Low back pain is about as common as a cold. Nearly everyone will have one at some point in their life1. No program or training has been proven to completely remove the risk of back pain, but I want to give you some tools to help you keep your back as healthy as possible, specifically with lifting and squatting form.
Maintaining a neutral spine position can help reduce the risk of injury to the commonly injured structures of the spine.
Avoid these 3 errors during lifting
1. The Rounded Back:
A rounded back approach will place increased stress on the muscles and ligaments of the posterior spine. Muscles in a stretched position cannot generate as much force as muscles in a mid-range position. Lifting a load that is too large can lead to muscle strain. The discs between the vertebras are most likely to herniate, or bulge, to the posterior. Bending forward increases the pressure on these discs(2), which can increase the risk of injury. Bending forward with a load increases the pressure on the disk even more. Although these injuries can heal, from experience, I highly recommend trying to avoid this mistake.
2. The Super Arched Back:
Bending forward is not beneficial for the back, but the other extreme is not great as well. When the back is fully extended, the joints on the posterior side of the vertebrae compress together. Think of gymnasts or offensive linemen that extend their backs to the extreme, the later with large loads. These individuals experience higher rates of fractures3 and may be more likely to develop arthritis in these joints.
3. Squatting too Deeply with Extreme Loads:
This is specific for our athletes and powerlifters out there. During an ultra-deep squat, the hip joint will go through its full range. The low back then begins to round from the bottom up. Even while maintaining good mechanics, the hip may start to produce the beginnings of a rounded back. Without the heavy load, squats can help maintain lumbar flexion range of motion. Once you start adding large loads, it would be wise to maintain a neutral spine in order to decrease stress on the low back.
As with many things in life, quality beats quantity. I recommend working on squat mechanics without weight to avoid making the mistakes above. I recommend starting to add weight only after your squat mechanics are perfected, due to the fact that weight can exacerbate poor movement patterns. Squatting in front of a full-length mirror or recording a video of your squat can help you identify movement errors. If you cannot perform a squat with good form, a physical therapist can help identify strength, mobility, or motor control deficits and give corrective exercises to improve your ability to move and lift safely.
Although I recommend avoiding the deep squat under large loads, there may not be a “perfect” lifting form for everyone. Body structure, injury history, environmental barriers, and the weight of an object are all important considerations that may change lifting strategies to keep you moving and lifting well. A golfer’s lift or split stance lift may be an alternative lift to suit your needs.
Here are 3 examples of lifting mechanics that may fit your needs:
1. The Golfer’s Lift
2. The Proper Lift
3. The Kneeling Lift
Thanks for reading and feel free to leave your comments and questions below.
3 Common Lifting Mistakes To Avoid
- Brotzman & Manske. Clinical Orthopaedic Rehabilitation: An Evidence Based Approach. 3rd ed. Philadelphia: Elsevier, 2011. 467-70. Print.
- Wilke, Neef, Caimi, et al. New in vivo measurements of pressures in the intervertebral discs in daily life. Spine. 1999; 24(8):755-762.
- Hu SS, Tribus CB, Diab M, Ghanayem AJ. Spondylolisthesis and spondylolysis. J Bone Joint Surg Am. 2008; 90(3):656-71.