How to Do Squats for a Healthier, Happier Low Back

Performing squats with a wall behind you can be great for your posture as well as your core stability. And that's also good for your back!

Woman in workout gear performing a squat
Lars Zahner / EyeEm / Getty Images

Wall squats work your hip muscles, and strong, flexible hips tend to translate to a well-supported spine. In other words, the power you’re able to generate in quadriceps, hamstrings, and outer and inner thighs by doing wall squats may provide a modicum of injury prevention to your low back. It will also provide support for your posture.

The same is true for those all-important deep core abdominals. A 2013 study published in the Journal of Physical Therapy Science found that performing modified wall squats, as well as hip bridges, increased the thickness of both the transverse abdominis and the internal obliques, which are two key core stability muscles located in your trunk.

The authors concluded their report by saying that working modified wall squats into your day may be easier to accomplish than bridges, as bridges require floor space and a mat.

Doing 10 wall squats daily for a few weeks will likely challenge your quadriceps muscles in a big way.

The quadriceps are a group of four muscles located at the front of your thigh. One of the muscles crosses both the hip and knee (rectus femoris). The other three muscles cross the knee joint, and originate on the femur. It's the effect of wall squats on the hip that is the most relevant to back pain, good posture, and ease of movement.

Squats With Walls or Without Walls?

Performance-oriented athletes generally do lots of full squats, often with a barbell across their shoulders, as part of their regular exercise routine. For we mortals, though, this may not be possible. Back pain, knee pain, and hip pain are some of the few potential obstacles that may get in the way.

If the following exercise brings on knee or back pain, either decrease the depth of the squat until you feel no pain or don't do the exercise at all. You should not feel pain or discomfort at any time during this exercise.

And if you have an existing back or knee injury, pain or another medical condition, ask your healthcare provider or physical therapist if this exercise is appropriate for you before trying it.

Try a Squat Along the Wall

This version of the wall squat focuses on developing strength in the center of the quadriceps muscle.  

  • Step 1: Stand up straight against a wall. Take big step forward. Try to line your knees up with the area between the big toe and the second toe. One way to handle mild or potential knee pain is to position your feet out to either side. This allows for a wider base of support, which may save your back, and especially your knees, from undue compression.
  • Step 2: Inhale, then exhale, and pull your lower abdominal muscles in. As you exhale, bend your knees and slide partway down the wall. Ideally, you will flex your knees at a 90 degree angle, but let your pain guide you as to how far down you go.
    Throughout the movement, keep your gaze straight in front of you, your knees slightly bent, and your chin slightly tucked. Try to keep the back of your head touching the wall.
  • Step 3: Move slowly back to the start position. The workout for your seat muscles should intensify on the way back up, especially if you don’t rush the movement.
  • Step 4: Repeat to your comfort level up to 10 times.

Graduate Your Wall Squats

Once the wall squats become a piece of cake, you can certainly graduate yourself to squats away from the wall.

But you might also up the challenge by purposely introducing imbalance into the equation. Another study published in the Journal of Physical Therapy Science, this time in 2015, found that unstable wall squats, which equates to standing on a surface like a Bosu ball, help build up the muscles responsible for good posture.

While body weight wall squats can be a great way to positively affect your back, the best strategy is one that includes a variety of exercises. With lots of different moves, you may be able to address all the muscles that affect your low back for stretching and strengthening purposes. Check out how to do a pelvic tilt, yoga moves for back pain, and a stretch to counteract hunching.

Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.

By Anne Asher, CPT
Anne Asher, ACE-certified personal trainer, health coach, and orthopedic exercise specialist, is a back and neck pain expert.