Are Back Squats Bad For Your Back?

Back squats have had a bad reputation amongst some people for a long time. You hear common complaints of squatting being bad for the knees and the lower back. 

From my experience, if you can do them well, back squats are a tremendous exercise to add into your routine. The challenge with them is that 80% of people that do squat, do so badly. For example, people with longer legs tend to be worse squatters than shorter people. This is just down to biomechanics and so an exercise like a split squat is usually a better alternative.

As a coach, when taking new clients on, One of the things I want them to be working towards is a decent back squat. Why?

The Benefits Of Back Squatting

  • Improves posture
  • Improves hip mobility
  • Strengthens core and spine
  • Whole body movement
  • Activates the most muscles along with deadlifts
  • Burns the most amount of calories
  • Huge hormonal effect which is great for muscle building and fat loss


The Only Things To Be Careful Of When Back squatting Are

  • Can you do it pain-free?
  • Can you do it as close to technically perfect as possible?
  • Can you do it at a weight where you feel most of your muscles engaged and not all in your lower back?
  • Does back squatting suit your current biomechanics? Are you stiff and can become more mobile or are you tall and your hips just don't move as efficiently that way? 

If the answer is no to any of these, then start with a regression and improve technique or simply move to a form of split squat. 

The enemies of our lower backs are excessive compression, sheer and torque. Whilst it is beneficial to load our joints and muscles to create a positive stress, too much will sooner or later result in injury. I believe there is a sweet spot in weight where back squatting is beneficial and once we creep outside of that, our lower backs and knees start to pay the price. 

So to answer the question "Is back squatting bad for your back?", the answer is it depends. 

If you are tall and don't squat that well then I would probably avoid it and split squat instead. If you have a history of back problems I would start with a very regressed version such as a TRX squat and build yourself up gradually. You may end up benfiting from simply Goblet squatting or KB squatting and staying there. 

If you are mobile and can squat down with relative ease then squat away, just be careful not to overload yourself so that you develop lower back problems. If you are a recreational exerciser (3-5 hours a week) then avoid weights belts as they can interfere with the sequencing of your core firing. (Also don't be that guy at the gym, who uses it for everything, even bicep curls... true story... I have actually seen it...). If you are a powerlifter and your goal is numbers on the bar, then wearing a weights belt makes much more sense to me. 

Yours In Health

Patrick Fallis

Founder of Leaner