How to troubleshoot knee pain in squats

You might not always loooo-oooove doing them (I know I don’t lolz), but squats are pretty fucking great.

They give us the strength to get up and down off the couch and the floor. They give our booty a little pick me up in jeans. They may reduce joint pain in some and can allow for all of us to be more independent as we get older when balance and strength is known to decline.

What’s not so great? Knee pain in squats.

While I can’t tell you *exactly* why your knees might hurt in squats, today I wanted to offer some ideas and modifications to help you squat with less knee pain.

First, let’s talk about why your knees may hurt in a squat.

For many of us, knee pain during squats comes down to the following factors…

Body position

There’s no such thing as one right way to squat, BUT for some of us certain positions may make our knees uncomfortable AND that position will depend on the individual! Knowing this means you can adjust your position to squat with less pain.

Some strategies to try for adjusting body position!

  • Send your butt back and allow your chest to come forward, so your squat looks more like a deadlift. This can be more comfortable for some people’s knees and may allow you to develop lower body strength and do squats during class without the aforementioned ouchy knees.
  • Try squatting with the legs more narrow or wide. Try squatting with the legs more parallel or turned out. Does a combination of one of those positions feel better on your knees? Awesome! You just found your squat stance.
  • Check your feet. Are your big toes leaving the floor as you bend your knees? See what happens if you keep your big toes on the ground, but you also press your knees out when you bend your knees. For some people, this can help your knees feel better AND it increases glute activation. Yeah!

Strength

If you don’t have the strength to move through an exercise fluidly, then forces can land in a joint and make it feel ouchy. This doesn’t mean that you are damaging your joints, BUT it does mean that if you pick a modification for the squat or slow it does, then you might have less pain when you do this. Over time as you get stronger, you will probably find that you can do harder versions of squats with less knee pain!

Control

This builds on the aforementioned strength piece. Without strength, there isn’t control. There can be great value in going faster or doing harder versions of squats, but if you can’t control the movement or the range in which you are moving, you joints may let you know.

Again, this doesn’t mean you need to fear that you’ve damaged something, BUT you may want to try adjusting how you do the exercise, so you can develop the control to move more quickly or with heavier weights and not have your knees hurt.

Here’s a video tutorial on how to troubleshoot your knee pain in squats!

Flexibility/mobility in the hips and ankles

If you’ve got stiff hips or ankles, then your knees may need to do something a little interesting to make up for it.

Some strategies for adjusting flexibility or mobility issues!

Move and warm up your hips and ankles before your squat. Yep, something as simple as working through those joints may result in less knee pain during your workout.

Here’s a video with some exercise ideas that you can use for a warm-up!

Also, while you will want to work on your mobility in these areas over time, in the short term, you can put a rolled-up towel or weight plates under your heels, so your heels are elevated. This may allow you to move deeper into a squat with less pain. Then on the side, you can work on your hip and ankle mobility and flexibility.

What I really want you to know is that while pain is complex, your knees are not bad and everyone can do some version of a squat. The trick is to find the variation that works for your individual alignment, level of strength, and mobility.