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bad squat technique

Coach, Squats Hurt My Knees

This age old argument yet again surfaced one day while training some young athletes in the youth conditioning class at the gym.  Squatting hurts your knees!  Of course it does, you shouldn’t ever do squats they tear your legs apart muscle fiber by muscle fiber, and for assuredly they have to be bad for you.

“Coach, these squats are hurting my knees!” Kyle said, while rubbing his left knee.  Kyle was a big kid for his age.  At only 13 years of age he was only six foot and all thumbs.  He was still developing into his body and as far as body awareness was concerned he had little to no influence on what movements went .

“Oh yeah, where do they hurt?” Kevin asked.

“Right over the knee here,” Kyle said pointing to his right knee above the patella. “It always hurts here, wherever we do squats.”

“Well, have you been doing what I told you keeping on your heels and sitting between your knees,” Kevin demonstrated a perfect ATG squat, holding an imaginary kettlebell.

no pain squats
“I think so,” Kyle said.

“Well, let’s see what’s going on here,” Kevin said, motioning for Kyle to squat with his body.

As Kyle descended into position, Kevin winced as if he’d been bitten by a snake. As Kyle started to descent his knees came forward and in, his toes which were far too wide twisted and his heels came up off the floor putting some severe stress onto the knee.  “Woah, woah, woah, I see the problem now. Hold up.”

Kyle paused at the top of his squat, while Kevin went on a ramble, “First things first the squats aren’t hurting your knees.”  “How you are squatting is hurting your knees.”  “Now watch me, again!” Kevin performed a solid squat all the way down, hamstrings touching the ankles, bum barely off the ground, knees out and torso in between the knees.

poor squat form

“I don’t see what I’m doing wrong coach,” Kyle said frustrated.

“Yes, I can see that,” Kevin said.  “Let’s try this for starters, find you’re foot placement first.  Start from the ground up.”

“Okay, how’s this,” Kyle asked, setting his feet slightly shoulder width, with his toes pointed outward at an overly large angle.

“Well, you’re width is fine, shoulder width or a bit wider is about right for most people,” Kevin said, “but you’re pointing your toes way too far out.”  “We’re going for a good squat, not a ballet plie.”  “You want to have your toes either straight ahead or just slightly turned out.  That way you can rotate your hips as you descend and get power from your hips.”

Kyle’s eyes told Kevin that he didn’t understand.

“Okay, look at it like this,” Kevin said, “you know how you twist the top off a pickle jar, twisting the top off with a bit of torque from your hands?”

“Yeah,” Kyle said.  “What’s that have to do with squatting?”
“I’m getting there,” Kevin said, “imagine your feet are twisting off a pickle jar with your feet.”  “As you push your hips back, push your knees out and imagine your rotating your feet on the floor.”  “They’re going to stay glued to the floor, but imagine them rotating that top of the pickle jar.  Can you visualize that?”

correct squatting form

“I think so,” Kyle said.

“Alright now try squatting and lead with your hips, push your butt back first and then bend the knees while twisting the top off the pickle jar,” Kevin said.

Kyle pushed his hips back, started to bend the knees, while Kevin cued him to rotate the jar with his feet.  Kyles knees spread apart and his torso slid smoothly inbetween his legs.

“Good, there you go,” Kevin said.  “Now remember, your feet are glued to the floor, you can’t have your heels come off the ground or you won’t be able to rotate the lid of the pickle jar, you have to grip the floor tight.”

squats hurt your knees

“Okay, I think I’m getting it,” Kyle said as he came out of another squat.  “I feel like I have more control in my hips now too!”  The lightbulb went on inside Kyle’s head as if he’d figured out a quadratic equation.

“Yep, that’s it,” Kevin said.  “Now focus on keeping your back nice and tight and not rounding over.”  “Have of the squat is simply maintaining tension throughout the body and letting your hips and legs do the work, as you drop into position and rocket out of the hole with your hips.”

“Awesome,” Kyle exclaimed, “that’s so much easier.”

“Yes, I know,” Kevin said.  “How do the knees feel?”

“Wow, you know I didn’t even notice that I didn’t have pain!” Kyle said.

“Yep, yep, remember it’s not often the exercise that’s bad for you, it’s how you’re performing the exercise,” Kevin said.  “Now that you’re getting the form correct let’s have you work a couple sets of 15 to 20 until your legs get the feel for squatting correctly.  Then next time we’ll had a bit of load to help you strengthen the legs.”

“Okay, coach,” Kyle said.

“Weight will come with time and better form will always equal a better result,” Kevin said.  “Spend your time perfecting your form first while you’re still developing and then start adding the weights in slowly.”  “Your strength will get better from doing better “quality movements” than it will by overloading poor movements with incorrect form.”

“Got it,” Kyle said, starting on another set of squats.

“Now next time, we’ll work on your pushups,” Kevin laughed.


CPT SMASH  — Remember the exercise is not often at fault for injuries or pain, regardless of age.  Most of the time it’s the user who is performing the movement wrong or with poor form.  Spend the time to learn the movements correctly and then focus on improving the movements and developing strength.  Now let’s get squatting!

big legs come from squats

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