Do Squats Work Your Lower Back? [Back-Safe Squat Variations]

Squats work your lower back as a secondary muscle. The core muscles in your abdomen and lower back must remain tense to balance the weight behind your shoulders while you squat. A strong lower back helps to maintain proper squat form and resist injury. You can build lower back strength through cross-training with other exercises. If you experience lower back pain during or after squats, consider switching to a squat variation that does not stress your lower back. Trap bar deadlifts are an excellent alternative to squats if you experience lower back pain.

Do squats work lower back?

Why is Your Lower Back Sore After Squats?

If you experience muscle soreness after squats, there is no cause for alarm. Squats require you to engage your lower back muscles throughout your exercise in order to balance the weight and maintain proper form. Even while standing straight up after completing a squat, your core (including your lower back) must remain tense to keep yourself upright and in control of the weight.

  • Balancing a weight across your shoulders during squats requires constant lower back muscle engagement to keep your balance and maintain proper form.
  • Because your lower back is constantly used during a set of squats, it’s common to feel lower back soreness after squatting.
  • You can build lower back strength by squatting, although the primary muscles worked by squats are the quads and glutes.

The lower back muscles are not the primary muscle worked during squats, but they do remain under constant tension from the time you unrack the bar until the time you re-rack at the end of your set. Lower back soreness is normal after squats. In fact, squats help to build muscle in your lower back.

Why Does Your Lower Back Hurt After You Squat?

If you are experiencing lower back pain after you squat, it is either due to poor form or the fact that your lower back is not capable of supporting the weight you can lift with your legs. Lower back pain is not normal or acceptable after squats. So, if squats cause back pain then it’s time to reassess your form and reduce the amount of weight you are squatting.

  • Improper squat form is a common cause of back pain.
  • Squatting a weight that is too heavy for you to properly balance can cause back pain.
  • Begin by reducing your squat weight by 25–50%.
  • Review our guide to squat form, low-back strengthening, and back-friendly squat variations below.

Begin by reducing your squat weight by 25–50%. Lifting a weight you are not quite ready for can cause your form to fail, which puts you at risk of back injury. Then, follow our tips for proper squat form and lower-back strengthening below. If you still experience back pain while squatting, consider performing a different squat variation to protect your back. 

How Do You Protect Your Lower Back When Squatting?

Preventing back injury during barbell squats is all about form. By performing squats with proper form, your spine is loaded vertically, which drastically reduces the risk of injury. Bending or slipping out of proper form puts you at risk of a damaged spinal disk. To perform squats correctly, follow these tips:

  • Balance the barbell across the back of your shoulders, not the back of your neck.
  • Stand with your feet slightly wider than hip-width apart.
  • Point your toes slightly outward.
  • Pick a point straight ahead of you—keep your eyes on this point throughout your squat.
  • Keep your shoulder blades pulled back and your chest out. Do not round your back.
  • Bend at the knees and push your rear outward, as if you are sitting down on a chair.
  • Continue down into the squat until your thighs are parallel with the floor.
  • To come up from a squat, push through your feet. The weight should be evenly distributed across your whole foot.
  • Avoid putting all your weight on your heels or the balls of your feet.
  • As you straighten upward, flex your knees slightly outward—do not let them come inward toward each other.
  • Drive your hips forward at the top of your squat, tensing your glutes.

Practicing proper squat form reduces pain after squats, promotes the development of leg muscles, and allows you to lift a heavy load. Begin with a weight that is tough but not extremely challenging. Gradually increase the weight as proper squats become second nature for you.

How Do You Strengthen Your Lower Back for Pain-Free Squats?

You can develop the ability to perform heavy squats without pain by crosstraining with other exercises. Supermans, good mornings, Pendlay rows, planks, and side planks all contribute to a stronger lower back. Add these exercises to your workout routine to increase your core strength and squat performance.

  • Target your lower back with specific workouts designed to build back muscle.
  • Good mornings and Pendlay rows are great barbell workouts for building back muscle.
  • You can build lower back strength with bodyweight exercises such as supermans, planks, and side planks.
  • Consider using battle rope workouts to build core strength for better squats.

Workouts that engage your core are almost always great for lower back strength. In order to build core strength, burn calories, and build muscle, consider our battle ropes exercises for back muscles. These exercises will help build the functional strength required for pain-free squats.

Which Squat Variation is Better for Your Lower Back?

Squats come in many variations. Some require more engagement from your lower back muscles than others. Depending on your fitness level and whether or not you have had a previous back injury, consider these squat variations.

Back Squat

The back squat, or barbell squat, is the classic squat movement. It does require a moderate amount of work from your lower back, so it’s a good starting point for beginners. However, it can aggravate back injuries. So, if you’re recovering from a back injury, it’s best to replace back squats with the trap bar deadlift.

Front Squat

The front squat puts more stress on the lower back muscles than any other variation on this list. Because the weight is balanced on the front of your shoulders, instead of behind your head, more leverage is placed on your lower back. While you can build a very strong lower back with front squats, this exercise also has an increased chance of causing a lower back injury. 

Goblet Squat

The goblet squat requires you to hold the weight in front of you, similar to a front squat, but is typically performed by holding a kettlebell or dumbbell. Because the goblet squat is typically done with less weight than other variations, it is a great training tool for gradually building lower back strength. After mastering goblet squats, your lower back will be strong enough for you to transition to back squats, or even front squats.

Split Squat

Split squats require great balance. Because of this, they require a lot of work from your core—especially your lower back—during the exercise. This makes them a poor choice if you are experiencing back pain while squatting. However, the Bulgarian split squat variation reduces the load on your lower back. So, you can use Bulgarian split squats as a leg workout while you are building lower back strength or recovering from a back injury.

Trap Bar Deadlift

Even though “squat” isn’t in the name of this exercise, trap bar deadlifts are one the best replacements for squats. The biomechanics of a trap bar deadlift makes the movement extremely similar to a back squat, so you get similar benefits for your quads and glutes. However, by lifting the weight from the floor instead of balancing it near your shoulders, you reduce the stress on your knees and back. This makes it the perfect choice for lifters who want to avoid back injury.

Should You Feel Squats in Your Lower Back?

If you are feeling pain or soreness in your lower back, you may be wondering if these sensations are normal. Here are the answers:

  • Lower back muscle soreness after squats is normal and not a cause for alarm.
  • Squats require you to tense your lower back to balance weight and perform the exercise properly, so you will get a low-back workout from squats.
  • Back pain after squats is not normal and could signify a back injury.
  • Protect yourself from back injury by reducing your squat weight and practicing safe squat form.
  • Cross-train with good mornings, supermans, and planks to build lower back strength for pain-free squats.
  • If you have chronic back pain or are recovering from a back injury, consider performing a back-safe squat variation, such as trap bar deadlifts.

Although deep squats primarily work your legs, the core muscles in your upper body get a workout from squats. It’s essential to remain aware when squats leave your back sore, versus when they cause back pain. If you are experiencing back pain while squatting, it’s time to rethink your form and consider performing other exercises to strengthen key muscles and prevent further injury.

Is incline bench harder?

Is Incline Bench Harder Than Flat Bench? [4 Incline Tips]

Can you do cardio on rest days?

Can You Do Cardio On Rest Days? [Pros Vs. Cons]