I have a history of low back pain and I'm worried about squatting and injuring my low back. Is the safest squat variation the front squat? If not, what is?
Bad form will hurt your back.
Just do it right (back, front, smith, etc) and you will have no problems. I would even look into deadlifts to strengthen the lower back.
I've had a bad back since the age of 16, you learn to cope, work around. But the worst thing you can do is nothing or not do it because "you heard this guy say".
there was recently an article or live-spill topic about 1-leg squat variations which greatly reduce the load on the lower back. should you still run into trouble following JFG's advice, these might be a good option for you.
just a little anecdote:
when i started training, my knees and back were all fudged up (terrible genetics as far as joints go in my family). when i started squatting, my knee pain disappeared, and when i started dl'ing, my lower back pain was cut in half.
Generally speaking, yes. It's very hard to let your form deteriorate enough to make it dangerous. They're a great way to hit the quads without taxing the lower back too much.
Much nicer to my erectors than back squats.
I have had lots of back problems (injuries) over the years, as a beginner lifter i have found that squatting and deadlifting are reducing my episodes of back pain considerably.
I believe that 1. Doing lots of movement repetitions is crucial as a beginner 2.Keeping it light. 3.Listenning to what your back is telling you and 4. My personal favourite is the goblet squat.
I think in general one leg squats are a bad idea, or rather a more risky one but if nothing else works he can try it.
Problem is, people get imbalances doing lifts with both arms/legs. Doing them seperately will probably create a bigger imbalance which will likely result in an injury at some point.
Yupp. I can front squat all day, but when it comes to back squats, they are pretty taxing on my lower back.
check out ripptoe's article 'back position for power' and make sure you understand what is required for holding and maintaining your lumbar arch. if you can hold your lumbar arch properly then squats and deads will help your lower back rather than harm it. if you can't hold your lumbar arch then you need to learn to do this for safety both inside and outside the weight room. you need to hold your lumbar arch with front squats, too, but they are perhaps a bit more forgiving insofar as the requirement of an upright torso reduces the torque on the lower back and of course people move lighter weights with the front squat.
One thing I learned the hard way with front squats is to not go up in weight too much too soon. I started doing them again a few months ago and had gotten stronger since the last time they were a part of my program. Ended up going very low on all reps and I believe what I did was relax my lower back before coming out of the hole. Bad news. Luckily, I only had a moderate strain I've been nursing but point being, I should've taken things slower.
boo fucking hoo. do all variations unless your vertebrae are missing. if back squat is taxing on your lower back, you're doing it wrong and/or your back isnt strong enough!
"Yes, if you squat wrong it fucks things up. If you squat correctly, those same fucked-up things will unfuck themselves." -Mark Rippetoe