T Nation

Squats & Spine


I love leg excercises, I was born with strong legs and training has made them stronger. But that has lead to a problem I can't squat more than 425, because of my spine, not my back or my legs, my spine. Just standing with that much weight on me causes my spine to scream with pain. After my set of 5 at 425 I droped down on an empty bench and lay there for about 15 min, writhing in pain. I have switched to AssToGrass squats because I can't use as much as much weight, but I need some suggestions so I don't hit another wall so to speak.


Dude, bummer. I think the key here is that you are able to walk in 15-20 years. I faced the same problem 25 years ago (I am 47) and reverted to leg presses where my spine is not an issue. I would have preferred squats but felt the trade off (being able to function later in life) was worth it.

Maybe someone else has some advice for you. All the best.



Perhaps trying 20-rep squats? Or doing your squats last, when your legs are already fried, so you can't use a big weight? I'm in a similar boat to you. I have two herniated disks in my back now and haven't squatted heavy in over a year. I used to squat 450. I want to get back there, but it may not be a wise thing to do. Actually I am now using one of Ian King's Limping programs. It seems to not irritate my back and still gives my legs a good pounding.


Couple of questions:
1. Is there anything actually wrong with your spine? Do you know for sure one way or the other? Have you seen a chiro or physio or got tests done on it? Or is your spine just a weak point that needs to be improved?

  1. If the answer is yes to one of the above, have you done anything about it?

People's spine's scream in pain for a very good reason. Ignoring that is just fucking dumb.


I think if your spine gets an okay for the doc, I would start incorporating standing overhead lockouts in a rack. Side presses, Saxon side bends and even really heavy Hise shrugs maybe can help to really strengthen your entire support structure. Just a thought.


My spine is medicaly fine. I like your suggestions BradS I give them a shot since I like the old school lifts anyway thanks everyone for youu input and my spine thanks you especially



Do you have any strange curvature, anterior tilt of the pelvis, or anything that would place undue strain on anything while standing under that weight?

Have you been deadlifting? Have you been doing farmers walks? Have you been doing good mornings? Have you been doing things to really beef up the midsection so that it can take that kind of weight?

I'm no expert, just throwing things out there in case something jumps out at you...


Cool I'll take all the help I can get, There is nothing wrong with my back, or posture. The pressure only gets to me when I straighten my back, as I lower the weight and I lean forward a bit I can handle the weight it is in the lockout position that I have problem. I don't do goodmornings, because I flat out hate the move, but I do deadlift alot, and I do farmers walks, I do MMA so my core is the target of most of my training. However I do have a very thin waist at 27" but I can do a 2x body weight deadlift so I don't think my core muscles are the problem, but please keep the ideas comming.


I would recommend seeing a chiroparactor that also specializes in ART. Might try hitting up Dr. Deeble on elitefts.com with some questions.

I definately wouldn't give up on squatting all together. I squatted 402 at nationals 3 weeks ago with a buldged disc in my neck. In fact my old doctor told me I shouldn't even be lifting. So, how did I respond...I got a new doctor who understands athletes. ART along with Chiro has worked wonders for my spine. You also might need to add in some more core work to you routine.

Good luck!


425 lbs with a 27 inch waist! That'll hurt. In all seriousness though I know you said you hate good mornings but they have done wonders for by lower back strength - it has helped me build up a lot more explosiveness in both my squat and deadlift and my lower back rarely fatigues on me during squat and deads anymore. Hyperextensions will get you there too if they're done properly with less emphasis on the hamstrings.

still good mornings have always been superior for me in gaining real lower back power. I would bit the bullet and force yourself to try them for a 4 or 6 week cycle and see if that helps with the pain


I know a 27" waist and I'm 6'3 to boot, the men in my family are all legs, when we put on weight it's all in the thigh, calf and ass, It's almost impossible to buy pants lol. But I think you guys are on the right track with building up the strenght of the tissues in my mid and lower back, any thing other than side press, saxon side bends, overhead squat, and uggghhh goodmornings, if it is a "good morning" which I doubt.



Writhing on the floor in pain for 15 minutes...Sounds like something is wrong to me. What kind of diagnostic testing have you had to evaluate your back.

Do have pain at any other times or just following heavy squats? Where is the pain located?


The pain is strictly limited to the squatting above 400 and 15 min is probably an exageration, lets say it felt like 15 min. There was no swelling or stiffness in my back and it was never pressure sensitive. The pain was limited to my mid back, along the spinal column. The thoracic vertbrea is what it think the area is called. The pain was only serious once I have tried 400+ since but I can feel the pressure building so I stopped.

I saw my GP about it but he wasn't concerned because there were no negtive residual effects, loss of muscle, or loss of flexibilty, or pain. Thanks for asking Doc.


I had an acute dislocation of a vertebra a few months ago while squatting. Sounds very similar to your description. The guy I lift with is an ART practitioner among other things, and he got me on the table for some neuro stimulation realy quickly, but the fix for the situation was to stabilize the spine, lateral bends at a bunch of angles and heavy ab work. Also had to increase the flexability of all the groups around the hips.


If you absolutely hate full range GMs try doing arched back GMs. They have worked really well for several people at my gym myself included.


If you have this much pain when you are doing squats, you have some sort of problem with your back or a related muscle.

ART should help, along with tweaking your exercise form.


Do you do high bar squats? If I go heavy with the bar placement high up on my shoulders it irritates my spine more. I switched to using a lower bar placement and it has alleviated any of the spine pain issue, even when I'm doing heavy quarter squats.

Might be something to try. Make sure to chalk your back up a bit with the lower bar placement to save some of the wrist stress you may suffer from while your body adapts.




Thanks senseless, acutally I do rest the bar pretty high up, I'll give your idea a shot.

and what are arch backed GMs I have never heard of them before.


Aren't reverse hypers what Louie Simmons used (or created) when his back had issues? I think I read that somewhere.

There was some mention of the "down" position allowing fluid to circulate better.

Correct me if I'm wrong on that....


Reversehypers are good if the issue is muscular weakness, not a disc. When a disc is involved a foward flexed position such as in the reverse hyper will increase the stress on the area.