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High Bar VS Low Bar Squat for Lower Back Pain!

Are you struggling with lower back pain after squats? Tweaked your lower back while squatting? Many individuals struggling with low back pain, disc herniation, or sciatica are eager to get back in the gym and get fit again. However, how often do you get back under the bar just to find out your low back can't handle it yet? Frustrating right?! Well, let's discuss which squatting position is ideal for you so that you can get back under the bar with less pain and more knowledge so you can conquer these low back issues and get fit again! You should not have a sore lower back after squats!

High Bar Squat

This squatting position is set up so the bar is on the top of the traps. This is a more traditional way of squatting that most gym-goers will perform. Now, how does the squatting position affect your mechanics? Let's see!

As you can see this particular bar position helps most individuals stay in a decently upright position. Now, this also depends on the individual's mobility. Is there a low back, hip, or ankle mobility deficit that needs to be addressed? Most likely! That is probably part of the reason you are in this situation in the first place, so we may need to team up and address that first to make sure you get back to being bulletproof. But due to the more upright position, you can see we tend to have LESS hip flexion and MORE knee flexion. This tells us less load is concentrated in the low back and hips.

Low Bar Squat

This squatting position is set up so the bar is on top of the spine of the scapula or the rear delts. This squatting position is often used by powerlifters due to the leverage advantage it has allowing the lifter to typically lift more weight when compared to the high bar squat. Now, how does this squatting position affect your mechanics?

As you can see when compared to the high bar position, we are in a less-upright position. What this produces is MORE hip flexion and LESS knee flexion. This tells us more load is concentrated in the low back and hips. This is why most lifters can lift more weight in a low bar position due to the mechanical advantage. A good visual is shown below comparing the two.

So Which Should you Choose?

In most cases, individuals will feel best staying in a more upright position. Most people who are dealing with lumbar disc related issues find it's easily tweaked when hinging forward so this may be ideal for these injuries. Therefore between these 2 options, only the high bar position would be ideal. However it is very important to understand that each individual may be different, and if they find that 1 particular method feels better than the other despite what this article says, they should do whichever version feels best to them! On paper, the more upright you are the less pressure on the low back. Also, the more upright you are the less nerve tension you have. This is why individuals struggling with sciatic nerve pain often do better with upright movements.

Are There Additional Squatting Options for Low Back Issues?

YES! I highly recommend front squats (pictured left below) or goblet squats (pictured right below) as an alternative altogether to get individuals used to squatting with load again before returning to a back squat. This is a very helpful way to start feeling that weight again and getting squatting with very minimal risks involved. This will help expose the lower back and lumbar discs to load so they can begin to adapt and get stronger to prepare for higher force exercises. After some time utilizing these exercises the disc herniation will most likely have adapted well to the load placed on it and you may be able to withstand more load and transition to a back squat at the right time in your rehab program.

Isn't squatting bad for your discs though?

No no no. Not at all! Squatting is a fundamental movement that helps your discs get stronger! Remember, your body can adapt to anything. These "stresses" will help your spine, discs, hips and all joints become stronger and more resilient! We want to be squatting for our whole lives to stay healthy and strong!

Low Back Still Hurt Though? Squatting Still Aches?

Okay but my low back still hurts even with all these squatting options! What do I do?!

Great question. I mentioned this in the high bar section, but if the root of the issue is not being addressed by the squatting position then there is no point in putting so much time into squat setup if you are not addressing the root of the issue! Many individuals I work with online are quite strong and proficient in the gym. The reason for their low back pain is NOT because they don't know how to squat. The reason is typically related to more specific low back issues and hip issues. If the specific low back issue is not resolved it will not matter how perfect your squat is, you may still feel irritated every time! We need to address the root of the issue then!

What is the next step to squatting pain-free without lower back pain?

I understand how serious this is to you and so I wanted to provide a FREE WEBINAR for you to learn my top tips for preventing and recovering from low back, disc herniation, or sciatica-related issues and getting back into regular exercise. The more you know, the more in control you will become. I want YOU to be in control of your low back so you can understand how to fix it yourself and manage it properly for the rest of your life without depending on any providers! I love teaching people this stuff!

Still Needing Help?

You are not alone. Many people struggle to find the right help for low back issues. If you found this article helpful, and are still needing that plan you've been looking for with the right guidance to work through it as a team then it is time to take this seriously. If you are ready to get better, and ready for a better plan than you have right now then I would be honored to team up and walk you through this recovery process to make it clear, simple, and easy! Ya disc herniations are not fun, but you don't have to make recovering so difficult. Let me help you! Click the link below to apply for my 1:1 coaching program so we can meet and learn how to effectively resolve this as a team! I look forward to meeting you!


Thanks for reading! -Dr. Grant Elliott


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