Are Squats Bad for Your Knees?

Squats aren’t bad for your knees when done with proper form and without pain. They’re actually beneficial for strengthening the knee joint and surrounding muscles, which supports athletic performance and prevention of and recovery from common knee injuries. They’ve also been reported to improve heart health.

If you have pain with squats, particularly if you have arthritis or knee injuries, it’s important to see a healthcare provider or rehabilitation specialist who can help guide you on proper form. This may include modifications or alternatives for strengthening your knee.

This article explores the benefits of squats, how to perform them with proper technique, and common modifications.

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Are Squats Safe for Knees?

A review of research on this topic found that squats can be beneficial for knees and, when attempted properly, can strengthen the knees.

The review also suggests that deep squats that go to 90 degrees and beyond it should not contribute to any knee pain or damage to the knee joint compared with half and quarter squats. This is because the knee displaces the additional tension incurred during a deep squat, ensuring that the weight is balanced throughout the knee and surrounding tissue. A practice of deep squats may also be great for preventing knee injury.

However, for those with knee injuries or degeneration, such as from osteoarthritis, deep squats may need to be avoided or modified to help protect the knee. Still, research suggests static (long hold), low-angle squats can be beneficial even for those with arthritis. Squats are also often part of a rehabilitation plan after injuries and can be safe when done gradually and with professional guidance.

Benefits of Squats for Knees

Squats can strengthen the knee joint and the muscles of the legs, which may help improve mobility as well as knee stability to help protect against injuries.

Half or quarter squats and modified squats can also offer significant benefits. A study published in 2019 in BioMed Research International found that when participants with osteoarthritis performed static, low-angle squats, they had significant improvements in pain relief, range of motion, muscle strength, and knee stability over a two-year period.

Squats for Rehabilitation

Squats can be a helpful exercise to include in injury rehabilitation. Specifically, research shows that squats can strengthen the quadricep muscles more safely than isokinetic exercises (like a stationary bike) in people with ACL injuries.

Additional research points to the importance of the ACL in deep knee bends. Deep squats engage the ACL more than half or quarter squats, which keep the knee at a larger angle. This demonstrates that deep squats are an important part of rehabilitating the knee, especially when the intensity is gradually increased under supervision from an expert.

Other Benefits

A sedentary lifestyle, which is more common in the modern world, has been linked to numerous chronic ailments, including heart disease. In contrast, the active rest postures (squats) of our ancestors have been linked to improved cardiovascular health and mortality rate. This is because squatting requires light muscle contraction. In other words, it’s more physically active than sitting in a chair, and physical activity is crucial for elevating heart health.

Proper Techniques for Squats

To receive all the health benefits of squatting, it’s important to use the proper form. Follow these tips:

  • Stand with your feet slightly wider than your hip width.
  • Keep your spine straight and your shoulders down.
  • Imagine your heels are glued to the floor.
  • Actively press your knees outward so they are pointing in the direction of the second toe.
  • Engage your core to keep your lower back flat. 
  • Lower your hips deeply, but keep your knees at a right angle.
  • When you stand up, press your feet into the earth and straighten your legs.

Another way to get used to proper squat form is to imagine you’re sitting down in a chair while doing a squat.

Modifying Squats for Beginners 

If you’re new to squats or you have a condition like osteoarthritis, squats may be more difficult. However, modifications can make squats more accessible.

Chair Squats

A great beginner modification for squats is to use a chair. Sit on the edge of a chair with your feet flat on the ground. Then, press into the heels and engage the core to lift your glutes off the chair. Rest here for a moment, then return to the chair. You can repeat these chair exercises multiple times to help your body get used to the new movement.

Stability Ball

A stability ball provides another great way to do a squat. Place the stability ball between your back and a wall. Then, slowly guide the stability ball downward until you’re in a squatting position. This will provide you with more support in a squat position. The extra pressure you place on the ball strengthens the muscles needed to hold a freestanding squat, including the glutes, quadriceps, and back.

Free Weights

Lastly, you can improve your form by holding a weight while squatting. A dumbbell or kettlebell encourages core activation, which is key to doing this move properly. Holding extra weight also requires you to keep your back and neck straight as you squat. Plus, it’ll boost the strengthening of your lower body while toning your arms and shoulders.

Why Does It Hurt When I Squat?

If you feel pain doing squats, it’s important to check your form. Performing squats inaccurately can lead to pain in the low back or knees. If you still feel pain when completing a squat with proper form, or if you’re recovering from an injury, see a healthcare provider to make sure squats are beneficial for you.

Summary

Squats offer many benefits, including knee strength and stability for better athletic performance and to help prevent injuries. Proper form is important and modifications may be needed if you have certain conditions, injuries, or are new to this form of exercise.

Back off if you have pain while squatting and check in with your healthcare provider.

Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. Raichlen DA, Pontzer H, Zderic TW, Harris JA, Mabulla AZP, Hamilton MT, Wood BM. Sitting, squatting, and the evolutionary biology of human inactivity. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA. 2020 Mar 31;117(13):7115-7121. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1911868117

  3. Hartmann H, Wirth K, Klusemann M. Analysis of the load on the knee joint and vertebral column with changes in squatting depth and weight load. Sports Med. 2013 Oct;43(10):993-1008. doi: 10.1007/s40279-013-0073-6

  4. Zhao Z, Wang R, Guo Y, et al. Static low-angle squatting reduces the intra-articular inflammatory cytokines and improves the performance of patients with knee osteoarthritis. BioMed Research International. 2019;2019:1-4. doi:10.1155/2019/9617923

  5. Toutoungi DE, Lu TW, Leardini A, Catani F, O’Connor JJ. Cruciate ligament forces in the human knee during rehabilitation exercises. Clin Biomech (Bristol, Avon). 2000 Mar;15(3):176-87. doi: 10.1016/s0268-0033(99)00063-7


By Michelle Polizzi

Michelle Polizzi is a freelance writer and certified yoga instructor who creates research-based health and wellness content for leading brands and publications.

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