So out of the blue, your knee suddenly hurts when you squat. Doc says, “Structurally, everything’s fine.” You’ve had a coach evaluate your technique - form looks solid. There’s no “junk volume” in your program, and on paper, the program looks very doable. Maybe even a little conservative. But you’ve still got pain. So now what?
STOP SQUATTING COMPLETELY?
Absolutely not! Take 4 ibuprofen before each workout? Uh, no. Bad idea. Okay, then. What?!
1. BACK DOWN ON THE WEIGHT
Did that help? If yes, great. Squat at a lower intensity for a few weeks and then slowly increase the weight. Great, problem solved. (Sometimes it really is that easy.)
But let’s say you drastically reduce the weight and the volume and your knee still hurts. Now what?
2. MODIFY THE MOVEMENT
- Try a wider stance. Still hurts?
- What about a more narrow stance? Toes straight ahead? No?
- Try turning your toes out more. No?
- Can you squat to parallel without knee pain? No?
- Can you squat to a high box without pain? No?
- What about moving the bar up onto your traps? Any relief? No?
- Does resting the bar below your traps and sliding your hips back more help? No?
3. MAKE A SUBSTITUTION
Can you do single-leg work without pain? Reverse lunges? Step-ups? Fantastic. For the time being, stick with a knee-dominant low body exercise that you can do WITHOUT PAIN. After 3-4 weeks, try reintroducing squats. SLOWLY.
Slowly means you’ll KEEP THE WEIGHT LIGHT. And you’ll KEEP THE VOLUME LOW. Make small weight increases each week for 3-4 weeks, and then hopefully you’ll be able to add barbell squats back into the program… and not have any pain!
And I think it goes without saying (but I'll say it anyway), consult your doctor before making modifications to any exercise!*