If you have knee or low back pain while squatting, it's likely due to one of two technique errors.
- Lack of midline stabilization (not addressed here) - This probably will cause low back pain. You're not properly breathing and bracing your midsection aka "core" so that it can stabilize your spine.
- Lack of glute and hamstring activation - This is typically cause be either weakness in those muscles or simply lack of activation in those muscles, leading to a knee and quad dominant squat. The resulting squat will have the knees shooting forward and caving inward and place a lot of stress on the knees and low back.
Using box squat variations is a great way to learn to load your hips and better use your glutes and hamstrings. We use box variations regularly here at Devoted Strength to accomplish exactly that. The results is less low back and knee pain for our clients... and over time with practice, no pain at all.
Check out this video for more details...
While this client's box squat is not yet perfect, it's a huge stride in the right direction and he immediately noticed relief from his knee and back pain. Once he's consistently able to load his hips and keep his knees out on the box, we'll then progress him back to a free standing squat using the same technique and cues.
One of the big things to look for when determining when to go back to a free squat is your control when touching the box. You should be able to gently "kiss" the box with your butt, rather than plop onto it. That gentle kiss will signify that your posterior chain is strong enough and you have enough control to support your new free squat technique.
Keep in mind too, if you're not actually competing using the squat (or a barbell for that matter), there's nothing wrong with always using alternative squat variations. Stronger is stronger! If you choose to always squat with a box or even with something other than a barbell, that's cool. The important thing is that you're working to improve your body, mind, and strength.
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