Best strategy to protect your back during squats and deadlifts

We are big supporters of including squats and deadlifts in any workout regimen. Both of these exercises are big compound movements, which target multiple muscle groups in the body and provide great functional benefit. Despite the benefits, a lot of us avoid doing these two lifts because of the dangers of injury. The biggest fear most of us have is in injuring our back. Both Squats and Deadlifts put enormous amounts of compressive force on the lower back even when the lift is performed correctly. This can cause soreness in the back, which may last for many days.

To understand what causes this discomfort in the back let’s understand the spine. The spine is made up of a series of bones called vertebrae stacked on top of each other (see figure below). The vertebrae are separated by soft material called intervertebral disks. These disks act as cushions between the vertebrae and absorb all the shocks while running or lifting weights.

While squatting, deadlifting or doing any other heavy lifting, these disks are compressed. Each disk consists of a soft inner part and a hard outer part. If the disk is compressed beyond a certain level the soft part of the disk might protrude out and compress the spinal nerves, resulting in pain and discomfort. This situation is known as herniated slip disk. Even when there is no slip disk, the soft inner part can get pinched in the front and move to the backside putting pressure on the nerves.

The best strategy for minimizing the discomfort is to do a proper warm up before lifting and stretch after performing the lift. We understand that most of us are not interested in this “not so sexy” part of the workout, and find doing this part a chore. With that in mind we provide some quick and simple methods anyone can use to properly prepare for lifting heavy weights. It should not take more than a few minutes before and after the workout to perform these movements.

Warm Up

Through warm up you prepare your lower back for all the assaults it will have to take when you do squats and deadlifts. Warming up involves performing dynamic stretches and light warm up lifts. Performing dynamic stretches not only stretches your joints and muscles but also increases the temperature and blood flow in your muscles. Higher blood flow and temperature allow for higher contractile force been generated in your muscles. For the back the best dynamic stretches are standing dynamic twists and dynamic side-bends they are very simple and easy to perform (If you don’t know how to perform them, just Google them and you will find ton of information). Perform 10 or more reps for each side.

After completing the dynamic stretches do not move directly to lifting full weights instead start out with lighter weights to gently introduce you joints to the loads they will be subjected to. When we put moderate pressure on our joints, these joints absorb water. This reduces the friction in the joints and improves their ability to absorb shocks.

Cool Down

After you have completed your workout, your disks have been compressed due to the heavy load you have lifted. You now need to stretch out your back to decrease this compression and reduce pressure on your nerves. One of the easiest ways to stretch out the back is to just hang from a pull up bar for half a minute 2-3 times and let gravity do the work. Another good way to reduce the compression is foam rolling the back.

By just following these simple techniques, Ian in the image above would have greatly decreased his chances of getting injured. Unfortunately for him, he did not follow this advice and injured his back. Don’t be like him, perform warm up and stretching before and after every workout.

Bottom line: Warm up and Stretching are an integral part of any workout and should not be ignored. It is very simple to do them, they take very little time and the consequences of not doing them can be detrimental to your fitness program.

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