How to Protect Your Knees During Squats

13 September, 2020
Although many athletes may not realize it, there are certain small details that you have to keep in mind in order to protect your knees. Particularly when doing an exercise as simple as squats.

Is there anyone out there who hasn’t done a squat at some point in their life? It’s a classic exercise, but you have to know how to do it correctly. If you don’t, you could damage your body, especially the joints in the lower half. Here we’re going to tell you how to do squats correctly so that you can protect your knees.

Squats are a really great exercise for several different muscle groups. Both the front and rear parts of your muscles get a good workout. You’re also working out your leg muscles since they activate to keep you from losing your balance.

In fact, a study published by the Journal of Human Kinetics confirms that having good mobility in your hips and knees helps you do a better squat. Squats involve the paravertebral muscles, meaning all of the muscles found around the spinal column. So even though this exercise isn’t specifically targeting those muscles, they still benefit.

The most common advice for doing squats

Squats are an exercise that’s used in many different disciplines, whether it be specific workout sessions for muscles, in gym classes such as body pump, or in sports that include skiing or basketball. In all of these cases, knowing how to control your body when lowering your body weight is key.

Surely you’ve heard this rule many times: don’t let your knees extend over the imaginary line above your toes. Yes, while this isn’t 100 percent exact, it’s a good reminder when you’re doing squats.

The question of extending your knees over your toes isn’t bad in itself. What’s damaging is when your knees come too far forward, and the more they’re brought forward, the more damage is done. For this reason, it’s safe to say that if they come forward a little, there’s nothing to worry about. That’s where traditionally they’ve drawn the line between doing the exercise well and doing it poorly.

Woman doing technical squats

As long as you’re looking out and ensuring that your knees aren’t coming too far forward, you’ll be doing enough to make sure you’re protecting your knees. However, if you get to the point where your knees are so far forward that your heels are raised, you’re in a position that’s damaging to your knees. Just try to limit this as much as possible, but don’t obsess over it. A little movement forward is normal!

Using your hips to protect your knees

One of the main causes of knee joint damage when doing squats is the use of the hips. The hip joints are made to support more weight than the knee joints. This means that they support the greatest portion of your weight when you’re doing a squat.

Because of this, it’s always crucial to remember that you need to bring your glutes backward before beginning the “squat” movement. This small adjustment leads to a pelvic anteversion, meaning that the combination of these two movements complement each other and will make the exercise less aggressive. With respect to the hips, here we’ll offer you more details about their movement.

Start your workout in the correct way

Before beginning your squat, ensure that your feet are shoulder-width distance apart. They can have a slight openness as well, meaning that the feet can point slightly out.

In addition, you need to be mindful of the amount of weight that you’re putting over your shoulders. Keep in mind your own physical fitness and previous preparation. Gradually increasing your weight will allow your body to become accustomed to the said weight. You can never execute a perfectly formed squat with more weight than your body is used to.

To protect your knees, keep them straight

Once you’ve started lowering, another detail that you must keep in mind is to keep your knees from buckling inward. By preventing your knees from falling towards the center you’ll protect them.

Woman working glutes with squats

A way to check and see if you’re doing this correctly is by focusing on your patella (kneecap) and ensuring that it stays in line with your feet. This means not allowing your kneecaps to drop inward or allowing them to extend too far out. If you’re in the correct position to start with, it shouldn’t change horizontally, according to a study published by the Journal of Strength Conditioning Research.

A word about deep squats, just in case

A deep squat is one in which the hips end in a position that’s below the knees. There’s no scientific consensus as to whether or not deep squats are better or worse for your knees than normal squats.

That means that the potential risk of this exercise isn’t recommended for anyone who isn’t, for example, an elite athlete. In that case, this extra strength might be a great advantage to your work.

For this reason, for your average person, doing normal squats with the knees ending up at a 90-degree angle is enough. To protect your knees, this is sufficient to ensure that you’re doing them correctly.

  • K. Si-Hyun, K. Oh-Yun, P. Kyue-Nam et al. Lower Extremity Strength and the Range of Motion in Relation to Squat Depth. Journal of Human Kinetics. Vol 45, Issue 1. 2015
  • L. Slater y J. Hart. Muscle Activation Patterns During Different Squat Techniques. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, Volume 31, Number 3, pp. 667-676(10). 2017
  • P. Comfort, J. McMahon y T. Suchomel. Optimizing Squat Technique—Revisited. Strength and Conditioning Journal. Volume 40 – Issue 6 – p 68-74. 2018