Q&A: How to Fix Knee Pain During Squats?

by Robert Maxwell

I just started training a couple months ago. My overhead press, deadlift and bench are all going fine, but my knees really hurt during squats, even if I use light weight.  Is this something I can fix, or could it be that I’m simply not built for squatting?

Of all the barbell movements commonly performed in the average gym, the squat probably has the worst reputation. No movement is so heavily frowned upon by concerned mothers everywhere than the barbell squat, and this concern has morphed into a general perception among non-lifters that squatting is bad for the knees. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Done properly, barbell squats strengthen and stabilize your knees, thickening the tendons and ligaments controlling the joint. This in addition to the benefits of leg strength and muscle gain. So if squats are so great, why are your knees hurting? Not having seen you squat in person, I can’t say for sure. But I can offer some probable suggestions. Unless you have pre-existing knee issues, chances are your pain boils down to poor form. The most likely manifestation of this poor form to cause knee pain is failure to keep your knees pointed out in the same direction as your toes throughout the squat. Inward knee collapse is one of the most common squat technique issues among novice lifters. Here’s how to fix it. Start by making sure your pre-squat stance is correct. Position your feet slightly wider than shoulder width, with your toes angled out 30 degrees from square. As you squat down, shove your knees outward so that they match the angle of your toes. The point at which your knees are most likely to collapse inward is at the bottom of the squat, just as you reverse direction and begin your ascent. Concentrate hard on keeping your knees out throughout this entire period. If at any point your knees involuntarily slide inward, this is likely the cause of your knee pain. If you’re absolutely unable to keep your knees where they should be, lighten the weight and try again until you can. Another potential reason for knee pain during the squat is a stance that’s too narrow. This problem is similar to the knee collapse issue, but in this version, your feet and knees were never wide enough in the first place. A crucial part of proper barbell squatting is knees that are shoved out widely, and feet that are planted wide enough to accommodate this. Squatting with knees straight out in front of you puts tremendous strain on the joints, and also makes it far more likely you’ll round your lower back as you reach the bottom of the movement - another aspect of poor, dangerous form. Bottom line: make sure your stance is wide enough, and shove your knees out in the same direction as your toes throughout the squat. See if that helps. Chances are it will.


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