Lower back pain is a fairly common ailment for many weight lifters. Fortunately, this pain and discomfort can largely be avoided by making a handful of simple changes to your technique in order to alleviate some of the stress experienced by your lower back during these compound lifts. Proper lifting technique is always going to be a series of small actions and motion modifications, the tricky part is maintaining them all at once to achieve the proper overall technique.
Don’t Round Your Lower Back!
While some rounding will be unavoidable when attempting 1RM-3RM (RM = “rep max”, or the maximum amount of weight which you can move for any given number of repetitions) range lifts, you should actively work to avoid any rounding in your lower back while in both the concentric and eccentric phases of the squat and deadlift. Rounding your back puts a great deal of stress on the lower back and can often result in disc-related injuries if done regularly.
Press Through the Floor
Placement and involvement of the feet during your lift is an often-overlooked factor in your overall lifting technique. As a rule of thumb you should work to have your feet roughly shoulder-width apart and with your toes slightly angled outwards. Avoid spinning your feet further out as you lift. When you’re entering the concentric phase of your squat or deadlift, you should focus on pressing through the floor with your toes/the ball of your foot and then transfer this force and weight through your heels as you press through. This helps to ensure a proper alignment and activation of your entire posterior chain as your move the weight.
Not Maxing Out? Then No Belt
You really do want to avoid using a weight lifting belt unless you are pushing the limits of your current strength. These belts are made for moments just like that, not for warmup or light sets. Over-reliance on a belt can hinder the development of critical muscles in the lower back which help to stabilize your core during any activity. Save it for the really heavy stuff.
Lifting with a knowledgable partner is one of the best things you can do to help identify and remedy any technique issues you may have. It’s quite hard to judge yourself in the mirror as you’re deadlifting your own body weight, or more. If you can’t get someone to come along with you to the gym, try videotaping yourself during your sessions and reviewing the film later to identify weaknesses worth working on.
Engage Your Core
You should be proactively engaging your core as you enter the eccentric phase of the squat and begin the concentric phase of your deadlift. Keeping these muscles tight will help you handle the weight while maintaining an even pattern of motion, both of which work to facilitate a safe transfer of of weight and force through your entire body.