Squat Your Way to a Healthier Back

Do you suffer from chronic, but not debilitating, low back pain? Ninety percent of people suffer from it at some point in their lives. There is a simple, valuable technique that can help give you a stonger, more resilient low back: squatting.

When I was in my twenties, I experienced chronic aching in my back on a regular basis that would become almost intolerable on long car trips. I have a long torso, and a history of poor childhood posture. These, coupled with my work as a carpenter, were a perfect recipe for back pain.

During those years, I worked with a contractor named Robert who worked really hard for long hours and had done so for a long time. He was twenty years older than I, and I could barely keep up with him. I knew he didn't do yoga (which had helped resolve most of my back pain), so I was curious as to how he kept himself in shape to be able to do all the bending and lifting that was required in his strenuous work. I finally asked him. His answer was simple: Squats.

He said that he used to have frequent debilitating back pain before a chiropractor taught him to do these squats. He now does them faithfully every day and has never had back pain since. I was intrigued that a single exercise could give that much benefit.

Fast forward to present day. I still practice and teach Yoga, but not nearly as much as in those days, and I have two young kids that I lug around all the time as well. I am no longer doing carpentry but have other stresses on my low back (such as those kids!). Last year, I started getting some twinges of back pain again, just like in my twenties. The voice of Robert popped in my head. "Do the squats!" it said. So I started doing the squats-and guess what? No more back pain!

Squat training helps to strengthen your gluteal muscles and core, and stretches your lower back and hip flexors. In doing this, it helps to stabilize your sacrum and pelvis. It is important to coordinate the movement with your breath, as one does in the practice of Yoga.

The focus on deep inhaling and exhaling increases awareness and supports the movement. Notice that these squats are done with a wall as a guide. The alignment of your knees over your ankles is important to prevent knee strain or injury and to maximize benefit.

To do the wall squats:
  1. Face a wall with your feet six or so inches away from it and a little wider than hip width apart. If your knees bother you, turn your feet out slightly.
  2. Cross your arms over your chest and clasp on to your shoulders, or place your palms on your thighs and let them slide down the leg as you go down and back up as you come up. If you currently have low back or knee issues, start with this latter hand position.
  3. Inhale; press in to your feet, and feel the length of your body.
  4. Exhale; begin bending your knees into your first squat. Keep gazing straight ahead. Do not look down! At the bottom of the squat (and the exhale), wherever that is for you, pull the muscles of your lower abdomen toward your spine. It does not matter how low you go, so don't push it! Keep your knees following the direction of your middle toes to prevent strain on your ligaments.
  5. Inhale; come up out of your squat, releasing the muscles of the lower abdomen.
Repeat this exercise at least 3-4 times per week. Work up to doing it every day. Start with 5 repetitions, increasing slowly to 20 or more as you grow stronger.

When you begin to practice wall squats, the key is to start slowly. Notice how you feel the next day. It is OK to be a little bit sore. Skip a day if that feels wise. Remember to coordinate the down with the exhale and the up with the inhale. You can be on your way to a healthier spine, core, and pelvic region. If you are breathing fully, even your lungs are getting stronger!

Remember, if you have pain, it is always best to have it evaluated by a trained professional before you begin any sort of physical exercise. This exercise is not a cure-all nor is it for every body. Please exercise caution and common sense.

By Brett Avelin

Brett Avelin is an Acupuncturist at Sojourns Community Health Clinic. For more information please contact Sojourns Community Health Clinic, at (802) 722-4023.

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