A question I get a lot of, in one form or another is: “My back hurts after I squat… what’s up with that?” Let’s begin with my answer… I have NO, FUCKING, IDEA. Now, I know, that’s not very helpful. But realize that there are so many reasons why your back may hurt after lifting, there’s no way for me to have the right answer for YOU. However, there are a couple very common reasons, so I figured I’d take some time to discuss them. Maybe this will help you, maybe it won’t. Ok, on to the most common source of back pain I see, tight hamstrings. Let’s be honest. Nobody wants to stretch. Nobody wants to do mobility work. We all just want to lift heavy shit in peace. That’s it. Is that too much to ask for? But, then that silly back pain creeps in and inhibits your ability to do what you love.
Assessing Your Hammies
Do me a favor. Take a quick break from this email. Lay flat on the floor. Now, keeping your right leg straight, lift it off the ground as high as you can. Go ahead. Go do that now. Alright, how high could you raise your leg? Probably not to 90 degrees (that’s perpendicular to the ground). Maybe nowhere close to that. This is just one assessment of hamstring flexibility, but it’s a damn good one. So, if you’re struggling to hit 90 degrees, you’ve got some work to do, and that tightness in your hamstring may be contributing to back pain (and may also be holding back your lifts). Now, there are a ton of hamstring stretches I can list here and you can watch a few of the videos, think to yourself, “yeah, I should probably do those,” then go back to not doing them. So, let’s hit the highlight reel. There are two things I’ve found to be super effective, that don’t take much time, for opening up those hammies.
Jefferson Curls – that’s right, a novel lift to add to your training that will help your hamstrings, it’s really meant to be a back strengthener, but it works… trust me
Supernova 2.0 – sitting your leg on this little fucker will change your life, it ain’t cheap, but if you spend just a couple minutes a day doing it, you will see huge change – and you can use it while watching tv – do it
So if you’re struggling with back pain OR you massively failed the hamstring mobility test outlined above, give the above two fixes a shot and let me know how it goes.
Flexibility Isn’t Always the Problem
The second most common issue I see is deficient lower back strength. If your legs are much stronger than your low back, it can lead to pain when (or after) squatting. In fact, a while back I sent an email to my subscribers with some tips on how to diagnose a leg-dominant squat. It went like this… “So, we know, if you’re able to get out of the hole relatively quickly, but you consistently hit a sticking point about halfway up – and especially if your knees tend to shift backwards at this sticking point, there’s a good chance you need to focus on your back…” Now, if that sounds like you and / or you have low back pain after squatting, it may be worth it to add some low back accessory work into your training. Some of my favorite movements are:
Any of these movements can be done with rep ranges around 5-10 in 3-5 sets. Don’t overload the movements. Make sure you focus on recruiting your back muscles and move well. If you try all of this mobility and back strengthening stuff and you still have pain after squatting, it’s best to go visit a chiro or PT and get checked out. You shouldn’t have pain after lifting, it’s a sign that something is wrong. And if you want to keep lifting for the foreseeable future, don’t be a dumbass, get it checked out. -Coach
The alternate title for this article is, Can You Get a Six-Pack From Just Squats and Deads?
It’s become accepted knowledge in most gyms and to most lifters that if you’re doing these compound movements, you don’t need to do core isolation movements. Science has proven they’re superior. Rejoice! No more side bends, sit ups or bicycle crunches.
The problem is that this “common knowledge” is based on a flawed, sensationalized interpretation of the research.
The studies that are often cited to back up the claim that squats and deads are superior for your core can be found here and here. Go ahead and read them. I’ll wait…. Just kidding. I’ll save you the time and outline the issues with the interpretation of those papers.
In the first study, the researchers are looking exclusively at the deep core muscles. There is nothing wrong with that. They found that squats and deads seem to be just as effective as isolated core movements for activating these deep muscles. However, they didn’t look at the surface muscles: rectus abdominis and obliques. So, if you’re interested in that six pack, this study doesn’t really provide any clues for you.
The second study actually compared squats & deads to isolation movements for the posterior core, not the anterior core. So, again… great information if you’re interested in understanding the impact of these movements on your back side, but no info for the front! It may seem crazy, but this is the way the media runs away with stories. They see a study was conducted looking at compound movements against isolation movements, barely even read the abstract and then start cranking out the hype.
So, feel free to use the hype machine to inform your training, but for me… I’m going to keep those weighted knee raises and the ab roller in my training. Don’t get my wrong, I’m still squatting and deadlifting religiously, but in addition to being able to pick up a car – it’s nice to look good at the beach too.
Now you have the information. Use it to design training around your core needs / goals. So, go forth, lift heavier shit AND look good doing it.
Judging from the responses to our recent supplement survey creatine, protein, BCAAs, beta alanine, caffeine and fish oil all make the greatest hits list. Are these any of these products in your supplement stack?
When I write about a supplement, I’m usually focused on efficacy. Does this product actually do the things you think it does.
This post isn’t about efficacy though. It’s about safety.
Most of us assume the supplements we take are completely safe. In fact one study showed 85% of American’s are confident in the safety of their supplements. As lifters that number is probably even higher since we tend to carry a shaker bottle with us everywhere we go.
What you might not realize is that there really are no safety or testing requirements for supplement companies before marketing and selling products to the public. I mean, the FDA does have the authority to pull products, but this is only exercised when serious adverse effects are present…. you know, like people dying from diet pills sort of thing. Take a look at this awesome video if you want an informative and hilarious look at the “regulation” of the supplement industry.
Now, why do I bring all of this up?
Well, a 2013 study I came across recently, examined 44 supplements from 12 different manufacturers and found that 33% of them contained contaminants and / or fillers that weren’t listed on their label. So, there was a 1-in-3 chance that the supplements contained something they didn’t disclose. Sure, this “something” could be totally benign, but it could also be something you’re allergic to or something you absolutely don’t want to consume. Does anyone here recall the heavy metals in whey protein scare from a while back?
So, maybe you read my post on BCAAs and thought to yourself, “I don’t care if they’re not really effective, I like the taste… what’s the harm in taking them?” Well, the harm may be that they contain shit you don’t know about and that no one is really paying attention to.
I don’t tell you all of this to scare, just to arm you with information to make smarter choices when it comes to your supplementation. I still take supplements. Top lifters take supplements. They are fundamental to optimizing strength and size. You may just want to consider the following when buying and consuming supplements….
Make sure there is a solid, research-backed reason for taking each product in your own personal supplement stack.
Don’t let price be the primary deciding factor in the products you buy, you usually get what you pay for.
Use sites like labdoor.com that provide free reports and independent testing on supplements so you can feel more confident there isn’t garbage lurking in the supplements you buy.
Alright, enough for now. Go forth, supplement intelligently and lift some heavy shit.