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Jeremy Ethier’s 3 squat mistakes that result in lower back injuries



Jeremy Ethier, kinesiologist, fitness trainer, and founder of Built with Science, knows that guys want to build strong legs with squats. But he also knows that the seemingly easy movement can be challenging for some lifters for a variety of reasons – which can lead to problems.

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“Of the most common squat injuries, the lower back is the most common injury site,” says Ethier. “This means that you need to carefully consider your squat shape as there are some common squat shape mistakes that people make with it that can lead to back pain and injury over time.”

Ethier points out that there are three common mistakes he sees in squats and that steps he takes can help improve your squats, prevent injuries, and build a stronger, healthier lower body.

Mistake 1: Butt wink

“Butt wink is a term used to describe when someone approaches the floor of their squat and begins to tilt their pelvis back and tuck their tailbone under them, causing a slight curve or flexion of the lumbar spine,” says Ethier.

This phenomenon has been studied and has been linked to disc injuries.

“Research seems to suggest that this subtle rounding of the lumbar spine is associated with disc injuries and can become problematic over time,” continues Ethier. “Most people experience this butt wink because of ankle mobility issues. If you have adequate ankle mobility, your knee can move more forward as you descend, and you can get the right depth, with your lower back and pelvis balancing this out have to.”

To improve ankle mobility, Ethier recommends doing daily stretches and exercises before you crouch. These include a weighted ankle stretch, a wall stretch, and deep squats. You can also implement a “quick fix” to help by using a slightly wider posture as that way you can squat lower with less ankle movement and use platform heel lifters.

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Mistake 2: Hips rise too fast (“Good Morning Squat”)

“This happens when the hips shoot up and rise much faster than the chest. This is problematic because it increases lumbar strength and shear stress on the spine,” says Ethier.

To counter this, you need to focus on keeping your chest upright during the ascent of the movement and making sure your hips don’t shoot up behind you as you start to tire in later sets.

“If you are struggling with this, it probably has to do with both your motor coordination and a possible weakness in your quadriceps,” says Ethier. When your quads are weak, your glutes and lower back must take the load.

To remedy this, Ethier suggests that you reduce the weight of your squats and incorporate paused squats to get your quads to stay involved. To do this, take a short break at the bottom of your crouch, come halfway up, stop again, and then come back up.

The goal is to make sure that your chest and hips rise at the same rate.

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Mistake 3: breathing

“Inhaling on the way down and exhaling on the way up is fine for most exercises that are less strenuous. However, doing this when you’re having more tiring sets of barbell squats creates a lot of instability run the elevator, “says Ethier.

Instead, you need to use a breathing technique that increases your intra-abdominal pressure and think about walking underwater every time you crouch.

“Take a deep breath in your stomach, then prop your core up like someone is hitting your stomach. Then, keep holding on and holding that breath as you go underwater (descend) and ascend and during your repetition then exhale and reset to the top position when you get out of the water, “says Ethier.

The Plan of Action for Better Squats

Ethier encourages you to film yourself squatting in order to spot any of the mistakes mentioned above. Then take action based on how your shape looks. If you notice an excessive wink at the bottom of your squat, test to see if it’s due to ankle mobility restrictions. If so, do daily ankle flexibility exercises and avoid deep, heavy squats (go parallel or as close as possible) until your range of motion improves. Avoid the good morning squat by using paused squats, and remember to propel the chest up from the lower position of movement (also known as a hole). And during your heavier sets of barbell squats, you can protect your lower back and add more stability by increasing your intra-abdominal pressure using the underwater breathing analogy presented earlier.

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