Squats are an exercise many people experience lower back pain from. Usually, poor form is responsible, but sometimes it could be the squat itself and the demands it places on your body. There are different kinds of squats, too; this post focuses on the different ways in which high and low bar squats can affect your lower back.
High Bar Squats
The “high” and “low” in the names of these squats refer to the bar position. When doing a high bar squat, the bar is placed on the “shelf” of your traps. As you squat down, your back remains upright. When you do any kind of squat, you’re giving your hip flexors a workout, since you’re bringing your upper body and the fronts of your thighs closer together. Overly-tight hip flexors can pull on the lumbar spine and create hyperlordosis, or an unnatural increase in the lumbar spine’s inward arch; this postural distortion, called anterior pelvic tilt, can affect you all day and night, causing lower back pain.
Low Bar Squats
When you do a low bar squat, the bar sits lower on the rear deltoids. To maintain proper form during the squat, you need to stick your buttocks out back and bend forward at the hips. As mentioned above, tight hip flexors can lead to back pain. When you lean forward with your legs bent, the hip flexors are engaged to the fullest.
By leaning forward with the low bar squat, you increase your leverage; this means you can handle more weight. Be careful not to get out of hand with this knowledge, though; using more weight than you can handle, even in the low bar position, can lead to widespread strain and injury.
Unlike the high bar squat, the low bar type works your hamstrings and gluteus muscles more than the quads. This is great, since the posterior chain is important to back health. However, since the hamstrings are typically tight and weak from prolonged periods of sitting, you may strain this muscle if you attempt the low bar squat, or any other intense exercise, without developing foundational strength. A hamstring strain can necessitate the kind of lower back muscle compensation described above; it also causes you to walk differently, which could lead to both hip and back pain.