Weightlifting can be part of a healthy fitness routine, but it can also do more harm than good if done incorrectly. You might want the toned and tight muscles of a weightlifter, but not if it means straining your back. Hello, post-workout hobbler! By ensuring you nail proper technique, weightlifting and bodyweight exercises such as squats can be perfectly safe and effective additions to your usual routine, sans the strain on your back.
Next-day soreness often indicates you worked hard at the gym, but next-day back strain means you did something wrong. Most back injuries during weightlifting and squats can be attributed to poor form and technique. On their own, both squats and lifting are perfectly safe. While they might make your muscles a little sore, it shouldn't strain your lower-back tendons and muscles so badly that it's difficult or painful to move.
Your lower back is your body's support system. It works with your front core muscles to stabilize your body, which is especially necessary during squats and strength-training exercises. A common mistake that could have you in the danger zone is jerking your body when trying to lift or squat. Movements should always be slow and fluid to support your back. Another common issue is lifting way more than your body is able. When lifting weights, you should "burn out" or become fatigued after eight to 12 reps. If you can't get to eight reps and find yourself struggling, you're probably lifting too much, which is especially crucial during back-centric exercises like deadlifts. Knowing how to complete an exercise and using the proper amount of weight can help save your back while still allowing you to buff up.
When doing a squat, make sure that your legs -- not your back -- are doing the heavy lifting. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and as you dip down, imagine yourself sitting in a chair. Your knees should never pass over your toes and your back should remain straight, not hunched. When lifting weights, your core muscles should be engaged with the help of neutral spine. By keeping your back straight and your pelvis tucked, you'll cushion your lower back from excess strain. Never curve or round your back, and focus on the muscle group that should be doing the work. If you're doing shoulder flies, for instance, you shouldn't have to strain your back to lift.
If you still end up with a sore back after even a careful workout, you might need to strengthen your lower back muscles before you try any other hardcore exercise. You can always modify exercises to save a sore back as well. For instance, use an exercise ball between your back and a flat wall for squats or try a lighter weight for more reps until your back gets stronger. Stretching exercises, such as the cobra and cat/cow yoga poses, can also help soothe a sore lower back after a serious gym session.
Kay Ireland specializes in health, fitness and lifestyle topics. She is a support worker in the neonatal intensive care and antepartum units of her local hospital and recently became a certified group fitness instructor.