite a while but I am unfortunately not a StrongLifts Member.

I have been lifting for about 5 years and always done squats but never progressed. I can bench 250lb and deadlift 370lb but I just have never been able to squat. I am doing StrongLifts 5×5 but when I get up to around 150lb, I hurt my back.

I have been doing mobility work so that i can squat deeper and with a wider stance but i hurt my back again tonight so I just don’t know what to do now. I am 6’1″ so squatting is awkward for me.

I have uploaded a video of tonight’s squatting to youtube so could you please look at it and give me your thoughts.

I always hear to sit back into the squat so that is what I do but I have to lean far forward to make up for sitting back. My form looks pretty good to me but I am obviously doing something wrong.

Sorry for the long message but I just wanted you to see how frustrated I am with this. I know guys who have been lifting for a month that can squat more than I can after 5 years

First, being 6’1″ is irrelevant. Many StrongLifts Members are actually around 6’1″ – Jake (18y, Canada) Squats 600lb at 6’1″, Norman (44y, USA) Squats 600lb at 6’4″, Simon (31y, UK) Squats 500lb at 6’3″, James (42y, USA) Squats 435lb at 6’2″, Kostas (38y, Greece) Squats 230kg at 6’3″, the list goes on and on. This proves that it doesn’t matter how tall you are, anybody can Squat.

Looking at your video, it seems that your lower back pain on Squats is purely a technique issue. Here are the 3 big Squat mistakes that I see you doing:

  • The bar is too high on your back. Combine this with trying to sit back, and you’ll get lower back pain because the bar is too far away from your body’s center of gravity. Put the bar lower as I’ve explained here.
  • Your stance is too narrow. One, this prevents glute activation on the way up which is crucial for keeping stress off your lower back. Two, it causes your lower back to round at the bottom of several reps. Widen your stance, stop at parallel, and push your knees out on the way up.
  • You’re not using your abs. Arching your lower back is as bad as rounding it, you’re supposed to keep your lower spine neutral. In your case your lower back is arching too much at the bottom. Push your abs out more (breathe into your stomach), this is where wearing a belt is useful.

You should also keep your head down to protect your neck (same principle, hyperextending your neck isn’t really healthy). I frankly tend to look up when going for PRs and I know that lot of StrongLifts Members will do the same, but with submaximal weights it’s safer for your neck to keep your head inline with the rest of your spine (do start NOT looking at your feet or your back will bend).

Finally make sure you stand tall at the top – with locked hips, locked knees and squeezed glutes. It looks as if your knees and hips aren’t locked at the top of several reps, and this will stress your legs and lower back. Lock everything and wait a second before going for the next rep. Squatting out of the hole must be fast, but you should wait a bit at the top so you can focus on your next rep.

There’s more, but fix the big things before worrying about the little ones.

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