I started the Stronglifts program a little while ago, and have slowly been adding weight to the bar. I have only one real complaint, and that's with some back pain on my right side, mid-back.
The program calls for squatting three times per week, and I feel like my back muscles aren't recovering in time for the next workout. Admittedly, this may be a result of not getting enough sleep (~6.75 hours average). I've found that when something comes up and I have to delay a workout session, I can easily advance in weight on the squat after a couple more days rest, but with only one rest day between workouts, I stall on the squat very quickly. I am not having problems recovering from the other exercises prescribed by the Stronglifts program, and can consistently add weight most every session.
I've since read Starting Strength to get a better handle on technique, and I don't feel that my squat technique is so far off to the point where I'd be getting injured. Starting Strength prescribes a 3x5 routine for most exercises, albeit with a lot more warm-up sets at lighter weights. I'm wondering if for me, the volume of 5x5 is too much, and I should switch to the 3x5 methodology Starting Strength recommends.
Should I switch to 3x5 for just the squat, since that's where I'm stalling, and see if this helps my back recover quicker?
Do you think this has nothing to do with muscle recovery, and is entirely related to less-than-ideal squat technique?
So as not to derail the rest of my workouts, should I not do the squat each session, or do a considerable deload on the second session of the week to aid in muscle recovery?
Are there any "paleo" adjustments I can make to my lifestyle (i.e. outside of the gym) that might help build up my back muscles outside of the gym? For instance, moving to a standing desk should help with tight hamstrings, and thus benefit squats moving forward. What else can I do?
Work on mobility, especially since you make mention of tight hamstrings. This is essential. Check out mobilitywod.com.
It's impossible to say anything about your technique here. I recommend getting some coaching, especially if you're starting out.
Ice your back after workouts where it gets hot. Keep eating a clean, Paleo diet.
Whether due to bad form or insufficient recovery, pain in the low back mean that you should not continue going heavy on squats three times per week.
I recommend that you discontinue squatting with weight till the pain abates. Practice squatting form with a dowel rod or broom stick, work on mobility (especially if you can't squat all the way down with your heels on the floor and with proper spinal alignment?), and do some isolated low back training (hyperextensions on a stability ball for example) once or twice a week to help strengthen the spinal erectors.
A plate squat is another exercise that you might want to practice. To do one, you balance a rubber bumper plate on your head hold onto the front edge with both hands, and perform a squat while keeping the plate level. This teaches proper mechanics and loads the spine which helps to engage stabilizing muscles.
When you're pain free, start gradually working back into your barbell squats, but stick to one day of 5x5 or two days of 3x5 per week.
I know nothing about Stronglifts - all I can say is that I'm 3 months into SS and have put on about 8 lbs of lean body mass - 2 inches on my thighs, 1.5 on my chest. I feel strong as f***. It's my first time lifting...ever. I've been injury free, which is saying a lot for a guy with ankylosing spondylitis and L5 spondylolisthesis.
Honestly, this is where it's really worth paying a coach, even if it's only one short session. Best $70 I ever spent (and I am in a city where everything is expensive). Having a coach watch me and tell me what I was doing wrong was worth it because it prevents injury and allows you more freedom to scale your own program up, which saves money in the long run. Another thing that may help is just moving better in your daily life, which Esther Gokhale's book 8 steps to a pain free back may help with. Once I worked with a coach, it was clear most of my problems were caused by my horribly tight hamstrings. Esther's program + mobility workouts have helped a lot, but I'm still hampered by this issue and it's slow to work it out for hamstrings as tight as mine. But slow= worth it in terms of long term success.
I just got done answering a question about the CrossFit Journal so it's on my mind. It might be worth the money to you to subscribe to it and watch/listen to everything Kelly Starrett has on there as well as plenty of articles about squatting and form for other exercises.
The concept of midline stabilization is very important for your back.
These would be of particular use to you:
Squatting is a paleo person's chair! One of the most natural human movements.
Without watching a video of you squatting, its impossible to know if your pain is caused by the technique or not. I've seen videos of guys that think they have great form, and they don't, and vice versa. It's possible, but I'd be happy to look at your form if you want to upload a video to youtube or something.
As for volume, my advice is to squat often. How often? As often as you can that allows you to continue to increase the weight on the bar. In a sense it's the same quest question of how long should you rest in between sets. You rest for as long as you need to in order to get the work done.
Starting Strength is a great program and Rippetoe has a ton of experience to back it up. On the other hand, TONS of people follow strong lifts, but it's a much more recent/internet phenomenon. Neither of these programs suggests squatting as much as Smolov which is 6 times a week.
I think you actually answered the question yourself. You say that you can easily advance the weight with extra rest days. Is your goal to get stronger? If so, it sounds like extra rest days are getting you stronger. It may be that you are at a point where some muscles are further ahead in their development stages than others. A year from now, you may be advancing the weight on squats with just a single day of rest.
What is important is that you do what works for you, and for right now, that seems to be the extra rest day(s). I would revisit this topic in a few months to see if the extra rest is still needed, and if so, stick with it.