Bjorn Tipling

A blog about my personal fitness, programming and life.

My (Painful) Journey at Getting Better at Squatting

I started squatting about 14 months ago. I love squats. It is such a great exercise, but I'm still learning how to squat. I jumped into barbell squats before I knew what I was doing. I have pain from getting hurt in October. I believe I hurt both my MCU on my right knee and my lower back from not knowing how to squat and increasing weights anyways. Things seemed fine until they suddenly were not anymore. I know now that I wasn't even doing bodyweight squats correctly. I really had no business putting a barbell on my back until I knew how to squat just my weight.

Now my back hurts and my knee hurts. Stretching helps my knee not hurt. Both my back and my knee have gotten much better, but I have re-injured my back several times since October. Learning to do exercises better helps me avoid hurting my back. As bad as it is, this injury is teaching me how to improve my form and how to exercise better because when I do it right my back doesn't ache. I'm increasing my deadlift weights again, although very slowly because I'm listening to my back and it's not being hurt by what I'm doing.

But then I hurt my back again on Monday, just a tiny bit. This ongoing injury lets me know when I've messed up – too much stress and my back starts to ache. I've been working on dumbbell squats. Two dumbbells in my hands, I've gotten it down. I started at very low weights and worked my way up to two 20lb dumbbells in each hand and I can do those without pain. So on Monday, I went up to 50lbs, but instead of using dumbbells I switched to my fitness sandbag. I thought this would be no problem, but a front squat is not the same form as a dumbbell squat as I learned. On Monday, as I did the front squats I realized I couldn't descend as I do with dumbbell squats. My lower back started to ache. Front squats are the new thing I need to reboot. Reboot means start with a lower weight. I got dumbbell squats down now, I know how much I can squat with dumbbells, how to squat with dumbbells -knees out, push butt backward, keep back at the same angle and descend, and then thrust hips forward on the way up.

So how do I do front squats? Well on Tuesday, the day after, as part of conditioning I do a dumbbell lunge matrix that involves front and back lunges and side step squats with a single 10lb dumbbell held in front of my face for 90 seconds. I realized the side step squat is the same as a front squat. I looked carefully at the matrix example video in the Nike training app and following that example, I learned that a 10lb dumbbell front squat is something I can do without pain. I feel very comfortable doing a front facing squat with that low weight, but not with the 50lb sandbag. So I'm going to reset my “heavy” lift to a 10lb dumbbell and increase from there instead of jumping from 40lb dumbbell squat to 50lb front squat. I'll increment up by 5lbs and once I can hold a 45lb dumbbell in front of my face and do my 5x10 squats without pain I will go back to the sandbag squat.

These weights are so low, people are squatting hundreds of pounds, but I have to check my ego. Ego pain doesn't hurt as much as physical pain. I squat every day, but with low weights, body weight and bands until my back can handle bigger weights. I can't fit a power rack in my home gym, so the eventual goal is to get to a heavy front squat using my large fitness sandbags.

I'm a long ways away from lifting anything heavy with my lower back though. I'm going to lift as much as my back lets me until then. Slowly increment the weights, see how it feels and if I can do it without pain in a controlled fashion with good form then I go up more.