Learn how to squat without knee pain. Check out these 4 mistakes you should avoid to keep squatting and making progress on your lower body workouts.

Squats are widely recognised as one of the most effective exercises for developing the lower body, particularly the quads and glutes. However, they are often considered dangerous due to the high prevalence of knee pain experienced by individuals during or after performing squats. This pain typically manifests either around the kneecap or at the attachment points of the quad and patellar tendons. Fortunately, many instances of knee pain can be attributed to common mistakes in squat form, which can be corrected. This article will outline these mistakes and provide solutions to help you squat pain-free.

But it wasn’t us at BOXROX who came up with this list of mistakes to avoid so you can be able to squat without knee pain. No, that would have been the work of Jeremy Ethier and a video he recently shared.

Jeremy Ethier is a kinesiologist and fitness trainer, co-founder of Built With Science. His YouTube channel has over 6.5 million subscribers and he delivers clear information with sound background research.

Squats are a cornerstone exercise for building lower body strength and muscle mass, engaging major muscle groups like the quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes, and calves. Despite their benefits, improper squat techniques can lead to knee pain and injury. Many people mistakenly believe they have “bad knees,” but often, the issue lies in their squat form. By understanding and correcting common errors, you can prevent knee pain and safely enjoy the benefits of squats.

How to Squat Without Knee Pain

1. Leaning Forward and Shifting Weight onto Toes

One prevalent mistake is leaning forward and allowing the weight to shift onto the toes, often accompanied by the heels lifting off the ground. This movement transfers more load onto the knees, particularly the kneecap, and can lead to pain and discomfort.

Correction: Ensure the bar remains over your mid-foot and travels vertically during the squat. Distribute your weight evenly across your entire foot, applying pressure through the ground with both the heels and toes. This balanced distribution helps engage the ankle and hip joints, reducing knee strain.

2. Ankle Stiffness

Limited ankle mobility often forces the body to compensate by shifting the weight forward, leading to improper form and knee pain. To assess ankle mobility, perform a simple test by kneeling five inches away from a wall and attempting to touch your knee to the wall without lifting your heel.

Correction: If you fail this test, incorporate ankle mobility drills and foam rolling for the calves and shins into your routine. Additionally, experimenting with a wider squat stance and pointing your toes out slightly can reduce the required ankle mobility, helping you maintain proper form.

3. Not Engaging the Hip Flexors

Failing to actively engage the hip flexors during squats can result in less stability and improper depth, placing excessive pressure on the knees.

Correction: Actively pull yourself into the bottom squat position using your hip flexors, particularly the psoas muscle. Visualising the hip flexors pulling you down can help engage these muscles, improving trunk stability and maintaining a balanced centre of gravity over your feet.

4. Knee Valgus (Inward Knee Collapse)

Allowing the knees to collapse inward (knee valgus) during squats creates instability and can lead to knee pain, particularly around the kneecap. This issue often stems from poor coordination and an inability to activate the lateral glute muscles.

Correction: To correct this, incorporate Reactive Neuromuscular Training (RNT) exercises, such as the RNT split squat. Using a resistance band to apply inward pressure, focus on keeping your knee aligned with your foot. This will enhance lateral glute activation, preventing inward knee collapse.

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5. Overloading Tendons

Increasing the volume of lower body exercises too quickly can lead to tendinopathy, characterised by pain above or below the kneecap. This condition is common in individuals who return to their usual workout volume too soon after a break or significantly increase their training load.

Correction: If you experience this type of pain, reduce your training load to allow the tendons to heal. Replace regular squats with alternative exercises like box squats, which limit forward knee movement and reduce knee stress.

Additional Tips for Squat Without Knee Pain

  • Foot Positioning: Keep your feet flat on the ground throughout the squat. Avoid lifting your heels or shifting weight onto your toes.
  • Warm-Up: Perform a proper warm-up routine, including dynamic stretches and mobility exercises, to prepare your muscles and joints for squatting.
  • Controlled Movement: Focus on controlled movements, especially during the eccentric (lowering) phase of the squat, to maintain proper form and prevent unnecessary strain on the knees.
  • Strengthen Supporting Muscles: Incorporate exercises that strengthen the hip flexors, glutes, and core to provide better stability and support during squats.
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By addressing common squat mistakes and implementing the suggested corrections, you can significantly reduce the risk of knee pain and injury. Proper squat technique not only enhances lower body strength and muscle development but also ensures long-term joint health and functionality. Always pay close attention to your form, gradually increase your training load, and incorporate supportive exercises to maintain pain-free squatting.

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