Who’s asked, “Why Do Front Squats Hurt My Upper Back?”
Front squats are certainly a great variation to the barbell back squat.
Plus, they definitely build your quads much better than traditional squats.
However, you may have noticed that your upper back hurts whenever you perform front squats.
So, what exactly is going on here?
Why Do Front Squats Hurt My Upper Back?
Your upper back actually has to do a lot of work during front squats. This is especially true at the bottom of the squat, as the erector spinae muscles help you to maintain an upright position. So, if your back muscles are weak you will definitely feel this more during front squats. Plus, a lack of thoracic and ankle mobility can cause you to lean forward at the bottom of the movement, thus placing more stress on the upper back.
1. The Upper Back Does a Lot of Work During Front Squats
We generally view the variety of squats as leg exercises.
But, in truth they are more of a full-body exercise than you may think.
This is probably why they are deemed as such a great exercise.
And the front squat is definitely no different.
So, one of the main reasons that front squats may hurt your upper back is simply because there is a lot of “back” involvement during the movement.
In fact, I would view front squats as just a good exercise to train the abs and back as they are for the quads.
Basically, your abs will need to stabilize throughout each rep.
Plus, the back, especially the erector spinae muscles work extremely hard during front squats.
Your upper back is literally working overtime to ensure that you maintain an upright body position at the bottom of the squat.
By maintaining an upright body position you can ensure that you can secure the barbell safely in place.
This is true irrespective of how you hold the barbell during front squats.
So, if you hold the bar in the traditional rack position, the same as you would for a clean, or whether your arms are crossed in front of you.
This upper back involvement is true of any squat where you are holding the weight in front of you, e.g. goblet squats, sandbag squats, medicine ball squats, etc.
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2. You Have Weak Back Muscles
Do you ever find yourself falling forward whenever you perform front squats?
If so, this is usually a sign of weak upper back muscles.
You’ll often see people performing a front squat, but bent over with their torso in a similar position to the bent-over row or Romanian deadlift.
And to make matters worse their back will either be rounded or curved as they try to stabilize the weight in front of them.
Unfortunately, not only is this terrible technique, it could also be a precursor for injury.
And all of this occurs due to weak upper back muscles.
Plus, the stress and strain of trying to hold the bar in place while you are bent over in this way will obviously have an impact on your upper back too.
And this is probably why your back hurts after performing a few sets of front squats.
If any of this sounds familiar it’s probably time to increase your lat and upper back training.
In truth, having a strong upper back has a knock-on effect on so many aspects of training and everyday life.
A strong upper back will help you with various lifts and it will also improve your posture.
For me, there are few better exercises than a variety of rows and pull ups/chin ups.
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You’ll also find that having a strong upper back will help to dramatically improve the “Big 3” lifts, namely barbell back squats, deadlifts, and bench press.
So, your back training should be at the forefront of your mind.
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3. You Lack Thoracic Spine Mobility
Your mobility plays a huge part in how well you can front squat, and of course that you can do so pain free.
However, most of us tend to think of wrist mobility, if we choose to hold the barbell in the traditional way for front squats.
Therefore, not much thought is given to where else good mobility may be required.
With that being said, a lack of thoracic spine mobility could be severely hampering your ability to front squat.
And this will also probably explain your upper back pain too.
The thoracic spine is located between your neck and lower back.
It comprises the 12 thoracic vertebrae and your rib cage.
A lack of thoracic mobility could have an impact on 4 particular areas, and these are your:
- Movement of your upper limbs
- Movement of your lower limbs
So, as you can see it is an extremely important area of the body.
Having a good range of motion in the thoracic spine is essential for good posture and for most sport-related movements.
Therefore, a lack of mobility in this area could be affecting your front squat, and it could well be the reason for your upper back pain.
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4. You Lack Ankle Mobility
A lack of ankle mobility is often viewed as the main problem when it comes to maintaining good squat technique.
Regardless of the type of squat, your knees move forward over your toes, and this is especially true if you want to squat deep.
You can go into any gym anywhere in the world and you’re bound to see someone trying to squat too much weight.
More often than not, this will involve nothing more than a few reps of half or even quarter-squats, before setting the bar back to rest on the rack.
However, I’m willing to bet that a large percentage of these “half-squatters” would struggle to perform a bodyweight squat with good form.
And the reason, they will undoubtedly lack ankle mobility.
For me, if you’re going to squat, then squat deep.
In fact, if you perform any exercise, whether in the gym or at home, then do so with proper technique and full range of motion.
Otherwise you’re just wasting your time.
You will actually achieve greater muscular and strength gains by using a lighter weight with perfect form than you would with a heavier weight and poor technique.
Resistance training isn’t always just about the weight, but the fact that you can maintain great technique with an added load.
So, when it comes to performing front squats you may typically find that a lack of ankle mobility is stopping you from maintaining an upright body position.
And as we now know this places a great deal of additional (and unwanted) stress on the upper back.
So, I hope you have a better idea of why your upper back hurts when doing front squats.
Firstly, it’s important to realise that the upper back has a great deal of work to do during front squats.
In fact, your abs and erector spinae muscles are probably working just as hard as your quads to help you maintain an upright torso.
The pain you’re feeling could also be a sign that you have weak upper back muscles, and they are struggling to stabilize the load.
Additionally, a lack of thoracic or ankle mobility will definitely restrict your ability to squat well.
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Hi, I’m Partha, owner and founder of My Bodyweight Exercises. I am a Level 3 Personal Trainer and Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist through the Register of Exercise Professionals, United Kingdom. I have been a regular gym-goer since 2000 and coaching clients since 2012. My aim is to help you achieve your body composition goals.