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Are Squats Bad for Your Knees?

It’s not common to have knee pain with squatting. Whether you’re doing it as part of your exercise routine or if it’s going to the use the bathroom, squatting shouldn’t hurt. Often times what people end up doing is blaming the exercise for causing the issue. That’s not the squats fault, it’s like blaming the couch for stubbing your toe. Was it the couch that jumped in front of your toe or was it that you misplaced your step and accidently ran into it? As you see, it’s easy to blame the exercise, but the exercise isn’t at fault, it might be the way you are squatting that is causing the problem.

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Why does it happen?


There are many reasons as to why the way you’re squatting is causing your knees to hurt. I’ll go over a few common examples that I’ve seen with those who are dealing with knee pain when they are squatting.


Your ankles might be tight and immobile.


The ankle is a joint that should be mobile and if your ankle lacks mobility, then you will have limited range of motion in your squat. When you’re going down in a squat your ankles need to be able to bend, if they can’t then the knees end up having to do the job of the ankles, which it really hates doing. This pattern of compensation can lead to knee discomfort because the job of the knee is to be a stabilizer, fancy talk for keeping the joint stable.

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Your core might need some work


Your core is the biggest stabilizer in the body, which means that it should create a great amount of tension by bracing your midsection as you move. If you’re core isn’t able to keep you stable in the squat or in any exercise then you will have energy leaks in the body, which means there are areas in the body that are not keeping you still as you move. The core works this way its proximal stability leads to distal mobility, WTF does that mean?

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Let’s break down the fancy words to understand that better. Proximal meaning close to the body, stability meaning to keep stable, distal meaning away from the body, mobility meaning to move freely. If your core is more stable you will have more range of motion with your limbs, if your core lacks stability your limbs will lack mobility. If you’re core isn’t stabilizing during your squat your knees might be taking over the job of your core.


Your butt muscles need strength


If you remember high school biology, you remember that the mitochondria is the powerhouse of the cell, the same goes for your ass. The glutes are a crucial part in creating explosive powerful movements such as jumping, running, walking, etc. I remember in some context that my kinesiology teacher mentioning how the bigger the glutes the stronger the athlete.

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How does this all relate to knee pain with squatting? Well if your butt muscles aren’t strong then they will lack in their ability to do their job which is to extend the hips forward and to abduct the knees. All that means is that if the glutes can’t pull the knees outward and the hips forward the knees will have to do the job of the glutes which as we can see so far that it doesn’t like that.


Your hips might need mobility


Tight hips can be caused by you guessed it, sitting or standing for long periods of time. When the hips become immobile they can limit the range of motion they need in order to perform a squat. The hips are one of the most mobile joints in your body and need to have room to move the thigh. When the hips get tight they can cause your knees to become unstable because they are immobile, are you seeing the trend here? Each joint has a job to either be stable or mobile and when one joint isn’t able to do their job, then the others have to pick up the slack.


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Why Squatting is good


Squatting is a compound exercise that structurally loads the spine. Whoa William, you’re using big science words again, what does that mean? Great question reader, let’s break it down. A compound exercise is an exercise that uses multiple joints and muscles. This means that this is going to have a big return on investment because of how great of a demand it will have on the body and nervous system.

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A structurally loaded exercise means that the spine needs to keep neutral by bracing the core. This means that you get a way better core workout with squats than you would with a sit up. Squats will help you with everyday life activities and can give you some of the best results fitness wise because of much muscle and neurological demand it will have on the body.


What you can do about it?


Remembering that when you’re dealing with some sort of movement dysfunction that could be causing pain doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re stuck with that forever. Here are a few different things we do for our members when their knees are achy.


Press out squats


Press out squats are great for helping you get your core engaged. We prefer to use the Ultimate Sandbag when using this exercise. The reason the press out squat is great for the core is because the pressing out motion helps the core get more active. The pulling back of the exercise when you’re standing up helps you with getting the upper back muscles involved to keep you upright.

Elevated Squats


Another way we accommodate with knee pain is by elevating the floor or shortening the range of motion. This means you can still squat, but we are limiting how far down you’re going, stopping before the pain reoccurs. This can be with a bench or without a bench, it depends on what feels better for you.


Use different tools


If you’re use to only using barbells for squatting then we have a pleasant surprise for you. You 100000% DO NOT NEED TO SQUAT WITH A BAR. The bar is a good tool, but honestly not always the best tool for the job. If you’re goals are to feel better, move better, and increase the quality of your life then the barbell is not the tool for you. We prefer to use more functional fitness equipment such as sandbags, kettlebells, and suspension trainers to help get the most out of your workouts. Don’t be stuck using one tool for a job that can use a variety of different tools.

If you’re wanting to get started on learning how to workout more functionally along with having healthier joints and muscles then we are the right gym for you!



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