Knee pains during squats seem to be quite common, and the usual suspect has to do with form opposed to anything else. Other reasons could be those in special populations with prior knee pains from an injury or just worn joints due to age.
If you’re not in these special populations then you can benefit from this articles tips about squats. You can still benefit from the information if you do have an existing knee condition, but you need to have been cleared for training by your physician first.
Squats are not Bad for Your Body
First, let’s clarify a common belief that many seem to be told, “overall, performing squats is bad for your body.” The possible reason is because those that make the claims have had issues with their squat form, and the end result was pains in the lower back and/or knees.
Unless your primary doctor told you that squats are bad for your specific body, then you should be performing a variation of the squat exercise routinely. But why?
Because the basic squat is essentially a functional movement, which means the exact movements being performed resemble those you’d do on a daily basis. An example would be squatting down to lift a box from the floor. So strengthening the muscles and joints is useful for everyday living.
Now let’s look at powerlifters. These talented men and women can squat twice their body weight or more, but have stronger knees than those that don’t exercise at all. It’s no coincidence. This shows that strength training with squats is useful for the body, and those that perform squats CORRECTLY benefit greatly.
Foot Placement During Squats Could Cause Knee Pains
Your foot placement during squats needs to be perfected in order to get the most from this exercise. Improper foot placement is one of the top reasons for knee pains. Each person’s body is different, but there’s a general guideline to follow and manipulate until it fits your body type.
First, your feet are shoulder width apart to allow your hips the room to drop down properly, but also to keep your body firmly planted to the floor. Depending on the length of your legs, you may need to adjust your feet slightly out or in from the center.
Now, you want a slight angle in your foot placement. This angle is generally 30 degrees from where your heels are positioned. The easiest way to get close to this is by placing your feet at a 45-degree angle, which is easier to guesstimate, and then slightly bring your toes in while keeping your heels firmly in place.
The reason you want an angle is because you want your knees to bend with the angle of your hips. Having your feet pointed forward does not allow this, and for most will cause intense pressure on the knee joints leading to pains during or after the workout.
The average person is only able to perform a half squat with their toes pointed straight forward before the muscles tighten up, which is good for increasing vertical jump ability, but not good for dropping your hips down low for a full squat.
A good example to look at would be how a toddler squats down to play or take a closer look at something. They have no idea what the squat exercise is, but naturally, have proper form without knowing.
Google search images “toddler squat” and actually see what I mean. They naturally have their toes angled out and aligned with their knees, and body weight is distributed onto the back half of their feet opposed to their toes, which will be covered next.
A slight degree in your foot placement will go a long way in preventing knee pains during squats. Don’t point your toes forward for strength training.
Don’t Push Off with Your Toes During Squats
As we get into our teenage years most start to lose flexibility and strength within their leg muscles and lower body joints; therefore balance suffers as well. We went from squatting onto our heels as a toddler to squatting on our toes, which if you ever did this you know the position cannot be held for too long.
This carries over to the squat for strength training. Pushing off with the front of your feet is the number one reason knee pains will most likely follow, and this could possibly make you fall forward as well.
So to fix form issue is simple. Practice proper foot placement without any weight, and then perform the squat exercise and keep telling your brain to push off with your heels while you actually do it. This develops muscle memory so you don’t have to even think about it during the exercise.
Fix Your Form Before You Get Old
In your early adult years, you probably will get away with improper form and bad habits such as these. But as you age your body is being worn down and will begin to tell you something is wrong sooner or later. Instead of waiting until you experience a major training injury, take a second and think if you actually perform the squat correctly.
Set the weights aside and practice your form before each squat session regardless of experience. A nice warm up refreshes your mind about what needs to happen and loosens up tight muscles that decrease performance when contracted. Be smart and train safely!