Squats are often criticized as being “bad” for your back. However, done correctly, there is evidence that barbell squats could actually do your spine some good.
An interesting case study, published in the International Journal of Sports Medicine, examined the spine of the man holding the current world record for the squat. Despite being able to squat over 1000 pounds, several scans revealed that this athlete possessed a remarkably healthy spine. The MRI scans revealed normal spinal alignment, no evidence of disc herniation and no sign of compressive disc disease. More importantly, the scans also showed an extremely high level of “bone strength” (called bone mineral density).
Just remember, when squatting with a heavy weight, make sure to avoid the popular recommendation to keep your back flat. Keeping the back ‘flat’ is common advice in the gym, yet its validity is rarely questioned. Actually, a flat back, devoid of any curvature reduces the ability of the spine to absorb or distribute shock and stress effectively.
Many factors can affect spine health. However, this study provides evidence that training with the correct bio-mechanics with heavy weights is one of the best ways to ensure a healthy spine throughout life.