Knee Pain After Squats and How to Avoid Them
1. Make sure that you warm up before doing squats.
That sounds like a no-brainer but you would be surprised how many people just walk in the gym and start squatting without any warm up.
Do any activity that warms up your body, 5 min of elliptical or walking or running.
2. Before you do any squats with the bar, do some free standing squats without the bar, some people call them air squats.
I have found that a good stretch to do is to squat down, below parallel, meaning that your hip line is slightly below your knee and put your hands together and elbows on your knees and push your knees outward.
Some people call this a prying squat, if you know why, let me know, but one day I will get around to finding out, it is not too critical at this moment what the name is, but you will benefit greatly from stretching your body in this prying squat position.
Sit in this type of stretch position for a few seconds.
I believe that this is one of the effective stretches to avoid knee pain after squats.
How do I know?
I was terrified of ever doing even one squat because I still have a torn medial meniscus in my left knee.
So the fear of knee pain after squats was and still is very real.
We can just do our best to warm up properly and then to squat with good form.
3. Set Up for the Squat
Set the bar on a power rack.
You need a power rack.
So either you will use one at your gym or you are going to buy one for home.
No matter what, for safety reason, you must use a power rack to hold the barbell and weights.
This is no time to be frugal.
Make sure that you have the safety bars set on the power rack, so in case you cannot hold the weight, you can lower the weight onto the safety bars without risking injury to yourself which would be a much bigger problem than having knee pain after squats.
Start with the weight of an olympic sized barbell only.
Repeat, start with the weight of the bar alone with no weights.
This is part of your warm up.
Warm up with 45lbs and then you can start to add weight till you get to your working set that you will do 3 sets of 5 repetitions of squats.
Whatever your working set is, choose a weight that you can handle comfortably.
Set the bar height below your shoulders.
Grip the bar about shoulder width.
Keep your thumb above the bar, this way the weight will be more centered and carried by your body and less of the weight will be supported by your hands and wrists.
You want to keep the barbell and weight as low down on your shoulders as possible.
This is called low back squats.
You should feel like the barbell is resting a bit above your shoulder blades.
Duck under the bar and set it right on your lower shoulders.
When the bar feels secure, stand up, lift the weight and walk back from the uprights which held the bar one step.
You do not have to walk back 3 steps, save your strength for squatting and not walking around with weight on your back.
Walk back one step.
4. Position your feet correctly to avoid knee pain after squats.
Point your toes out about 1 to 2 oclock for the right foot and between 10 and 11 am for the left foot.
Keep your feet about shoulder width apart.
This position is critical because it allows you to squat more easily below parallel which puts less stress on the knees than doing a partial squat.
When you do partial squats, you are placing the most stress on your knees because you are not using the muscles of your posterior chain (yea, your tuchas and hips) to lift the weight.
Rather you are just using your knees, so if you do have knee pain after doing partial squats, do not be surprised.
The benefit of doing a full squat is that most of the weight is being absorbed by your strongest muscles, your glutes, your hips, your hamstrings, not just your quadriceps and your knees.
In order to get down to the full squat position, you have to keep your feet at the right width and your toes pointed out as well.
5. Keep your head down, do not look up at the ceiling.
Imagine holding a tennis ball under your chin.
That is about where your chin should be.
Keep your gaze on the floor somewhere in front of you.
No, you do not have to look at yourself in the mirror while you are squatting.
Your head will probably be too high in that position which puts unnecessary stress on your spine.
6. Stand with the barbell resting on your lower shoulders (not your neck!).
Your thumb is above the bar so you can feel one with the weight.
The idea of squats is to progressively load weight onto your body which is going to make you stronger, everywhere, in every way.
This is why we do not want to be holding the weight with our hands, just on top of our shoulders.
You are looking at a point on the ground in front of you with your chin down a bit.
Your feet are shoulder width apart and pointing about 30 degrees outward, 1 – 2 oclock on the right and 10 – 11am for the left.
7. Now imagine yourself as if you are in a very narrow groove.
Meaning that there is no space in front of you and no space behind you.
So when you lower down, you will be lowering straight down and when you come up you will be coming straight up.
This is part of the wonders of gravity, everything falls down vertically.
You want the bar to move in a straight line down and a straight line up.
Think of the bar never moving horizontally, only vertically.
8. Before you begin to Squat, take a deep breath.
You want to fill up your body with air which will make your body more stable, your core more stable and secure.
This technique will help you both avoid lower back strain or injury as well as knee pain after squats.
I have already had the experience of breathing out at the bottom of the squat and suffering the consequences of a lower back strain.
Learn from my mistake, make sure that you have taken a deep breath that you will hold through most of the squat, especially through the bottom.
9. Lower the weight vertically, in a straight line within this imaginary groove.
When you feel that you have lowered your hips beneath your knees, now is the time to use all the muscles of your posterior chain to power the barbell straight up.
This should feel a bit like a rubber band, because in reality, you are stretching your hamstrings at the bottom of the squat and now you just want you to power your vertical ascent using those muscles.
Think of using those muscles.
Do not think of using your knees, some of the weakest muscles that there are or your feet or quadriceps.
You need to use the power of your posterior (yes, your tuchas!) to lift yourself from the bottom of the squat to standing.
This is going to help you avoid knee pain after squats because you are not using your knees!
10. For Your Working Set, Do 3 sets of 5 Repetitions
In order to get stronger, you are going to have to add weight.
But do not be a show-off and add 20 pounds to your last lift.
Build your strength gradually and there will be less room for injury.
The reason that I call this blog strength training for mind and body as opposed to strength exercises for mind and body or weight training is because I am not interested in just doing exercise.
My interest and I am assuming yours as well is to get stronger.
Training means to get stronger, we want to train our muscles to handle more stress, more load.
The only way to do this is to add weight.
But add weight rationally, so my suggestion is to add 2.5lb fractional plates to each side, a total of 5lbs for each squat workout till you get to a point where you cannot add more.
In the meantime, you will be getting stronger every week, both mentally and physically.
In summary, the above Top Ten Checklist will help you to avoid knee pain after squats.
How do I know?
As I mentioned above, I have my own knee issues.
There was a period of six months when I could not even walk, my knee pain was so bad.
And no, I was not squatting.
I never even thought of doing squats.
Why would you think that a man who is 55 years old, near 275lbs and could not even see his feet beyond his belly would ever think of doing squats, especially when he never did one in his life, specifically barbell squats.
Barbell squats was the last thing in my mind that could help me to reduce my knee pain which was considerable from my torn meniscus.
I began to think about weight lifting originally to help depression.
Yea, that is right, fat and depressed, a double whammy, not fun.
I read that squats can be the best strength training exercise that a man can do to raise his testosterone.
So what does testosterone have to do with depression?
Alot and you can read more about that here.
I had already lost about fifty pounds by eating real food which you can read about here
But when I read that squats could cause such a boost in testosterone which could help me fight depression, I wanted to try it out.
Being slim but miserable was not acceptable to me.
I knew that I needed more than to be on a diet.
I wanted to be stronger in mind and body.
So I started to do squats and I can tell you that the first week, I could not walk, and that was just from doing squats with the barbell alone.
I had read that squatting below parallel would not hurt my knees and in fact could even make them stronger.
That I could not believe but I can tell you that has been my experience so far.
Not only have I not had knee pain after squats, but I feel that my knees have even gotten stronger.
Everything has become stronger because of squats.
If you are physically capable of doing squats, you should be grateful for your body, for having the tools to do one of the most powerful strength training moves on the planet, if not the best strength training exercise there is.
But of course, if you are going to have knee pain after squats or any other injury, you will miss all of the benefits.
So far, the above top ten checklist is what has helped me to avoid knee pain after squats and I hope that it will be helpful to you as well.
Please comment if you have had issues with knee pain after squats and how you have addressed them.
Also feel free to comment on any of the steps above, I consider myself a beginner and am always interested in learning more about squats and how to eliminate knee pain after squats in particular.
Thank you for sharing your thoughts, experience and expertise.