So you squatted heavy. You may or may not have hit a greasy PR, your form may have slipped, or you may have done picture-perfect flawless reps - but regardless of the circumstance one thing is certain: your lower back is screaming.
Lower back pain after squats is quite common. I have suffered from lower back pain caused by the gritty squat rack multiple times, and here is what I learned to get out of it as soon as possible.
Cause Of Lower Back Pain After Squats
There are two general causes of lower back pain after squats. I have been lucky enough to encounter both of them, and will bet that you resonate strongly with one of the following pain mechanisms:
Pain Cause 1: Sharp Lower Back Pain During Squats
This pain is instant and sharp. When this happens you can feel a jolt or strong "grab" while squeaking out a heavy rep. The sudden sharp pain is a back muscle spasm, where the muscles contract extremely hard to protect your spine.
My Experience: It is noon on a weekday. My back feels stiffer than usual from the minute I wake up. I sat at my desk for a few meetings and just could not get comfortable. I go to the gym around noon. Warmup? No way. Glute & core activation? Forget it. I hop into a squat routine intending to work up to 245lbs for a top set of roughly 5 reps. After the first warmup of 135, my back feels weird. Not only weird but uneven, and like more pressure was on my lower back than my glutes and quads than normal. I ignore it and up the weight. With the next warmup weight of 155, while locking out rep ~6, I feel the sudden, sharp, jolt that feels like a gunshot to the spine. I know exactly what this is and I am pissed off. Immediately rack the weight, walk out of the gym with my head down, and go home.
Devastation Of Lower Back Pain After Squats
Pain Cause 2: Onset Lower Back Pain The Day After Squats
This is typically a "next day" pain. Your lower back and pain level may have been great the day of your squats, but everything is stiff and screaming the next morning. The good news is that this lower back pain after squats is generally less severe, has a shorter recovery, and has much to do with soreness. If you do nothing this pain can be gone in a week or quicker by using the steps below.
My Experience: Nearly every time I hit a squat PR (I mean a REAL PR - the kind you take an extra scoop of pre-workout for and spend 40 minutes ramping up to), this lower back pain demon shows up the next day. I usually feel great during the squats with no lower back complaints, but the next day bending over is quite uncomfortable.
How To Fix Lower Back Pain After Squats
Regardless of the cause of lower back pain after squats, I recommend the following three-step process to recovery. I truly believe I have mastered this from years of experience with lower back tweaks and strain. After every stint with lower back pain, I have been able to recover stronger each and every time.
Lower Back Recovery Step 1: Muscle Relaxation
This is especially important if your lower back pain after squats was caused by the "Pain Cause 1" mechanism above. Your lower back is so hot and lit up right now that every move and motion is probably uncomfortable. The first and foremost goal for lower back pain recovery here is getting out of the spasm and allowing the muscles to release their constant tension.
How To: The best ways to release the muscles to help them relax are with topical foams and deep tissue massage. This will drastically increase the rate at which the muscles simmer out of spasm and pain.
Deep tissue massage can be done by the hands of a professional, or at home with a myofascial release tool for the lower back like QL Claw. Make sure to massage the QL muscle, Gluteus Medius, and Gluteus Minimus as part of your routine.
Lower Back Muscle Release Using QL Claw
Lower Back Recovery Step 2: Stretching
Stretching is a close second best thing you can do with lower back pain after squats. After lower back pain presents itself, your muscles will naturally tighten to stiffen and protect the spine. However, once the threat of the barbell is no longer present, we do not want stiffness. We want to be able to bend and reach without a battle from the lower back. Stretching is a great way to keep the muscles loose - and a loose muscle is less likely to contribute to pain.
Here are a few stretches you can do to help combat lower back pain after squats:
- Spiderman stretch - for hip flexors, upper hamstrings & glutes
- Elephant walk - for lower back & hamstrings
- Pancake stretch - for hamstrings & adductors
Lower Back Recovery Step 3: Build Strength & Endurance
The ugly truth of why lower back pain from squats occurs in the first place is due to a leak in strength or endurance somewhere in the body. Maybe your strength is very high, but specific muscles lack endurance and fatigue after multiple sets. Maybe your endurance is great, but you have a weakness in a core muscle that is vital to your posture and form.
Every time I have suffered from lower back pain after squats, there was a leak somewhere in my frame. I will say the most common specific leaks are lack of strength and/or endurance in the upper glutes and side core (QL and obliques). These muscles do not get worked with traditional gym exercises; they function most during unilateral movement, transverse abdominal use, and sports. In other words, unless you focus on single leg work, the side core, and play active sports outside of the gym these muscles tend to be underdeveloped relative to others.
Here are a few exercises I love to incorporate to ensure my upper glutes and side core (QL and obliques) are firing well and keeping my lower back protected:
Upper Glute Exercises:
- Single Leg Deadlift (hold weight in ONE hand only)
- Skater Hops
- Fire Hydrants
Side Core Exercises:
- Suitcase Carries
- Paloff Press Variations
- Side Planks
- Turkish Getups
Do not underestimate the effectiveness of these exercises. Even if you squat 400lbs, building up to a 3-minute side plank on each side and focusing on a juicy single-leg deadlift glute contraction can do wonders for your lower back.
Lower Back Pain After Squats Recovery
After this post, you are on your way to a full recovery from lower back pain due to squats. If you have any questions about this post or your lower back pain recovery in general, feel free to shoot me an email directly at email@example.com. Lower back pain was something that ran my life for years, and this website and resources are what I learned to finally beat it. Best of luck with healing from your lower back pain after squats, you've got this!