FAQ - My knees hurt when I do squats. Are there other alternatives?
First, if you feel any pain anywhere, whether you're doing squats or other exercises, you should never work through it. Sharp pain could indicate an injury or strain, so always stop what you're doing and check with your doctor, if the pain doesn't go away. Also, if you have a diagnosed knee injury or strain, squats may not be right for you.
But, if you have healthy knees and are avoiding squats because you don't want injuries, you might change your mind when you learn that squats can actually strengthen the knees, if you do them correctly. Squats can also strengthen the hips, knees and ankles while targeting almost all of the muscles in the lower body, which is one reason we love them so much.
If you don't have any chronic knee or joint problems but still feel pain when you do squats, you do have some options.
1. Check Your FormIt's often bad form that causes knee pain during squats. One reason is squatting with the knees too far forward. It should be the glutes taking the brunt of your weight, not your knees, so make sure the knees stay behind the toes. Also, keep your knees in alignment with the toes. Twisting them in or out could place unnecessary stress on the joints. Want more details? Check out these step by step instructions:
- Stand with feet about hip or shoulder-width apart, toes at a natural angle forward or slightly out.
- If you're using weights, hold dumbbells at your sides or rest a barbell on the shoulders. If you're a beginner, you may want to start with no weights and take the arms out, as shown, for balance.
- Bend the knees and squat, pushing your rear out as though you're about to sit in a chair. Your knees should stay behind the toes.
- As you're squatting, keep the knees going in the same direction as the toes and avoid arching or rounding the back. Instead, keep a neutral spine and pelvis.
- Squat as low as you can or until the thighs are parallel to the floor. Some advanced exercisers or athletes may be able to do full squats, but parallel squats are usually recommended for the average exerciser.
- At the bottom of the movement, make sure your feet are flat on the floor, your knees are still in line with and behind the toes and that you aren't arching the back.
- Push back up, concentrating on squeezing the glutes as you stand.
Practice your form and spend some time going through the motion to get a feel for your own strength and flexibility. Go slowly to keep the knees straight and see if that makes a difference in any knee pain you've been feeling. It not, you can try one of the other options below.
2. Try a ModificationIf regular squats still bother you, even with good form, another option is to try a modification. You can change your stance, type of resistance, how you hold your weights, how low you squat and even how much support you have.
You can view a full list of pictures and exercises in my Squat Photo Gallery.
3. Try a Substitute
If squats just aren't going to do it for you, there are some exercises you can try that will target the same muscles, but in a different way.
Escamilla RF. Knee
biomechanics of the dynamic squat exercise. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2001 Jan;33(1):127-41.
Escamilla RF. Knee biomechanics of the dynamic squat exercise. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2001 Jan;33(1):127-41.