If You Get Knee Pain Doing Squats, Here Are 8 Smart Modifications to Try
Doing squats can be a great way to strengthen your leg muscles and build your glutes. But this common exercise move is often known to cause knee pain for a lot of people. Sometimes, knee pain from squatting can stem from improper posture, or it can be the result of the way your knees are shaped. If you're experiencing knee pain while doing squats, you don't have to abandon this beloved exercise forever. Here's what experts recommend as smart modifications to traditional squats and different tools or equipment that you can try to achieve similar results.
1 Use a Smaller Range of Motion
"Reducing the range of motion during the squat is an easy modification that will take pressure off the knees," says orthopedic surgeon Jerome Enad, MD. "Instead of squatting all the way down, shortening the arc to about 30 to 45 degrees significantly reduces pressure within the knee."
2 Choose Lighter or No Weights
Dr. Enad also recommends keeping an eye on how much weight you're adding to your squats. "Squatting with too heavy of a load during exercise can cause acute strain or chronic tendonitis," he says. "If you lose your balance with too heavy of a load during squatting, you can suffer a mild knee sprain or even a catastrophic quadriceps or patellar tendon rupture."
3 Tweak Your Form
If a squat exercise is causing you knee pain, it could be due to improper posture and form. Making a few small changes while squatting can actually prevent knee pain and protect your joints from more serious injuries, like sprains or tendonitis. Squatting with incorrect posture can cause strains, Dr. Enad says. To avoid these injuries, he suggests not to hunch too far forward during a squat or to stand too stiff, which can cause pain.
"Focus on squatting movements where the hips shift back rather than straight down," says professional strength and conditioning coach Jerry Handley, owner and head coach at Viking Performance Training. Dr. Enad adds that "good form should feel like you're going to sit down into a chair behind you, leading with your buttocks, but staying well-balanced with good posture."
Sending your hips back instead of straight down helps your shins remain vertical, Handley explains, while also minimizing stress to the knee. Keeping the pressure more on your heels while squatting (with the heel and midfoot taking most of the weight) rather than pressing forward to the toes can also alleviate knee pain.
Another major step you can take when it comes to modifying your squat posture is to ensure your knees are pointing in the same direction as your toes as they bend. "People get in trouble when their knees are not rotated to face the same direction as the toes," Hadley says. "They're most commonly rotated too far inward." This, he adds, can cause injuries to knee ligaments.
4 Try Box Squats and Sumo Squats
Rather than traditional squats, you can try the slightly modified forms, either box squats or sumo squats to help take stress off of your knees. For box squats, you'll add a plyometric box (or chair or bench) behind you during your squat exercise: Slowly lower your body until you're sitting on the box at the bottom of each squat. "Remember to sit back towards the box," Hadley advises to minimize knee pain.
Sumo squats, on the other hand, place more focus on your glutes than your quads and hamstrings. "Sumo squats are a variation of a normal squat that are a good alternative," says Isaac Robertson, cofounder at Total Shape. "Unlike a normal squat, your legs are placed wide apart in a sumo [stance] position. Keeping your back straight, sit and go down like a normal squat."
5 Do the Leg Press Machine
Did you know a leg press machine can help you achieve the same results as squatting? Dr. Enad explains that leg presses can hit the exact muscle groups as traditional squats: "They work the same muscle groups with less pressure."
By slightly changing the height of your legs, you can mimic an upright squat without actually doing one. "On a leg press, you want a higher or more forward foot placement," Handley says, "so the press comes more from your heels and glutes."
6 Use Elastic Resistance Bands
A good old elastic resistance band can go miles in helping you maintain good posture while also relieving stress on your knees while doing squats. With the addition of an elastic band placed around the knees (just below or above knee level), you can encourage more activation from your glute muscles while you squat, therefore taking pressure off of your knees.
"This can be accomplished by putting an elastic band around the knees while you squat," explains personal trainer Bill Daniels. "This will create a subconscious reaction to push the knees out, which activates the stabilizers in the hip and often can alleviate knee pain."
7 Get Arm Support
While people don't often think of arms as an important body part for squats, they can actually help you squat in a way that alleviates knee pain and stress. "By holding onto a wall, bar, or anchored set of straps, a person can take the strain off their knees during a squat, which can help them complete the range of motion safely," says personal trainer Jack Craig. Craig suggests holding onto one of the above options, using your arms to hold your body upright, while keeping your weight evenly distributed. This modification, he explains, can help a person slowly introduce their body weight until they strengthen their muscles enough to complete a more traditional squat (barring any other sources of pain, of course, such as knee shape and existing injuries).
8 Try a No-Impact Squat Machine
No-impact squat machines have been a craze in the exercise world lately, thanks to their claims to allow people to squat with zero impact. One of the most popular no-impact squat machines on the market is the DB Method, which helps shift your body weight into your glutes while you squat.
The DB Method has been hailed by celebrities and everyday individuals alike for its glute-strengthening abilities that require just a few minutes of exercise each day. No-impact squat machines like this one can help people experiencing squat-related knee pain work their glutes without putting added stress on their knees and spine.
Most importantly, it's essential to give yourself a break if you experience any knee pain while squatting. If you're noticing a particular exercise is causing you distress, it's best to avoid that exercise or try a modification to improve your posture, form, and overall workout regimen.