Why Your Knees Hurt Squatting & 3 Alternatives To Stay Pain Free

by Kevin Yates
(East Bay, California)

Just because your knees hurt squatting doesn't mean that squats are a bad exercise. In fact, squats and lunges have gotten such a bad reputation for causing knee, hip and lower back problems when this is absolutely not true.

In this post I will share 3 alternatives to eliminate knee pain squatting but before I get there you need to know why squats hurt your knees.

In nearly a decade of working with clients who have had issues such as back pain, lower back fusion surgery, knee pain, meniscus surgery, acl reconstruction, knee replacements, hip replacement surgery and other nagging injuries I have yet to see any indication where squats were directly responsible for knee pain or back injuries.

The truth is that knee pain during squats is almost always the result of doing the exercises incorrectly. Squats will not hurt your knees if you do them correctly. But, most people do not perform them correctly even if they think they do.

Below are the most common mistakes I have identified in individuals whose knees hurt squatting. Just one of these mistakes is enough to feel knee pain during squats:

1. Weight on the toes: This happens a lot when using too much weight which tends to pull your body too far forward. Other times it's simply a lack of awareness of how to distribute one's body weight.

2. Knees moving forward while squatting: This is another common example of using too much weight. It can also be the result of the quadriceps (thigh muscles) overcompensating for weak glutes.

3. Thigh and lower back muscles doing most of the work: This happens when the glutes and hamstrings are weak. When you lack proper hip strength muscle imbalances often result in the quadriceps and lower back over working. This is one of the main reasons for knee pain during squatting.

4. Glutes and hamstrings are weak: These muscles need to be properly strengthened in order to eliminate knee and lower back pain.

5. Trunk collapsing too far forward: This is a sure-fire sign of weak core muscles and/or quadricep and lower back overcompensation. Typically, weakness in the abdominal and hip muscles are the problem.

Now that you know why your knees hurt squatting we can focus on 3 simple guidelines and alternatives you can use to get rid of painful knees and use squats to strengthen your core and hip muscles.

3 Squat Alternatives

Static Squat - teaches the basic technique of squatting. To do this stay back on your heels and slowly descend into a half squat position and hold. The goal is to focus on using your glutes and hamstrings and not just your quadriceps (thighs).

Once you master this it's time to move on to some progressions listed below.

Dumbbell Deadlifts - an easier option rather than using a barbell because barbell deadlifts pull you forward which can make it harder to stay back on your heels.

The difference when using dumbbells is that the dumbbells stay at your sides and don't have as much forward pull which makes it easier to maintain proper technique.

Dumbbell Front Squats - these help you maintain a more upright trunk because the weight of the dumbbells has a slight forward pull to it which makes you counter balance by remaining upright. You'll automatically pull yourself to a more upright position to even out the load.

If you'd like to see photo descriptions of each exercise plus a squat video with even more tips to eliminate knee and lower back pain you can get them at my new blog:

=> Post Rehab Exercise: Why Your Knees Hurt Squatting

Thank you,

Kevin Yates

Comments for Why Your Knees Hurt Squatting & 3 Alternatives To Stay Pain Free

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Jun 11, 2009
Reply To Allie
by: Kevin Yates


Quad/hip flexor compensation is very common. A great exercise for activating the glutes and hamstrings is the bridge.

You probably squat with your toes pointed out to the sides which makes it harder for your glutes to work.

Here's a few tips on performing the bridge:

Lying on your back on the floor with arms out to the sides and palms facing UP not down

Keep your toes and heels in a straight line rather than toes slightly out

Extend your hips up without your chest rising

Hold this position for 30 seconds and notice what you feel working

You should feel your glutes, hamstrings and abdominals and nothing in your quads

If you can't keep those quads turned off try squeezing a softball or a rolled up towel between your knees

Let me know how this works for you,

Kevin Yates

Jun 11, 2009
Quads and glutes
by: Allie

I've always known my quads overcompensate for my glutes, but what can I do to prevent this when I squats. I continually hear squats are the best exercise for glutes, but I feel my quads doing all the work.

May 10, 2009
Great tips
by: Asad

Hi Kevin, great article! The tips about hams and glutes are so true when dealing with knee pain. Everyone thinks of strengthening the quads but often forget glutes and hams. Thanks for bringing this up!

You have a nice blog too, I clicked through and watched the video for some extra crucial tips to preventing knee pain.


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