If Heavy Back Squats Hurt Your Knees, Try This Move

The heavy loaded barbell back squat is one of the most effective lower body-building moves in the gym — but if you’re not doing them right, your knees could be at risk of major pain and even injury.

Whenever someone mentions that squatting hurts their knees, I ask them to show me how they perform the move. Almost 100 percent of the time, a small piece of my soul dies as I watch them. I tell them: “Squatting doesn’t hurt your knees; whatever you’re doing right now hurts your knees.”

It’s a concept that other strength coaches and I try to get across to our clients. There is a proper way to squat that won’t cause harm — and then there is every other way. Unfortunately, I rarely see them executed the proper way.

Focus On Form

Let’s get one thing straight about squat form, though: There is always going to be some forward movement of the knees when squatting. Telling someone that the knees should never go past the toes because it’s dangerous is an archaic fitness myth. It needs to die.

That said, allowing your knees to excessively move forward so that your heels come off the ground can get you into trouble. That’s when you end up placing more stress on the knees.

I see this happen a lot. That’s why I utilize the box squat. Not only does the move help groove a rock-solid squat pattern and keep your shins more vertical so your heels stay on the floor, but they also take stress off the knees and place more of the load on your hips. That’s important, because your hips are a larger, more prominent joint than your knees. They’re designed to handle larger loads.

Men’s Health

If squatting hurts your knees — and you’re not suffering from any pre-existing injury — it’s because you’re making your knees do more of the work than the hips. Learning how to utilize the hips during a squat is important if you want to make them more joint-friendly. Box squats can do that.

Box squats also keep guys honest with their squat depth. Some people will tell you that squatting past 90 degrees is dangerous and that it places more stress on the knees. That’s another myth. Squatting through a full range of motion is healthier for the knees and makes them stronger.

Here’s how to do it:

In order to master the pattern, repetition is key.

Try swapping out your normal squats for box squats, twice a week for six to eight weeks. On the first day, do body-weight box squats only. Perform 3 sets of 10 reps.

After a couple of weeks, you can add a light load for 2 or 3 sets of 8 to 10 reps. On the second day, use a heavier weight. Do 3 to 4 sets of 4 to 6 reps.

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