Understand Maximal Loading: Eliminate Lower Back Pain From Squats
Give Me The Fish (GMTF): Contrary to popular meat head belief, pain does not always equal gain. Pain can also be a hint to take your hand off the damn stove. When working out, this manifests itself in poor technique. Poor technique that can be solved with the simple concept of maximal loading. Understand the importance of load sequence when lifting and you will not only increase your strength, but eliminate lower back pain from Squats and other lifts.
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Understand Maximal Loading: Stop Lower Back Pain From Squats
There’s only one kind of “squat”. The kind of squat with a barbell on your back, squatting below 90° and powering back up. Before you cry wolf, I’m not saying there are not other types of Squats out there, but they all have to be prefaced with something. It’s either called an air squat, or a front squat, or a box squat, or some other configuration. But if I say squat, I mean the one that makes you hate your life as you bury that weight into your back. The squat where you lower yourself into the depths of hell called the pit and then let your vision tunnel into blackness as you drive up.
I Love “THE” Squat
I don’t just love it, because you practically feel your body being forced into adaptation, or because it has let me and my training partners throw on double-digit pounds of muscle on our bodies in a matter of months. I love it because to me, it’s synonymous with everything I love about lifting heavy ass weights.
Uncomfortable = Adaptation = Growth
Squats Are A Pain… Literally
Unfortunately, it’s really easy to f*** it up, even with the 400 resources on the web, the 3,000 cues you can find, and the 10,000 Squat videos (this is probably an under exaggeration). Getting the squat right is difficult.
A big reason why it’s so difficult is because of what’s called maximal loading or what is sometimes referred to in a global capacity as load sequence.
Maximum loading is when whatever muscle you load first is the muscle that will max out first.
This matters for several reasons and takes place in all movements, but it’s most prevalent and can be the most detrimental when squatting and deadlifting.
The problem comes down to not being able to see with your own two eyes what your body is doing. It’s even harder to feel, unless you are already exceptionally well trained (in this case, you should not be wasting your time reading this).
Even if you film yourself, it’s likely that all you will see are the faults that are broken down the chain. Faults as is places with biomechanical failures and chain as in your body is a whole system.
And then of course, all you will feel is the classic lower back pain from Squats as you roll out of bed the next day like you aged 20 years overnight.
Why Does It Matter What Muscles Engage First?
For one, it matters because the muscles that max out are obviously working harder for longer. So, that is the muscle with the real workout.
Second, some parts of your body are just better equipped to handle certain tasks. Like, for instance, only weirdos use their feet for things other than supporting and transferring weight like walking and kicking. Why? Because you have these sweet things called hands.
This same principle of maximal loading applies to the Squat and Deadlift in terms of your back. Your back, while exceptionally strong, is extremely vital. Your body is not as stupid as you and me and likes to protect itself. So, if it gets into a position it doesn’t like, it gives you a healthy dose of pain for a few days and protects itself with things like muscle spasms.
Your back is one of those things that are not ideal to max out unless you want to look like the Hunch Back of Notre Dame and live with lower back pain from Squats for the rest of your life.
So, instead, we switch that maximal loading to the hips and hamstrings. This is why you often hear coaches say to sit back or push back your hips to start a movement. It’s because they are trying to get you to engage this much stronger, bigger, and better supportive muscle. Hence, avoiding the soul crushing lower back pain from Squats being done poorly.
Just being conscious of this fact is the first step to correcting all of your form issues. Always ensure the largest muscle possible is not only taking the load first but understand that pain is a feedback loop to tell you that you are doing something wrong.
This applies to every movement you do, whether that is your hamstrings in your squat, or your traps being engaged when you press.
Poor Maximal Loading = Poor Technique = Lower Back Pain From Squats
I have been fortunate to learn this first hand (extreme sarcasm), from screwing up the squat for several years, resulting in tearing my back muscles twice and now having the base of my spine look like Swiss cheese when you pull it up on an x-ray.
If you want to talk lower back pain from Squats, I can talk.
But, guess what, I still squat today. I just squat with a lot more patience and focusing on having solid form.
Fix your form now if you want to avoid the death spiral of back pain, or if you want to prevent the back pain you do have from getting worse in the future. And, you may just get stronger overall in the process.
The first step is realizing that you should never feel lower back pain from Squats or any other type of exercise. I don’t mean the muscle burning pain of pushing up world crushing weight, I mean injury pain. If you’ve experience back pain you know exactly what I’m talking about.
Two, I highly recommend you going out and finding a coach, finding a personal trainer, or finding someone that competes at higher levels, and ask them to train you.
You can learn all this yourself, by going through Starting Strength, watching videos with Mark Rippetoes, reading the Supple Leopard and listening to Kelly Starrett, or anything by Dan John.
But, it’s not ideal.
Lower Back Pain From Squats Is Not A Perk, It’s A Fail Safe
Regardless of what route you take, remember that your body is a biomechanical machine that has been improved on for over tens of thousands of years. It does not have pain built-in for funsies.
Learn to overcome your bad habits and engage the correct muscles and you will have not only your lower back pain from Squats subside, but your strength will grow.
Maximal loading is an important concept, it’s the foundation of athletic development, and taking the time to understand this concept and learning to put it into practice is well worth the time of not screwing up yourself for life.