I’m sure we have all heard how beneficial squats can be to our training. They are a great exercise for piling on weight and building big and strong legs. However, what if knee pain is stopping you from performing them?
Causes of Knee Pain
The first thing to note is that squatting correctly should not cause any knee pain, so you may be doing something incorrectly. A prior knee injury this may also play a role in knee pain. If you adjust your form correctly while squatting and still face knee pain you may have to contact a doctor to see if you have a knee condition.
A knee sprain is one reason for soreness while squatting. If you twisted your leg or knee while running or playing sports, you may be suffering from a sprain. If that is the case, it’s a good idea to take a break from training until it has fully healed. It’s not worth putting any added tension on your knee or injuring it further. Patellofemoral pain syndrome can be another cause of knee pain. Problems with the alignment of the kneecap and overuse from constant athletics are often significant factors. The best way to cure it is also by stopping training or sports until healed. Often referred to as “runner’s knee,” it often affects those who are very active from running or sports.
Tendinitis is another cause of knee pain. If the tendons around the kneecap become strained or overused, they will start to swell. The cause of it is repetitive movements or excessive force on the kneecap. Most cases can be successfully treated with rest, physical therapy, and pain medications. Take a few weeks off lifting and see if the knee pain subsides.
Arthritis causes joints to become painful and inflamed. If the cartilage tissue that surrounds the joints starts to breakdown, osteoarthritis will develop. It is most common in people over the age of 65. Rheumatoid arthritis, however, is an autoimmune condition that affects the entire body. The immune system will attack joints all over the body, causing soreness, pain, and swelling.
How do you know which you have and what you should do about it? Try taking 2 to 3 weeks off any training that uses your knees or legs. Use ice and possibly seek a medical professional. After you’ve taken some time off lifting, slowly start getting back into it. Begin with light weights and see if the problem persists.
Use Correct Form
One of the best ways to prevent knee pain and other injury is to lift with correct form. First off, STRETCHING. Take your time and get a good stretch in before squatting. Stretch out your quads, hamstrings, inner thighs, glutes, and calves. It’s better to stretch too much than not enough. Just by doing a simple stretching session before training you can prevent a lot of serious injury. You want to get blood and oxygen into the muscles. Stretching also helps keep the muscles flexible for your training session. If they are tight, they can tear a lot easier.
Now onto squat form. Put the bar low enough that you can easily rack and unrack the weight without struggling or bumping into the safety bars. If you have to hop up on your tippy toes to rack the weight, it is too high. Get your entire body under the bar with it rested in the middle of your traps, behind your neck. Put your hands along the grips of the bar where they feel comfortable without putting strain on your wrists. Your feet should be shoulder width apart. Now squeeze your glutes to lift the bar off of the rack and take two steps back. Make sure your feet are planted firmly on the ground and look to see if the bar is centered over your body.
Now the descent. Bend your knees and lower your butt as if you were sitting down. All while keeping your core braced and your chest up. Your back should never bend, and do not lean forward. This can cause a lot of strain on your lower back and lead to injury. Your feet should remain planted on the floor at all times and should not rise up or move. Your knees, hips, and toes should remain pointed forward. Go as low as possible without causing discomfort. Once you’ve reached the bottom, exhale and push the ground away as hard as you can with your feet.
If you’ve never thought about squat form before this can be a lot to take in. Start with a few small steps and incorporate them into your next session. Once you’ve got them down, add a few more in. The really important ones to think about now are keeping your back straight and not leaning forward on the way down. These will prevent you from injuring yourself.
Knee sleeves and a belt are another consideration while squatting. Knee sleeves will provide compression which increases blood flow and reduces pain. They prevent the loss of body heat which increases the body’s recovery process, and also helps the joint stay in a fixed position. The main thing that you will notice while wearing them is that you feel no knee pain and feel as though you can lift more weight. Just wearing knee sleeves can solve a lot of peoples knee pain while squatting. A belt will help you brace your core when pushing the weight back up. This will also help you keep your back straight and prevent lower back injury. I would try using one when going heavy to save from having any issues with your back.
Check out this video to further improve your squat form.
Alternate Exercises to the Barbell Squat
Maybe you have tried everything in the article and have just decided that the pain that comes along with squatting isn’t worth it. Maybe your doctor has advised you not to squat to prevent further injury to yourself. There are still plenty of ways to build muscular legs without squatting. Although, if you can squat, I would highly recommend doing so. Lunges are a great leg exercise and build a lot of the same muscles that squats do. You can also use a barbell and load up the weight, similar to squat. There are a lot of different variations also, in case one still gives you knee pain. Play around with different ones until you find the one that causes no pain.
I would also suggest dead lifts or Romanian dead lifts as they are a huge leg builder. Romanian dead lifts may be the best here as they do not put any stress on the knees. Again, the weight can be loaded up to overload the legs similar to the squat. There are also plenty of isolation leg workouts that you can do to build up your legs. Try out a few and see which cause the least knee pain. These would be the ones you will want to stick to.
Have you experienced knee pain during exercise before? Have any good remedies that can help? Feel free to share for others!