Are Squats Bad For Your Knees?

Everybody and their mother hates doing squats. If you’re unlucky enough to be doing something like the 20 rep squat program or the Smolov Squat Program, you’re probably planning on never squatting again in your life.

But, even in the best bodybuilding program in the world, The Arnold Blueprint to Mass– squats are one of the core components in the program. And simply put, this is because squatting is incredible for your body.

However, a lot of us complain about pain or aches when squatting, so let’s discuss this age-old question. Are squats bad for your knees?

Well, actually, squats aren’t bad for your knees. In fact, your body has been squatting for millions of years. The truth is, if you’re feeling pain when you’re squatting it’s likely because of a muscular imbalance or muscle weakness on your end. The benefits of squatting regularly can help you move fluidly for the rest of your life and seriously stop a lot of the knee problems you experience with aging.

Here’s the truth, according to Trainer Joey Thurman, “You may have heard that squatting can cause knee pain, but here’s a news flash, LOTS of things can cause that, and often it’s not the actual squat that causes the pain, it’s a dysfunction, bad form, or a structural problem”.

So, basically, if you’re having problems with knee pain, it’s a form problem. But that’s a good thing, because we can fix that!

But let’s discuss this all in-depth, and figure out how to stop a lot of this knee pain so we can keep pushing ourselves in the gym. (And well, not a lot of people really enjoy knee pain lol)

Are Squats Bad For Your Knees? Not at all as long as you do it with good form! Photo by Li Sun from Pexels
Are Squats Bad For Your Knees? Not at all as long as you do it with good form! Photo by Li Sun from Pexels

Squats Are Actually Great For Your Knees

Everybody always asks, are squats bad for your knees? But the truth is, squats are actually GREAT for your knees.

Here’s the thing, squatting regularly can actually help you get rid of your knee pain. In fact, Dr. James Eagar says that he even frequently prescribes squats to people WITH knee pain to help them!

Dr. James Eagar then said: “Research shows that strengthening the quadriceps muscles is important to resolving knee pain.

Historically, it was believed that exercise contributed to knee injuries and even osteoarthritis, but we now know from research that weight-bearing activity will actually prevent things like osteoarthritis.”

Yes, that’s right. Squatting will actually help stop some of that serious knee pain and keep your knee in shape.

Yes, Squatting Will Actually Strengthen All The Muscles Surrounding Your Knees!

James de Lacey, who works as a professional strength & conditioning coach in a Rugby league around the globe said this:

“Full range of motion, deep squats are great for the knees as loading the knee joint through a full range of motion thickens the ligaments and tendons in the knee. This reduces the risk of knee injury when performing various activities such as changing direction quickly.”

Now, Rugby is a sport that requires a lot of frequent movements, turns, and sprinting. And the truth is, one of the best coaches in the industry is having his players squat!

The Truth? Squats with BAD FORM Are Bad For Your Knees

Squats with BAD FORM are bad for your knees. However, squats done with good form are great for your knees.

But what exactly is a bad squat? Jordin Hardin, an ACE Certified Personal Trainer broke it down for us here.

“Some tips for squats include:

  • Feet hip width apart
  • Toes facing forward or at no more than a 45 degree angle
  • Pushing your glutes back towards the wall behind you instead of down towards the floor
  • Knees should not go over your toes
  • Legs should remain parallel to the ground
  • Heels should stay n the ground
  • Knees should stay in line with toes

When can squats become dangerous?

As mentioned above, when done correctly squats can be very helpful on your knees! However, it can be detrimental for a few reasons.

  • Not paying attention to form
  • Squatting with a knee injury (you should be resting)
  • Squatting with a depth greater than 90 degrees (legs go below parallel to the ground)
  • Squatting in such a way your knees protrude outwards and lose alignment with toes

This could lead to achy knee joints and potential injury in the future”

So pay attention to your form! It will pay off!

Squatting Can Support Everyday Movements

Squatting can actually support those everyday movements you do.

According to Nurdeen, the founder of TitaniumPhysique, “Squatting targets, builds, and stabilizes many important muscles in the body, including the lower back, abdominals, glutes, hamstrings, quadriceps and calves”.

Here’s the thing, when you do things like walk up the stairs, get into your car, get out of bed in the morning- you’re using your leg muscles and your knee is being tested.

If you have weak muscles in your knees, this will cause a lot of pain. If you squat regularly and strengthen these muscles and allow the knee joint to stay lubricated

Squatting Can Stop Many Downsides of Aging

We always hear everybody complaining about knee pain when they get older.

Unfortunately, it’s inevitable for most of us. But, squatting can help seriously reduce a lot of this knee pain and might even prevent it.

You see, when you stop using your knees regularly, the synovial fluid stops lubricating it as well. Furthermore, a lot of the bone in the knee area dies off over time if your knees aren’t used. And lastly, a lot of the muscle will break down as well.

Regularly squatting can keep all of this in shape and well, which does miles for preventing pain and aches down the road. It’s way harder to rebuild this all up than it is to keep it. The age-old bodybuilding principle: “You use it, or lose it”.

So, What is Proper Squat Form?

To make sure we aren’t causing any more pain to our knees or back than we need to, we need to be squatting with proper form.

A lot of people will spend hours fighting over proper squat form in the gym, but the truth is, it is fairly universal.

But, let’s take a different approach. I know everybody knows how to squat, but let’s actually all take a step back and follow this checklist below.

Step 1: Record a Video of Your Squatting to Highlight Your Mistakes

Honestly, most people don’t want to squat with bad form- go figure, right? But yeah, that’s actually the truth. Everybody thinks they are squatting with good form, and until you’re REALLY able to see it from an outside point of view, you won’t realize your mistakes.

So, set up your phone to record you doing some squats and compare it to the videos below.

Step 2: Watch The ‘Basic’ Squat Video

Here’s probably the best baic squat video out there. It’s by Buff Dudes, and he covers great squat form in a basic sense.

He doesn’t go into the advanced details, but it’s a great video to just make sure you’re doing the ‘fundamentals’ right.

Step 3: Watch this ‘Advanced’ Squatting Form Video

Look, here’s the facts. You googled, ‘are squats bad for your knees?’. That means, chances are, you’re having severe knee pain that you’re associating with your squats.

If you’re at that point, there’s probably something small you’re doing in your squat form that is causing this serious knee pain. This is why we need to watch this squatting formed video that goes into advanced detail about perfect squat form.

Step 4: Practice Your New Squat Form Slowly and Non-Stop to Perfect It

Here’s the thing, you can watch these videos, study them and do all that jazz- but you can quickly just jump back into old habits if you’re not careful.

You need to be proactive in practicing your new squat form. Do it non-stop and perfectly until that becomes the new habit developed in your mind.

The problem is, most people practice the perfect squat form 1-2 times, then they go back to their old ways once they load on some weight and the whole cycle repeats.

You need to be practicing it and adding more weight slowly until you are making sure that you aren’t hurting yourself anymore.

And if you do this the right way, you can kiss most of that knee/lower back pain goodbye.

Step 5: DON’T Make These COMMON Squatting Mistakes

No matter how good your form is, you might be making common squatting mistakes. According to Nurudeen, the founder of TitaniumPhysique here are some common squatting mistakes:

  • Squatting heavy weights without warming up or stretching your legs, glutes, and lower back can negatively shock the muscles and cause them to tighten up, leading to back pain. 
  • Squatting heavy weights without gradually building up the strength of your legs and knee tendons can strain the quadriceps tendons and can cause knee pain.
  • Using knee sleeves and knee wraps when squatting. Knee sleeves and knee wraps falsely inflate the knee’s strength and may result in squatting more than the knees can naturally lift – leading to knee pain.
  • Not having a good fitness recovery routine to reduce inflammatory pain or muscle tension from squatting.

Ultimately, If You’re Having Pain, It’s Likely Bad Form and/or a Muscular Imbalance

Ultimately, if you’re having pain, it’s probably bad form and/or a muscular imbalance.

According to Alyssa Kuhn, a doctor of physical therapy, ‘When we don’t have enough muscle support or confidence in and around our knees, our squats typically will cause pain.

This is likely because you may have some asymmetries in your muscles, meaning you have global weakness on one leg that is greater than the other or certain muscles are working as they should be. ‘

Thankfully, there are ways to fix these imbalances, and it’s a lot easier than you think.

Alyssa Kuhn says, “there are many different variations of squats you can try to show your body how to move properly again- box squats, tempo squats, supported squats, TRX squats, etc”

I personally recommend just spending a few days really perfecting your craft and having some fun by trying out a ton of different squat variations and finding out what works for you.

Spend some time trying the hip abductor/adductor machines, do some single-leg lunges, really learn some new exercises, have fun, and iron out those imbalances at the same time.

Doing Half Squats? Those are EVEN Worse!

I know some people in the gym do half squats because they think it is less tension on their knees. But as our favorite Rugby coach, James de Lacey, strongly disagrees claiming:

“The reason squats are often touted as being bad for the knees is when squats are loaded heavy with poor technique and a shallow range of motion. Greater stress is placed on the knees when the squat is performed as a half rep which may lead to knee pain when unprepared.”

Your Knee Pain May Be Completely Unrelated To Your Squatting Actually

A lot of people may be surprised to hear that their knee pain may actually be completely unrelated to their squatting, actually.

Here’s the thing, when you have pain for a long time, your brain ignores it. It’s biology, when that repeated stimulus keeps hitting your nerve cell your brain just starts to block it completely.

When you start squatting, it introduces a new stimulus that can reignite all of this pain- when the entire time the pain was unrelated.

Some Other Things That Can Cause Knee Pain That You Should Consider

Look, here’s the thing. I’m pretty stupid, and I really sat down and thought about my everyday actions and what I may be doing to affect my knees.

Now, I’m a bit of a gamer, and I found a lot of my knee pain was actually coming from my poor posture when playing games. And this may be the same for you too if you watch TV a lot!

Do you cross your legs a lot? This might be a problem too as it reduces circulation to your legs.

Here are some things you should consider:

  • Do you cross your legs often?
  • How do you sleep? Do you put your knees in a bad position?
  • How is your posture at work or at your computer? Are your knees being put in bad positions?
  • Do you have a lot of knee pain from driving? Is your car seat properly aligned?
    • Is your car too high and you have to climb into it? It may be hurting you if you’re older or have bad knees already.
  • Are you running with bad form?
  • Do you have a lot of walking you do every day with bad shoes or bad form?
  • How do you get out of your chair? If you try and get up using your toes you may be severely hurting your knees.

Conclusion of Are Squats Bad For Your Knees?

Well, I guess we found the truth. Squats are actually really good for your knees! But, if you’re doing squats with a bad form, they can cause significant damage.

So, let’s fix the form and keep pushing ourselves hard in the gym!

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