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Knees hurt when you squat?

March 9, 2022

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

FOOT POSITION

  • Try a wider stance. Still hurts?
  • What about a more narrow stance? Toes straight ahead? No?
  • Try turning your toes out more. No?

3 different foot positions during squats

DEPTH

  • Can you squat to parallel without knee pain? No?
  • Can you squat to a high box without pain? No?

man performing squat and squat to high box

BAR POSITION

  • 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?

man demonstrating difference in bar position low bar vs high bar squat

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!*

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*As with any fitness program, individual results may vary. Success Stories and Testimonials are REAL GRASSIRON CLIENTS and are meant to be a showcase of the best results the program has produced; they are not intended to represent or guarantee that everyone will achieve the same or similar results. You should consult your physician before starting any fitness program to determine if it is right for your needs.