back pain with heavy squats

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Drake Van Steed
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Re: back pain with heavy squats

Post by Drake Van Steed » Tue Jun 26, 2012 6:55 pm

I think that someone can use proper form and still get injured. There seems to be a common misconception that "if you do the exercise correctly," then the prospect of injury is foreclosed. For one, some exercises are inherently more dangerous, even if using text book form. See generally, good mornings. This coupled with anatomical differences and predisposed genetically determined risks of injury and perhaps some lifestyle factors thrown in for good measure can create traumatic injury, even if the exercise was done "correctly." Also, overuse can cause injury, even if the exercise is done "correctly." Anybody who has ever played a sport knows that. Repetative use can injure. If you do 5 sets of heavy squats every 4-5 days for say 15 years, you may find yourself with a life-long injury, even though you never used improper form. It's dangerous train of thought to believe that whatever exercise you may hold sacred can never injure anybody ever if done the way you think it should be done. Everybody is built differently. There is so much bias in the exercise world, that it is crazy. What if you were raised in a country where the top exercise scientists, coaches, trainers, and exercise buffs believed that loading your spine with hundreds of pounds of weight repetitively over years to work your legs was a dumb idea considering the cost/benefit analysis? What if you spent years working with people suffering debilitating nerve pain that could never be relieved due to disc herniation and other back injuries? Would your perspective maybe be different? Would you tell people that they really needed to do heavy squats for that "coveted" extra inch on their quadriceps--that the risk of never ending excruciating nerve pain is far outweighed by the "functional" strength that heavy squats afford and that they need only "do it right." Speaking of which--when did muscle and strength gained from one device or contraption become more or less "functional" than others? Does anybody really think that well-developed leg muscles from leg presses will not "function?" "Function" is gained through training. If someone develops massive legs from leg presses, don't you think that muscle will "work" when it is trained to run, jump etc... How about leg muscles gained from ice skates? Do those muscles "work?" Is a leg press not as valid as a skate, or maybe a running shoe is an ok machine? Is a barbell a machine? I hope not, because that would render squats worthless.

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Re: back pain with heavy squats

Post by Jungledoc » Wed Jun 27, 2012 12:03 am

No one that I can recall in this form has EVER said that everyone should squat, or that it is completely safe. Everything you say about overuse, repetitive use, and multiple factors affecting risk is absolutely true, and I doubt that anyone here would disagree with it. So, are you saying that no one should ever squat?

There may be people here who are squatting in hopes of an extra inch on their quads, but I'm not one of them. There may be as many different reasons to squat as there are to train. The risk/benefit ratio is different for everyone, and it's up to each person to decide for themselves whether or not to squat.

And "functional" is not absolute. Sure, there are probably functional benefits from leg pressing, but do you really think that they are the same as what's gained from an exercise that challenges all the stabilizers, and trains them to work in coordination with the prime movers? I don't. I also don't think that anyone here has said that no one should ever use a leg-press machine. Are you saying that everyone should?
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Re: back pain with heavy squats

Post by KPj » Wed Jun 27, 2012 3:28 am

The other variables to consider outside of form can largely be influenced by Assessing, Programming, and Progression.

I agree that good form doesn't just give you a pass to do the exercise a million times per week with as much weight as possible for as many years as possible. I think the sport analogy was a good one in that respect. Lifting heavy things needs to first be progressed properly but also programmed properly. Also, assessing will give us a lot of information in relation to whether someone should or shouldn't do a certain exercise or load a certain exercise (this will tell you, for example, if someone does suffer from sciatica, in which case heavy squats may not be the best option for them). Stones will still be left unturned, i'm sure, but it's not a complete guessing game and there are a lot of really smart people out there developing ways to take the guess work out of the equation. It's came a long way and continues to develop at quite a fast rate.

Overuse isn't sudden, either. It creeps up. Common sense will recognise the signs before it's a serious issue but, as "they" say, common sense isn't very common, and i'm a good example of that myself.

I had a rant on "function" or "functional" in another recent thread so I won't go into that much. In short, our "function" is really the movement (and stability) patterns that are hard wired into our brain and develop as we develop from baby -> adult. It's instinctive and not taught. This includes squatting. Now, i'll be the first to point out that this does NOT include squatting with a heavy bar on your back just squatting as a "movement". However, I do believe you can define "functional", and this doesn't mean everything you do should be functional, it just means you should be able to move like you're supposed to before you go add heavy loads to those movements. If you can already move well then you don't need to worry about being "functional", you can do whatever wil;l get you towards your goals. If you can't move well, though, it should be a concern and a priority and therefore what you do in the gym would ideally be "functional". This is atleast how I see it.

If you're NOT "functional" i.e. you don't move well, then certain exercises will help you, and certain exercises will hurt you. If your squat pattern sucks, for example, a leg press will only add to this in most cases, where a free standing squat performed "correctly" may help (it really depends on why the squat pattern sucks).

There are even exceptions to this. I have a client who had a stroke at birth and therefore a loss of function down one side compared to the other. One of his legs (the one with less function) is at least 6 inches shorter than the other, too. I can honestly say i'll never have him do a BB squat :wink:

I've trained a handful of people with true sciatica, have one right now with some of the worse sciatica i've dealt with. No, she doesn't squat. I didn't even need an assessment, just a "history" or actually, just a conversation. I've trained loads of people with back problems, some have eventually BB squatted and for some it's never and probably will never become an option.

Really what i'm saying is, "it depends". In the same way that it's silly to say everyone should BB squat, it's going from one extreme to another to say everyone who does the BB squat will get hurt, even if performed correctly.

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Re: back pain with heavy squats

Post by hoosegow » Wed Jun 27, 2012 6:09 am

KPj wrote: Really what i'm saying is, "it depends".
KPj
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Re: back pain with heavy squats

Post by Matt Z » Wed Jun 27, 2012 8:03 pm

"I think that someone can use proper form and still get injured." - Drake Van Steed

Of course it's possible. I once injured my wrist doing reverse curls of all things. My point is merely that form is an extremely important and often neglected factor in injury prevention regardless of the exercise.

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Re: back pain with heavy squats

Post by Matt Z » Wed Jun 27, 2012 8:22 pm

"Speaking of which--when did muscle and strength gained from one device or contraption become more or less "functional" than others? Does anybody really think that well-developed leg muscles from leg presses will not "function?" - Drake Van Steed

If someone is a strong squatter, it's usually a safe bet that he or she can leg press a substancial amount of weight, even if he or she has never tried leg presses before. However, it doesn't generally work in reverse. Why do you think that is?

Meanwhile, I honestly can't think of single activity in sports or everyday life where I would need to sit down and push a sled up an incline on tracks. However, I don't think a day goes by that I don't squat down and pick something up (a box, a bag, one of my kids, etc.).

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Re: back pain with heavy squats

Post by JasonJones » Thu Jun 28, 2012 9:03 pm

There's no question that the squat is a more functional movement than the leg press. Setting aside personal experience and inference from the motor patterning of the two, studies demonstrate a high degree of correlation between squat performance and sprinting and jumping across a host of athletes and performance levels, and less so for leg press. Studies show higher muscle activation in squat vs. leg press.

I'd like to unpack "functional" here a little bit more, though. I think there can be a clearly defined point where functional crosses over from general preparation to specific preparation, and I think that's a more valuable question to look at. I just got back from camping in the cliffs of Northern Ontario, and I can tell you that I had to do a lot of squatting. Cooking over the fire, loading and unloading tents, coolers and equipment, hauling a canoe, and so forth. But at no point did I have to squat with a significant load. Squatting as a movement is absolutely functional and fundamental, but there comes a point where a loaded squat far outpaces any need for that kind of loaded capacity as a function of daily life. I probably never squatted more than 50 pounds, and anything heavier than that I naturally switched to a hip hinge in order to manage. The average person is going to see diminishing returns in functional gains from squatting loads very quickly.
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Re: back pain with heavy squats

Post by Oscar_Actuary » Thu Jun 28, 2012 10:46 pm

JasonJones wrote:The average person is going to see diminishing returns in functional gains from squatting loads very quickly.
you mean .."diminishing marginal return gains from squatting [heavier] loads very quickly."

right?

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Re: back pain with heavy squats

Post by Matt Z » Fri Jun 29, 2012 6:57 pm

Once in college, when my wife and I were dating, we took a little walk along the creek that ran through campus. Anyway, I was a little distracted and I stepped in a woodchuck hole. Suddenly I'm doing a one-legged full squat, something I never trained for (my foot never hit bottom). However, I wasn't hurt at all. In fact, I popped back up in record time, not wanting to get bit. Sometimes a little extra strength can come in handy.

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