So, Why Do Squats Hurt So Much? (Along with Solutions)

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Can squats give you back pain? How about knee discomfort? Your squat will be fixed, your strength will grow, and you won’t be hurt with this method.

How is the “best” activity for burning fat and building muscle also shunned by many of the world’s most knowledgeable fitness instructors?

This is true of the standard back squat. It’s one of the most famous and ageless workouts but also one of the most divisive.

Squatting is a fundamental activity, whether or not you execute it while carrying weight on your back (or at all).

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The movement’s security is at the center of much of the debate. Some people think squats provide too significant a risk of injury. And if you’re avoiding them, it’s probably because you’re afraid of the same thing happening to you or because you’ve had negative experiences with them.

We choose to take a different perspective: avoiding squatting is the worst thing you can do if you can’t do it without injuring yourself while sitting down.

You don’t have to squat with a weight on your back if you don’t want to, but it shouldn’t stop you from fixing the tiny things that are bothering you and preventing you from getting the most out of your exercises.

Here are some easy precautions to avoid injury when doing one of the most fundamental human actions so that you may move more efficiently and get more out of your training.

Is There a Reason That Squats Are So Painful?

One of the reasons why squats are so beneficial is also the reason why they might cause harm. Squats are a great example of a complex exercise since they engage various muscle groups simultaneously. When you squat, your whole lower body, including your legs, glutes, back, and abs, gets a workout.

Although all those muscles are engaged, you don’t want them to do the bulk of the work. An excellent exercise for your legs can quickly lead to issues like back discomfort.

If you want to move without discomfort and keep stress on the muscles meant for the action, all you have to do is tune in to the places where you feel “off.”

And remember that how you squat is unique to you and your body. We have shown no “right” amount of depth in a squat and that the optimal depth varies from person to person. (Remember that tailoring your workout to your specific needs is essential.)

Instead, we’ll work with you to resolve any discomfort you have when squatting by first helping you pinpoint the root cause of the problem.

These pointers and cues can help you improve your squatting, find your shortcomings, and avoid injury and suffering, whether you execute back squats, front squats, goblet squats, or single-leg variants.  

The Issue: Inadequate Grip

The first place I examine when someone is squatting usually takes them by surprise. For my part, I like observing the grasp and upper back.

Why? Because few really grasp the bar and engage the muscles to keep you safe.

Most people spend time trying to find a comfortable position on their upper back when a bar is placed there. They are skipping over a necessary first step.

To correct your squat form, tighten your grip on the bar and tuck your elbows beneath the bar as you go into position. Simply squatting down without any preparation will make you feel unsteady.

Increased muscle tension in the hands and upper back spreads throughout the body. With this tension, you may squat deeper and safer for your spine and lower back. Furthermore, activating these muscles will allow you to generate greater force and safely lift heavier loads.

The Issue: Slouching

There’s logic to the instruction to keep the chest up during squats. Maintaining muscular tension in the lower body is challenging if you’re bending at the hips too much.

When you lose your balance and fall forward, your body weight changes from your quadriceps to your glutes, hamstrings, and maybe your lower back.

Dropping the weight and ensuring your body can manage what you’re carrying is the first step in fixing your squat form. Particularly during squats, your body will give you many messages that basically say, “This is too much!” One of these indicators is bending in half when you lower yourself to a sitting position.

Then, try to keep your chest up and elbows pushed down (toward the earth). The body will stay in a more natural, upright position due to this adjustment.

Also (more on this later), increase your range of motion and flexibility. You won’t be able to achieve a decent squat pattern if your ankles, hips, and upper back are tight. And as the load grows, the situation will worsen.

Weak abdominal and thigh muscles may also contribute to the problem. Step-ups, Bulgarian split squats, and lunges are great alternatives to back squats for developing knee extension and stability.

Limited Movement in the Ankles

Because most individuals don’t practice it, ankle mobility is a common problem. In addition to allowing your feet to feel great, stabile footwear prevents your ankles from being more robust, durable, and mobile.

If your ankles aren’t as flexible as they once were, your shins won’t naturally slide forward as you squat. Your gait will be disrupted, and you’ll put extra strain on your knees if your shins aren’t pushing forward.

Fitness models have long enjoyed posting pictures of infants and toddlers squatting to demonstrate the normality of the deep squat position for people. Please pay more attention to the angle of their shins since this indicates greater ankle mobility.

Squatting with a 5- or 10-pound plate beneath your heels is a quick and easy way to get depth if you’re searching for it. By making this slight adjustment, you can sit more deeply in your squat and put more weight on your heels. Placing the plate beneath your heels might help if you have limited ankle movement.

If you’re looking for a solution (and we hope you are), consider including ankle mobility activities in your routine.

You can practice this joint drill in a staggered stance with your forward foot approximately a foot from the wall. The next step is putting as much force as possible behind, bringing your front knee towards the wall.

Another easy physical activity is using your big toes to write the letters “ABC” on the floor. An excellent method to work your ankles in all directions is to “draw” each letter.

Issue: Knees Giving Out

It would be best to observe your knees in the mirror or have someone record you the next time you squat while holding a weight. How much does it give in when you bend your knee (or just one)? It’s OK to move about a bit. But if one knee appears to be kissing the other (or both), it’s time to rectify the problem and avoid a significant injury.

What Causes Caving Knees (Valgus Collapse) When Squatting? It might be a Mobility or Strength Issue.

The wall squat is a quick and easy (and weight-free) technique to determine if this is an issue. Face a wall and place your feet approximately 6 inches away from it. Just go down as low as you can. Your knee tracking and the range of motion in your hips, ankles, and upper back will become instantly apparent.

If this is an issue, try switching to Goblet squats instead, sinking as low as possible while bracing your abs and lats and pushing your knees out. Hips will be mobilized dynamically in this way.

Please take note: it’s unlikely that this will solve the problem on its own. Building glute strength can reduce the risk of injuring your knees while squatting. It would help if you focused on exercises like glute bridges and barbell hip thrusts to strengthen the significant hip abductors and prevent collapse.

Issue: Improper Breathing

You aren’t making the most of intra-abdominal pressure (IUP) if you aren’t inhaling (taking a deep breath in) as you descend into the squat and exhaling (letting your breath out) as you drive up and out of the hole. Together with abdominal bracing, this forms your body’s inbuilt weightlifting belt.

The Squat Cure: Inhale profoundly and brace your core before each rep. Then, during the most challenging part of the lift, crouch down, pause, and exhale forcefully through pursed lips as you come up. You can use this tension and bracing to protect yourself from harm.

The Issue: Every Single Set Requires a Belt

Belts, like lifting straps, are sometimes a terrible idea. However, proper usage requires some expertise. They are there for help, not dependence. Many weightlifters use a belt throughout every one of their squat sets. You can’t build a strong, functioning core if you constantly rely on a belt.

Pro Tip for Squatting Like a Pro: Save belt use for your heaviest sets to maximize full-body strength and reduce the risk of injury. A good rule of thumb is to wait to put on a belt until you’ve reached about 70% of your one-rep max (1RM).

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