Feeling a twinge of knee pain while working out can be alarming. One moment you’re feeling great, and the next thing you know there’s a sharp pain every time you bend to squat. Many people are so afraid of injuring their knees while doing squats that they avoid them completely. The good news: this avoidance may not be necessary. Sure, squatting with poor form can lead to injury, but many fitness experts say that squats are actually perfectly healthy—if they’re performed correctly.
So what’s the deal—are squats actually bad for your knees? Ahead, four fitness experts help us settle the debate.
Are squats bad for your knees?
“Squats are not inherently bad for the knees at all and are one of the most functional moves we humans perform,” Heimann says. “From the time we are toddlers throughout our lifetime, we will squat for a variety of reasons and purposes.”
Our other experts agree that squats are perfectly safe to add into your workout mix, especially when you focus on keeping your spine neutral and execute the move from your hips. The trouble comes in when you have issues with hip or ankle mobility, or if the movement comes more from your spine rather than from your hips.
“When hips flex well, the knees will follow suit with flexion and the squat should be performed with ease,” Heimann says. “If the hips don’t flex well and/or the movement happens more at the spine, the knees can take excessive loads that can create compression and discomfort and potential injury down the road.”
How to properly do a squat:
Calabrese shared these tips to help you squat like a pro:
- Start by standing with your feet hip-width apart and parallel, with your toes forward.
- Lower into the squat position by driving your hips back and bending at the knees and ankles. Don’t let your knees collapse in or shoot out over your toes.
- Keep your heels and toes on the ground, your chest up, your shoulders back, and your abdominals and core engaged. Keep a neutral spine and don’t arch or round your back when performing a squat.
- The goal is to get your hamstrings—the back of your thighs—parallel to the ground, meaning your knees are bent to a 90 degree angle.
- Press into your heels as you return to a standing position.
Here are a couple more pointers from Samuela that you may find helpful as you start adding squats to your workout mix.
- Look forward as you squat—choose a point in front of you and focus on that spot as you lower and rise up again.
- Only lower yourself as far as is comfortable. If you feel pain anywhere, it’s time to stop.
Foot positioning won’t look the same for everyone.
Your exact foot placement and positioning may look a bit different depending on your body mechanics, Johnson explains. Rather than starting with your toes pointed straight ahead, some trainers recommend starting with your feet pointed slightly outwards, about 45 degrees or slightly less.