Contrary to popular belief, squats are not knee killers, though squats with bad from could certainly fit that description. If you have tried to add squats to your regular routine only to find out that performing them hurts your knees (assuming that you don’t have an existing knee injury), don’t give up just yet.
It’s highly possible that you are making your knees do more work than the hips, perhaps by allowing your knees to excessively move forward so that your heels come off the ground. In any case, pain is not something that should be ignored – it’s a clear signal that something is wrong.
So stop doing whatever it is that you’ve been doing so far, and learn how to squat with proper technique with the help of this article.
Common reasons for pain while squatting
Most of back pain comes from looking down during squatting. This allows the chest to drop and the back to lean a bit forward, which puts undue stress on the lower back. That’s why fixing your gaze forward is one key aspect of pain-free squatting.
Keeping your abs tight throughout the movement will also help you prevent back pain by increasing the abdominal pressure which serves the purpose of supporting your spine.
On the other hand, most knee pain occurs when your toes are pointed directly forward and the weight is shifted onto your toes instead of heels, causing a lot of pressure on the inside of the knee and allowing the knees to excessively come forward. To prevent this from happening, always have your toes pointed outward at a 45-degree angle.
Practice proper squats
Remember, it takes time to teach your muscles to perform this exercise, so begin slowly. You don’t have to go all the way below parallel on your first set – you’d be better off focusing on your form instead of depth. Once you master the movement, you will easily add new inches of depth as you grow stronger.
We assume you’ve read plenty of articles on proper squatting so far, but there’s only so much that they can do for you. The next step is practice, practice and some more practice. Luckily, there is one easy and tremendously efficient way to learn how to squat properly and it involves two simple items: a wall and a chair.
Here’s what to do next:
- Place the chair close to the wall, facing it.
- Stand in front of the chair and have your chin, chest and toes touching the wall.
- Your feet should be slightly wider than shoulder-width apart, and the toes should be pointed outward at a 45-degree angle. Everybody has a different anatomy, so if you have trouble squatting with this foot position, try spreading your legs a bit wider but keep the toes pointing outward.
- Raise your arms above your shoulders so that they’re even with your ears, and have the palms of your hands touch the wall above you at an equal distance away from your head.
- Direct your gaze forward. Stick out your chest and arch your back better.
- Brace your core and start to slowly lower yourself down and back like you would do to sit in the chair, but keep your chest parallel to the wall at all times and your toes slightly elevated so that your weight is on the heels.
- Keep descending until you touch the chair behind you.
- Lift yourself up by pressing into your heels and driving your hips forward, keeping the back straight and chest parallel to the wall.
Once you master the basic bodyweight squat, it’s time to move on to squatting with a bar, which is one of the best mass builders you could ever do.
If you experienced knee pain because of bad form during bodyweight squats, just imagine what would happen when you place additional weight on your shoulders. That’s why you should never try to squat with a bar before you’ve mastered the bodyweight version with flawless form.
Squatting with a bar
The rules are basically the same and the only thing to keep in mind is that you should place the bar on the bottom of your rear shoulders, not on the top of your shoulders.
There are older rules, where you should try to keep your lower legs perfectly straight and avoid allowing your knees to drift out over your toes, but this is rarely possible in reality and there’s usually some degree of forward movement of the knees when squatting.
Letting your knees move past your toes during a squat might actually be okay for most people, and here’s why that old rule of keeping your knees behind your toes might not be the best advice for everyone. However as you get lower you should open the knees outwards in order to prevent knee injury and pain further down the line.
A little pressure on your joints during exercise, done the right way, can actually make them stronger. Just like muscles, your knees get stronger and more stable when you challenge them a bit, including moving past your toes during squats.
Keep your entire body tight, especially the abdomen, and lower yourself as deep as you can, then rise up explosively. Remember to keep your eyes forward all throughout to movement – this will ensure that your chest is sticking out and the stress is not placed on your lower back.
Being able to squat properly will take some time and this is perfectly normal. Your body has to adopt the right mechanics and it needs to be strong enough to perform this complicated movement. To get there faster, practice squatting every day of the week and aim to get to 50 reps in three or four sets.
Then and only then, progress to squatting with a bar, but whenever you want to lift anything heavier than your own bodyweight, make sure to wear a weightlifting belt to help reduce the stress on your spine.