Is squatting bad for your knees? Research would respond with a big fat NO — In fact, squatting may even be very good for your knees…
There are a few common suggestions that seem to come up in the health industry repeatedly.
You know the ones I am talking about, right?
- “If you want to lose weight, you have to eat (exactly) 1200 calories per day”
- “To build a six pack, you need to do heaps of ab work”
And lets not forget:
- “You can literally eat anything you want after working out, coz the anabolic window brah”
Now, fortunately for us, most people have cottoned on to the fact that these ‘fitness tips’ are nothing more than misguided information — simple comments that don’t take individual context into account.
However, for some reason there is one fitness myth that simply refuses to die.
If you read the title of this article, then you can probably see exactly where I am going with this.
“Squatting is bad for your knees”
But is it really…
Is Squatting Bad For Your Knees?
Too answer this too common question, I took a dive into the research to determine what actually happens to your knee while you squat.
And believe it or not, not all that much really happens at all.
A common suggestion is that as you descend into a squat, your anterior cruciate ligament (yep, that dreaded ACL) is placed under tension, making it susceptible to damage. However, research has shown that the opposite is actually true.
See, the force placed on this ligament decreases the more your knee is bent — which is exactly what happens when you squat.
Now this isn’t to say that there is no load placed through the knee as you squat.
In fact, as you squat, you can expect to see an increase in shear stress through many of the passive structures of the knee (including your meniscus, cartilage, and patella tendon). But the interesting thing here is that this force peaks as you reach 90 degrees of knee flexion — after which it appears to remain around the same, or even decrease.
To provide a bit of context, 90 degrees of knee flexion refers to the point when your thighs become parallel to the ground. Which is about the same amount your knee bends you get when you walk up some stairs…
So with this in mind, you can assume that the squatting movement itself is not bad for your knees.
But What About Squatting Under Load?
This is where things get a little bit interesting (or at least I think they do…).
Obviously, during a gym session, it is pretty rare that you will perform a squat with simply your body weight — or at least, not for long, anyway.
Over time you will progress to squatting under load. Then, in more time, you will increase that load to accommodate increases in strength and function.
It is this process that ultimately describes training in its entirety.
Now, the thing that needs to be acknowledged here is that as load increases, the force distributed through the knee joint also increases.
But this is not necessarily a bad thing.
In fact, I would argue that it is a very good thing.
Is Squatting Good For Your Knees?
See, very much like the muscles in your legs, the passive structures within your knee (cartilage, ligaments, tendons, and meniscus) all have the capacity to adapt and become stronger.
And again, like your muscles, this comes down to gradually exposing them to increasing loads over time.
In short, as you get stronger, they get stronger.
As a result, this actually makes the squat one of the best exercises on the planet for improving knee joint health and preventing against knee joint injuries.
However, there are a few caveats around this — namely the fact that your exercise technique needs to be sound, and the increases in load occur in a gradual and safe manner.
How to Squat Properly: My Tips for Good Squat Technique
Like I mentioned above, the key to getting all the benefits of squatting come from performing the movement with good technique.
But what in the world does this look like?
Well, pretty simply – like this:
You want to make sure that you have a nice neutral spine. That your chest is kept up nice and tall. Importantly, you also want to make sure that your entire foot (toes, heel, and the ball) is making contact with the ground. You will also notice that in this example, they are squatting below parallel. Their knees also happen to be coming beyond their toes.
Both of which are absolutely FINE.
Firstly, squatting below parallel is a great option IF you have the mobility to do so. It is this movement that takes your knee through a full range of motion, which is what helps improve knee health.
Now, if you do not have the mobility available, then there is some merit in doing some dedicated mobility work. This should be done with the intent to achieve a full range of motion squat safely.
However, this is another article unto itself…
Secondly, if your knees did not have the ability to travel over your toes, you would not be able to walk. Seriously, you will be in this position every day, so why not train to become stronger in this position?
Makes sense, right.
How to Squat with Good Technique
So, without further ado, my step by step approach to squatting with good technique.
- Set yourself up with your feet a bit wider than shoulder width, with your toes pointed out slightly. Your entire foot should be making contact with the ground, and your big toes should be pressed firmly into the floor.
- Keeping your chest up tall, proceed to sit straight down so that your bum drops between your heels (this should be done slowly, and under control).
- Hold a slight pause at the bottom without losing your chest position. Your torso should be upright, your spine straight, and your hips flexed to about 45 degrees (give or take).
- From here, push your feet into the ground until you are back at your starting position.
- Proceed to pump your fist in the air in celebration — you just completed one very nice repetition, you legend!
Simple stuff really.
Progressing the Squat
So, I think we have answered the question, “is squatting bad for your knees?”
Within this, we have also looked at how to perform a really good looking squat.
However, what I haven’t touched on is how you can add load to the squat. Remember above, when I mentioned that the addition of load is what causes increases in tissue strength? And that it is these increases in tissue strength that have a long lasting impact on knee health?
With that in mind, you should be able to see that this step of adding load is crucial to improving strength, joint health, and function.
Which is exactly why I wanted to outline the exact way that I progress the squat to allow the gradual addition of load:
- Plate squat (Weeks 1-4).
- Goblet squat (Weeks 5-8).
- Dual KB front squat (Weeks 9-12).
- Front Squat (Weeks 13-16).
- Back Squat (Weeks 17-20).
Now, while I appreciate that this may look like a lengthy process, you really want to make sure that it is done as safely and as efficiently as possible.
Which I believe I have ensured quite well.
See, after each 4 week period, you should have mastered that specific variation. Each week you should also increase the weights you use slightly to continually increase strength throughout the entire duration of the progression.
As a result, this progression offers the perfect way to allow long term progress!
Take Home Message
So, is squatting bad for your knees?
Hell to the no.
Well, as long as you perform them smartly that is — which, using the tips outlined in this article, you are guaranteed to do.
So what are you waiting for?