Squats have been called the ultimate exercise. You may have heard someone say “when in doubt squat”. Its all the rage these days and the proponents of squatting are right. They are undoubtedly an exercise that should regularly be part of your routine. Here is the biggest misconception though, squats are bad for your knees or that they will make your knees hurt. Squats are safe, so safe in fact that most third world countries use the squat to sit. Tell me if this group of people to the right have bad knees because of how they are sitting in a squat.
One thing you have to think of is maybe your knees hurt because you do no squat or are not squatting properly. One of the biggest problems could be not squatting to full depth, which we consider the hip crease below parallel. That simply means the hip joint is below the knee and the top of the femur is pointed towards the floor. Not squatting to full depth does not allow the hamstrings to be engaged. This is a huge deal because if your hamstrings are not firing you are not using them to counter the pull of the quads. The backward tension of the hamstring actually protects the knees.
The other issue of not squatting to full depth is that it takes a hip dominant movement places a lot of stress on the knees. When done properly a squat will drive the pelvis back and the knees out. This allows the hips, which are packed with the strongest muscles in your body the room they need to operate and generate the power that they need. The knees are essentially along for the ride.
Foot position and the angle your knees take during a squat can then cause knee pain as well. We spoke earlier about your knees and being out when squatting. As you can see in this photo, keeping the arches up and trying to spread the floor with your feel will protect the knees. Mischa loves to use the queue that you have lady bugs under your arches and you can’t crush them when squatting. So next time you squat protect your lady bugs and keep those arches of your feet and knees in the proper position.
You may not be able to get into a proper squat due to mobility limitations or your hamstrings have turned off due to much sitting in a chair. Waking up the hamstrings is important before you squat. Try some single leg bridges to activate the hammies and get them ready for some work. Spend time on squat mobilization as well. The couch stretch, ankle mobility and the pigeon stretch will all help get your joints operating in the right movement patterns to protect those knees. Remember, its not the squats that are the problem but how they are performed that is.