How to squat to avoid knee and back injuries

Squatting is really important exercise, however many people often tend to skip it because it might hurt their knees or their back. We are going to explain the basic rules of proper squatting as well as how to avoid injuries in these areas.

Man doing squats at the gym  If you are actively exercising and you are trying to increase your strength and gain muscle mass you have probably heard or you are already doing the squatting with barbell exercise. Squatting is really important and it's one of the main activities that we need in our everyday life. However there is a lot of negative information about squatting. It might hurt your back and your knees. Of course that might be true, like any other exercise there is always a risk. Squatting might be really dangerous but if you are squatting with proper form and not increasing the weight (more than necessary or joing for personal best repetitions) you could really help your knees and your back and overall strength and muscle gaining. If you have issues with your knee joints and your back it might not be good idea to squat, we would strongly suggest you to consult with a physician before performing any squatting movements especially with heavy weights. However if you have minor or not experiencing any issues so far in your knees or your lower back during squatting, or simply want to learn the proper way to perform this exercises we are going to discuss that after just few more lines.
Proper form is always a good practice in order to avoid injuries, that's why we are going to go through few really important rules for proper form and general information about squatting with barbell.

Proper squatting basic rules

  • 1.Start with warming up
    Proper warming up is really important for your overall joint health and it helps you avoid injuries. Warming up means that you can walk or jog for few minutes and then to do 1-2 sets with 40-60% of the usual weight that you use when squatting. Since joints are not supplied with blood there is a fluid called "synovial fluid" that feeds the joint with the nutrients and elements that it needs. When warming up, because you have to stimulate this fluid in your joints before doing heavy weights, this fluid lubricates and feeds your joints. So make sure to warm up before every exercise, especially before squatting since it is really heavy on your joints, and this might be one of the reasons why your knee hurt when squatting.
  • 2.Keep your back straight
    This is really important, and especially when lifting heavy weights and we concentrate on the lifting part we often forget the form, and that's where the harm comes from. When lifting heavy and forgetting about keeping your back streight (heavy weight usualy arches your back) increases the risk of injuries. Keeping your back straight will help you avoid injuries in that area. When arching your back it puts your spine in unnatural and more exposed to injuries form, so to avoid any injury and pain in your back, especially lower back you have to make sure to keep your back straight. Also another good practice is to tighten your abdominal muscles when squatting, since all of the weight goes to your lower back, we can help it with squeezing our abs, so the weight goes to back and front of your body. One of the main functions of your abdominal muscles is to keep you straight, many doctors might recommend you to do some abs exercises in order to improve your posture. If you have stronger abs your back would not have to bear all the weight of the exercises and you won't have to think about keeping your back straight all the time, since your abs are going to help keep your posture straight and ready for lifting weights.
  • 3.Don't squat too little or too much
    Full range of motion is really important for progress and joint health as well. Limiting your range of motion usualy is associated with exercises that you can lift a lot of weight, since limiting the range you actualy can lift heavier, however this practice is not good for your progress or your joints. The proper range of motion of squats is from your thies being parallel to the floor and until fully stand position without locking the joints in your knees. Locking the joints usually is bad practice since it removes the pressure of your muscles and puts it in your joints which damages them.
  • 4.Don't step on your fingers
    When squatting you have to step on your entire feet. Stepping only at your fingers is going to place all of the presure onto them, and furthermore your posture would be really vulnerable to injuries, since your knees would be in front of your fingers which puts unnecessary pressure on them. If you cannot squat while stepping on your entire feet you can place a small weight under your heels so it can help you balance the weight. However we recommend you to lower the weight until you can squat without any support under your heels. Because you should be able to squat properly without that, the proper posture requires a lot of balance. Many athletes actually recommend the front squat to fix your behind the neck squat. Since it requires a lot more balance and time to learn it properly but it can really improve your supportive muscles that you wouldn't otherwise train or other exercises with free weights or exercises.
  • 5.Push your booty out
    Pushing your booty out would balance the weight in the center of your body and will help you with stepping with your entire feet on the ground. This is the proper posture and the less likely to get injured one. Furthermore pushing your bottom out helps you keep your back straight, which as we have already covered is really important to avoid injuries and pain in that area.
  • 6.Watch for your knees to not go further than the tip of your toes
    One of the keys of keeping proper posture is to not allow your knees to go over your toes. If they go over that line this means that your knee joints are getting a lot of unnecessary and harmful pressure. So if you push your booty out, your knees would not go that ahead and your knee joints would not have to take all that unnecessary pressure.
  • 7.Don't bend your knees inside or outside
    Your knees should be aligned with the rest of your legs and your body. Should not twist them during exercising. The starting position should be with your feets a little to the outside but they should not move, as well as your knees. We would suggest you to take a parthner or consult with professional fintess instructor to make sure that you are not bending your knees inside or to the outside. The knee joint should only bend your legs to the back, it is not healthy to bend them to other sides, since this would interfere with your normal and healthy joint condition.
  • 8.Do not squat on a machine
    Now that's a little controversial topic. There is not right or wrong for all people, it is really up to their condition and goals, however in general squatting with free weights is a lot more benefitial and doesn't skip important muscle stabilizers like it would be the case if you workout on a machine. If you squat on a machine the movement is fixed and your body would get acustumed to not using it's leg stabilizing muscles, which are really important of overall muscle development, posture and joint strength.
  • 9.If you feel popping or pain in your joints stop the set and try with lowered weight or if it is too persistent stop with the exercising and consult with a doctor.


Following these rules your squats are going to be a lot more useful and if you don't feel any pain or cracking in your joints you can be relax that you are performing the exercise properly. However always make sure to use a mirror to check your posture, during the exercising we focus on the movement but we cannot see ourselves without mirror and we might think we are doing it correctly but we have to be sure. Looking your posture should be a must especially when going heavy.

If you are experiencing any pain in your knees or your lower back but you are not squatting, or squatting isn't the only place that you are experiencing the pain, then there could be other sources of your pain, for instance sedentary lifestyle, joint disorder like arthritis, also another possible cause could be malnutrition or poor posture.

Other reasons that your knees or back might hurt

Sedentary lifestyle

Joints have to be used everyday to be in good health. Sedentary lifestyle is one of the biggest enemies of your joint and overall health. If you sit too much, for isntance at your work and then you go back home and then you sit or lie down all the time, then your joints are not going to be in their best health. Exercising regulary, doesn't mean that you have to go to the gym for hours 5-6-7 times a week. It just means to perform regular activites that are not too harsh on your joints and to make sure that they stay in good health. A good idea might be to get a dog so he can help you with being more active, while taking him for a walk for instance. Other good idea might be to get a bike, if you like to ride a bike that's a great way too be active and enjoy the activity. Swimming also is a great way to improve the health of your joints, it has been used for a long time to treat people with chronical joint conditions and as well recover from injuries, since the water has effect of lowering the pressure of your joints. If you feel that you are too stiff or your joints are tight you might want to pick a fun activity and stick to it.

Joint disorder

Joint disorder like arthritis could be the cause of your pain while squatting. Now if you feel pain or stiffness all over your body and especially in your joints, that might be one of the symptoms of chronical joint disorders. So make sure to consult with your doctor to make the necessary tests to be certain that you are no experiencing this on your body. And if you do have some sort of disorder to catch in before it gets worse.

Malnutrition

Malnutrition, or not eating enough vitamins and minerals is really important. It can have many side effects like: skin problems, vision problems, anemia, ringing in the ears and pain in the joints and bones. So one of the things that you should consider is if you are consuming enough vitamins. Are you eating fruits and vegetables? How often. We would advise you to include them in your daily intake of food. Of course you should consult with physician and other specialist to test your vitamin levels and not to wait too much.

Poor posture and muscle imbalances

Stretching has been shown to be really effective to improve your posture and muscle imbalances which are one of the main reasons that your joints can be damaged or your tendons can get inflamed. Due to imbalances in your muscles, which usualy develope because of improper training, one part of the muscle get developed and the other doesn't. Stretching helps relief the tight muscle parts and help moving the joint back to it's normal place from which you have a lot more power, and a lot less chance to damage it. The proper stretching is really important and should be done in a helpful way, if you are stretching improperly you might even worsen the issue. So to be sure that you are doing the correct way and the specific stretches for your imbalances, make sure to consult with specialist.

Find yourself a legit fitness instructor

There are many people that are working as fitness instructors, however you can easily spot if they are not professionals. Since you have to learn how to train corectly, but you have to make sure that you are learning from a professional. Since nowadays is really easy to get a certificate for fitness instructor, we would advise you to pay attention to few things. Take advises from friends that are satisfied with the services of their instructors, or do your own research. After all it is really easy to google someone's name and find if people are satisfied with their services. Since all instructors promise you great results, expect that in advance and do not get yourself confused with their promises.
Here are few things that might help you while chosing an instructor:
  • Usually they give you false promises about quick results. Any legit instructor would not promise you quick results and specific numbers. Most of them were in the game for so long they know that's now the way it works. They can promise you results, but they cannot give you a number of days or lbs that you are going to lose or gain. Since everbody is different and has different metabolism and it also depends on how much experience you have with exercising.
  • They do not watch you while exercising, they speak with other people or watch their cell phones instead. That's a clear sign that even if they are professionals they do not care about their clients. However a professional would take things seriously and responsibly since your health is in their hands. So if you meet such instructor better stay away from his methods.
  • They offer you medicamends to increase your performance and muscle gain (like steroids). This is really harfum for your body and you should not take his advises. A professional fitness instructor would pay attention to your workouts and give you advises how to correct your form and improve your results, not offer you diet plans or medicamends that might be hamrful to your body.
  • They show you the exercise without paying too much attention to proper form. Now the service that every fitness instructor offers should primarily include the proper form of exercising. If your instructor doesn't seem too much interested in your routine and you during your workout that's should say you how much they really care for your health and how professional they are in reality.

If you find yourself a professional instructor, make sure to stick to them. Some instructors actually have few certificates and they can help you with joint pains since they can be physio therapists as well, which is really helpful since you do not have to go to two different people to help you with any joint issues. Two people means that they both have to be aware of your current condition and if you skip to tell them something that might be important they might not be able to help you. However if it is one person that is competent in both areas it would be a lot more convenient and helpful.

 Now that we shared many methods that you can avoid back and knee injuries while squatting, you can start with squats and of course as always we would advise you to consult with your doctor before doing any major changes. We would recommend to get full exam of your knees and your spine as long as any x-ray tests to check the current health status of your joints and ligaments in those areas. And after few months of proper training to re-do the tests to see if there is any change.

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