04-01-2015

“My Knees Hurt When I Squat”

“My knees hurt when I squat.” This is a common complaint, and one I have heard many times as a personal trainer. Because their knees hurt, people end up not doing squats at all, when in fact, squats can help you get stronger and actually decrease knee pain!

Today we are going to talk about why your knees hurt when you squat, and what you can do to fix it. 

How To Squat Without Knee Pain

Okay, if you’ve had a knee injury in the past, then yeah, that might be contributing to your knee pain (and you should see your PT or doctor to discuss whether you should or should not do certain exercises). However, most people have muscle imbalances and weaknesses that are causing this knee pain.

One of the main culprits is not engaging the core (or simply not having core strength) during the squatting motion. As you squat, you should be hinging at the hips and moving backwards as if sitting into a chair. If you don’t, your torso will lean forward, and your knees will be at an awkward angle, causing most of the load to be on your quads…which leads to the knee pain.

Here’s great info from trainer Kevin Yates:

When you lack proper core and hip strength muscle imbalances often result in the quadriceps and lower back over working. This is one of the main reasons for knee pain during squatting.

Movements like squatting and lunging are not bad for your knees and they don’t cause injuries.

Muscle imbalances are the real problem.

One of my favorite trainers, Tony Gentilcore, has a great post about fixing your squat and avoiding knee pain. His tip, box squats, was something I practiced regularly with my clients.

Basically, you set up a box or bench behind you in the squat rack. Your goal is to squat back and touch the box with your butt before coming back up (do not actually sit on the box and then come up, you are just tapping the box).

Tapping a box or bench helps you with that movement of sitting backwards. Your weight should be on your heels and not your toes during a squat. I’ve talked about squat tips in the past, and how you can improve your form. I’ve mentioned putting a plate under your heels. Why? Because if you have a muscle imbalance or tightness, your heels might be coming up during the squat movement. Elevating your heels a bit helps you get deeper and keep the weight in your heels.

From Tony Gentilcore:

If squatting hurts your knees—and you’re not suffering from an injury—it’s because you’re making your knees do more of the work than the hips. Learning how to utilize the hips during a squat is important if you want to make them more joint-friendly. Box squats can do that.

Squats and lunges are not bad for your knees! That’s a myth similar to that of running being bad for your knees and cracking your knuckles leading to arthritis. Squats and lunges, if anything, help improve your knee health. Start working on your core strength to take the pressure off your quads and knees.

One more thing before I move on to talking about your quads…if you’re having trouble sitting back into your squat, try doing front squats and goblet squats. Since the weight is in front of your body as opposed to on your back, it will make it a bit easier for you to sit back into the squat. I talked about that in this post about squatting tips.

Moving on…another thing that might be causing your knee pain is quad weakness. If your knees hurt during walking lunges or after running, this might be why. In order to fix this, you just need to work your quad muscles a bit. Focus on exercises like the split squat, and progress to a reverse lunge. Avoid doing any forward movements like (duh) forward lunges or walking lunges…just until you build up your strength.

Here’s one of my first YouTube videos showing the split squat.

Similar with the squat, you should be going straight down NOT forward. If you are moving forward as you’re performing this you will probably feel that knee pain. Cues to repeat to yourself are: chest up, shoulders back. Your front heel should stay planted on the floor – if you come up on your toes, step your back leg further back/away from your front leg. 

My dad had knee pain during running and leg exercises, but once he started doing more split squats, his knee pain disappeared. He now runs 3 miles most days! Progression ideas for this exercise (once you master the split squat) would be: reverse lunge, front foot elevated split squat, rear foot elevated split squat, step-ups, and walking lunges.

***Remember though, please talk to your PT or doctor if knee pain is something you have regularly dealt with. Of course there could be some underlying issue that is not as simple as a muscle imbalance or lack of strength.***

Do you squat regularly? Have you ever felt knee pain?

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02-19-2014

Should You Squat All The Way Down?

This is a common question I have gotten as a personal trainer, and one that is “controversial.”

I thought of this post after I saw elite runner Lauren Fleshman post a video of her team mate doing a barbell squat. Someone commented that she should be going all the way down, and then debate ensued. Well, Lauren answered with a great, informative response, and others were debating. I’ll post her answer in a bit.

The question I always get is, “Should I squat all the way down?” (Ass to grass if you will).

how low should you squat

You may hear this a lot (that you should), but I’m going to tell you that you shouldn’t (my opinion). Here are 2 reasons:

You don’t have the flexibility or mobility to do so. Your hips might be tight. Your lower back might be tight. Or your core may not be strong enough. If you try to squat lower than you can, you could end up hurting yourself, and your form will definitely suffer.

The “tuck.” If you don’t have the flexibility, then your lower back will certainly tuck under, which puts a lot of stress on your lower back. Here’s what this looks like:

 

What causes the tuck? Here’s what trainer Tony Gentilcore says:

A vast majority of people (not everyone) are sitting in posterior tilt all day, and as a result the hamstrings tend to get stiff(er) relative to the anterior core.

Ask someone to take a video of you squatting, so you can determine if you have a tuck. If you do, Tony has some great videos to help fix the problem.

I urge you not to force yourself to squat lower than you are able to! At the same time, don’t be one of those people who loads up the bar with weight, and just squats a few inches. I read somewhere that doing loaded squats and only squatting like 1/4 of the way down puts way more pressure on your knees than going parallel. So if you can’t go parallel OR a little above parallel, work on mobility first, and then attempt to squat.

If squatting to parallel is an issue for you, try out front squats.

The different placement of the bar helps you use your core more, and it helps a lot of people go deeper than a back squat. You could also try placing plates under your heels in a back squat, to help you go a bit lower. I did this with my brother, and in a few weeks he was able to remove the plates.

Okay, back to Lauren Fleshman. So someone told her to squat all the way down, and she told that person that he didn’t know about runners mechanics and why they don’t squat all the way down. I asked her to explain and this was her response:

lauren fleshman

 

I squat to 90 degree, mainly because I can’t go all the way down yet. But for me, I think 90 degree squats are fine. Trust me, you will feel it. It is tough. To recap, here’s what you can do to improve your squats:

  • Work on flexibility and mobility. Foam roll! Foam roll right before squatting too to help with range of motion.
  • Put plates under your heels to help you go a little bit lower. The plates elevate your heels, which helps if you lack flexibility.
  • Try a front squat. If you’re intimidated to try it with a barbell, try it with a kettlebell first.
  • Go to parallel or slightly above – nothing wrong with that.
  • If you can’t squat at all, work on bodyweight squats to get the form down, then slowly add weight with dumbbells. Also do other leg exercises instead, like lunges, split squats, leg press, etc.

Do you do barbell squats? Have you tried front squats?

Would anyone like a post going more into depth about squat variations, perhaps with a video?

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