Muscle for life

Squatting and Your Knees and Back: Injury Risk or Safe?

Squatting and Your Knees and Back: Injury Risk or Safe?

Everyone knows the squat is an effective leg exercise, but is it bad for your knees and back?


Like the deadlift, the barbell squat is one of the most powerful exercises you can do, involving the strength and coordination of over 200 muscles in your body.

But, also like the deadlift, it’s avoided by many due to the fear that it’s bad for your back and knees.

The fact that many sports doctors say these things doesn’t help the squat’s cause. Consider, however, that these doctors specialize in treating people with injuries, many of whom should not be squatting in their current conditions. These people are not representative of the average, healthy gymgoer, however, and the advices that apply to those undergoing rehab don’t apply to everyone. Just because barbell squats can exacerbate a knee injury doesn’t mean it helps cause one in a healthy person.

Another common reason why these squat myths linger is even less scientific: just like how heavy, strenuous deadlifts look like they’re bad for your back (when they’re not, when performed correctly), intense squats look like they’re bad for your back and knees.

Well, to get to the bottom of these myths, let’s look to the anecdotal evidence of decades of weightlifters, and the scientific evidence of published literature.

Why Serious Lifters are in Love with the Squat

is squatting bad for your knees

When it comes to leg training, there are usually two types of people.

The first loads up the Leg Press with every plate in the gym, and goes through an intricate ritual involving tourniquet-tight knee wraps, a weight belt cinched to its tightest notch, and pre-lift announcements and cheers. He then wiggles into the sled and grinds out a few excruciating half-reps, ending with an ear-splitting yell and high-fives with his buddies.

The other type? Well, he was in the corner with the squat rack—you know, the loneliest place in the gym—quietly going about his business with deep, heavy squats. No wraps, no belts, no swagger—just a bar bending across his back, loaded with a “measly” few hundred pounds, and a puddle of sweat on the ground.

Who’s the winner, in the end? Who will consistently get bigger and stronger, and who’s the least likely to get hurt? The latter, of course.

While many people will do anything for legs before putting the barbell on their backs, they’re missing out on what many of the top strength coaches in the world consider the absolute toughest and rewarding exercise we can do.

To nobody’s surprise, squatting strengthens every muscle in your legs, which in turn helps you not only lift more weight in the gym, but run faster, jump higher, and improve flexibility, mobility, and agility. As if those aren’t reasons enough to squat, it’s also an incredibly effective core workout.

That said, the biggest fears that keep people from including squats in their workout routines are worries of back and knee injuries. Are these valid concerns?

How Your Back and Knees Can Love the Squat Too

squatting knees hurt

The myth that squatting is bad for your knees started with work done in the 1960s. Research concluded that a properly done squat stretched the knee ligaments, increasing the risk of injury. These findings spread like wildfire through the fitness world. Some US military services even cut squatting movements out of their training programs.

It was noted that the studies had serious flaws, including the choice of subjects and researcher bias (for instance, one of the studies was done with parachute jumpers, who often hurt their knees due to legs getting caught in parachute lines and violent impacts when landing), but that wasn’t enough to stop the uprising against the squat.

Well, much research has done since then, however, and a much different picture has emerged.

A rigorous study conducted by Duke University involved the analysis of over two decades of published literature to determine, in great detail, the biomechanics of the squat exercise and the stresses it places on the ankles, knees, hip joint, and spine.

Highlights from the study, and many others reviewed within, set the record straight on how the squat affects our bodies, and teach us a lot about proper squat form:

  • While most of the attention is given to the knee, hip, and spine, ankle strength plays a large role in power generation during squat performance. Research has shown that ankle weakness actually causes faulty movement patterns during the squat.
  • The hamstrings counter-act the pull on the shinbone, which helps neutralize the shearing force placed on the knee, and alleviates stress on the ACL.
  • Sit back into the squat during descent and resist the urge to bring the knees beyond the toes, as this increases shearing force placed on the knees.
  • Don’t let your knees bow inward at any point during the squat. Keep them in line with your toes.
  • Avoid exaggerated rotation of the feed inward or outward, as they don’t make the exercise any more effective, and can potentially cause undesirable knee movements.

In closing, researchers concluded that the squat “does not compromise knee stability, and can enhance stability if performed correctly.”

Furthermore, any risks of spinal injury can be avoided by simply minimizing the amount of shearing force placed on the spine.

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Let’s Get Squatting

knees hurt during squat

According to the National Strength and Conditioning Association:

“Squats, when performed correctly and with appropriate supervision, are not only safe, but may be a significant deterrent to knee injuries.”

So rest easy: as long as you use proper squat form, the squat does not put your back or knees at risk of injury.

Oh and as a final note, don’t bother with the Smith Machine Squat. It forces an unnatural range of motion, which can actually lead to knee and back injuries, and research has shown it’s far less effective than the free weight, barbell squat.


What’s your take on the squat? Absolutely vital or overrated? Completely safe, or still a risk? Let me know what you think in the comments below!

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  • Thomas

    Love it! Squats are my favorite.

  • Artid

    Absolutely great exercise!

  • Mike as you know I am 64 years young. I always attempt to squat in my leg workouts. On some days I don’t have any problems, on other days my lower back screams. If I stand with my heels on plates it seems to help my flexibality which allows me to almost hit the floor with my butt. In BLS you mention that is not the way to go. I get jambbed up without the plates. As far as the knee joint goes, I had sergury 15 months ago on my mcl. The squat doesn’t bother my knees at all. However doing leg extensions with more then 170 lbs leaves the repaired knee slightly sore and swolen for a couple of days.
    Deadlifts are ok if I do them every other back workout and don’t go heiver then my body weight which is about 160. In the back of my mind I always have the fear of injury when doing squats or deadlifts because I have injured myself through the years. How do I get passed the fear?

    • Hey Tony,

      Thanks for writing. Proper squats definitely require flexibility, so it makes sense why the blocks help in that regard.

      What rep range are you working in? It sounds like we could reduce the weight so you can focus on form? Usually any lower back issues come from taking too much weight and leaning forward (or arching the back too much or rounding it).

      Stay off the leg extension machine. This is bad for your knees at high weights.

      Cool on the deads. Feel free to work in higher rep ranges here too.

      Regarding injury, if you keep the weights very manageable (I think 8-10 or 10-12 reps would work well) and stay very focused on your form, it’s very unlikely that you will get hurt.

      If it’s really a bother for you, though, just drop the exercises and replace them with substitutes from the book. That’s not ideal, of course, but you can still make great gains.

      Hope this helps!


  • I LOVE to squat and to do RDL’s. I got away from the squat for awhile and my gym only had a smith anyway. Joined a new gym squat rack and a power cage! Love it. First workout of new 6 week cycle after a rest week start out with leg day 5:00 a.m. last Saturday morning. Squats, RDL’s, Calf Raises folowed by a 6 mile run. Next day? Yup couldn’t walk. Love it!

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  • Evie


    • Michael Matthews

      Wow that’s interesting. Are you running regularly or doing anything that might aggravate it?

      • Evie

        I run, but is that case? I run every 3 days. When i run it doesn’t hurt. Are squats the reason? I mean its a great excersice.

        • Michael Matthews

          Hm if it were the running I’d think it would hurt while running.

          Are you certain your form is correct? Are you getting deep? What rep range are you working in?

    • Josey


      I get pains in my gastroc and soleus sometimes when I squat or I’ve been walking around a bunch and I only get it if I’m not stretching on a regular basis. It’s pretty normal for people who run to have tight calf muscles. I find that foam rollers, regular massages and stretching helps. Hopefully it’s nothing serious!

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  • Tushar Sharma

    Hi Mike, Squats are an integral part of my workout. I have been doing them for around two months now. I do them 3-4 times a week, each time 3 sets with 6 reps each. I have noticed gains and I am very happy with it. But I have also noticed that my thighs have become bigger and they rub against each other when i walk, is this normal ? My theory is that the muscle in my thighs has increased and has pushed the fat outwards, so I have started doing cardio (running on treadmill) too, I wasn’t doing any cardio earlier.

    • Michael Matthews

      That’s great on the squatting. Yeah, you’re just gaining muscle. If you reduce your body fat percentage, you should see this problem go away.

  • Joe

    I have been doing parallel squats. I love ’em and I am making gains. I have no pain when doing them. After reading your article(s), I was wondering if I should be doing full squats instead (I have never tried them). Are full squats much better than parallel squats? I hate to break away from something I am loving and pain free, for something I never tried before, if there is not much difference.

    • Michael Matthews

      Awesome Joe.

      Full squats are better than parallel squats in that they do work your legs more. That said, they require good flexibility, which some people have to gradually work toward.

      I recommend you do this next legs day:

      Parallel squats as usual
      3 sets of full squats (drop the weight by about 25%)
      Your next 1-2 exercises

      This way you can see how they feel.

      What do you think?

      • Joe

        I’ll give it a try! Although I might start with the weight evena bit lower for the first set or two of full squats to make sure I get the form down perfect. Thanks!
        BTW. I am impressed with how quickly you get back to our questions! Thanks for the support.

        • Michael Matthews

          Yeah cool, do that. Lemme know how it goes. And my pleasure on the replies! 🙂

  • Stuart Cullinan

    I love squats too and do them 3 times a week. I do suffer from lower back pain but I think this is from deadlifts rather than squats. I’m lifting some rather heavy weight and I’m conscious about form and worry about injury. I have researched proper technique for squats and deadlifts but as I train alone its difficult to know if I’m actually doing it correctly. I know stronglifts community provide form check services for members, is this something you would consider as a service? I upload a vid and you provide feednack…just a thought.

    • Michael Matthews

      I would definitely straighten out the form because PAIN is not a good sign, and can lead to injury. (Soreness is fine, of course.)

      Sure, upload a video, send me the link, and I’ll tell you want I think!

  • Gary

    I used the squat and deadlift to increase my bench. I love those exercises. Unfortunately it was so exercises that caused by knee and back problems and I can’t do either anymore. But it was NOT the fault of the exercise. It was my fault for using bad form and for constantly going way to heavy. As a powerlifter that is how I was trained. I never mastered the deadlift form and consequently paid the price!

    • Michael Matthews

      I’m sorry to hear that Gary. 🙁 But yes, that’s something everyone should keep in mind: form>weight, always.

  • wibes

    Ten years ago I suffered an L2-L3 compression fracture and as I have been told by doctors I was “this close” to being paralyzed. I am finally at a point where i have little to no back pain except occasionally. I train at least 3 times a week and have always shyed away from squats because I didn’t want to hurt myself worse but it kills me not doing them. It just isn’t worth my health but I do miss them. I do heavy leg press occasionally but I am still very cautious!

    • Michael Matthews

      I’m glad to hear you’re no longer having back pain, and you’re doing the right thing. I would definitely go easy on my back if I were you–avoiding injuries is #1 priority.

  • Stace

    Hi Mike, you will probably say find another gym but the gym I use does not have a squat rack or Olympic bar. The bar can only take 30kg! We do however have a multipower Smith machine which I use for deadlifts and squats. You said don’t bother using a Smith machine but I have no choice at the moment. I try to keep to strict form. What are your thoughts? I would like your feedback please. Oh and I cannot move gyms right now so its either Smith machine squats and deadlifts or none at all! Thanks

    • Michael Matthews

      Hmm well squatting on a Smith is better than not squatting at all, but you’ll want to put your feet 12-16 in in front of you.

      If by “multipower” rack you mean one where the bar can move both laterally and vertically, then you can deadlift on it. If it only moves vertically, don’t deadlift on it. Just do another exercise instead, like barbell rows.

      Hope this helps!

      • Stace

        Thanks for the reply Mike… really enjoyed your book by the way ‘Bigger Leaner Stronger’

        • Michael Matthews

          YW and thanks! Really glad to hear it. 🙂

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  • Ayoung84

    Great article!

    I used to squat with regular tennis shoes on, but suffered a reoccurring back injury. It felt like I basically ripped my lower back apart and would make getting back up from bending over very painful for several days.

    I finally got a tip to squat barefoot to prevent rocking during the movement and I have been squatting problem free for about six months even under heavy weight.

    Well, last week I somehow injured my back again and I’m not sure what I did wrong. I wasn’t in front of a mirror and I feel my form may have suffered.

    Needless to say I am still in some pain and nervous to squat again, but eager to get back at it. Would you have any suggestions for me? Thanks!

    • Michael Matthews

      Really glad you liked the article.

      Arg, I’m sorry to hear about your back. I would definitely recommend you wait for the pain to be FULLY gone before you squat again, and you should start with lighter weights. Work in the 10-12 rep range and see how it feels…

    • nogoodnews

      I always squat barefoot and it’s amazing the difference in balance – which of course positively affects the way you squat, if not even the weight load. I use lighter weight load to make sure I go all the way to parallel. It also helps me slow down my squat and keep good form. Form over weight load any day. I totally love this article!

      • Michael Matthews

        Nice! Thanks for sharing!

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  • Steve_82G

    Mike, would you suggest the front squad as an alternative when having back issues (herniated disc, sciatica and such)? Your article somehow indicates this but love to have a clear thought on this from you 🙂

    • Michael Matthews

      Yes, the front squat is a great exercise for taking stress off the lower back. That said, I can’t say it’s 100% safe for you. It depends on the condition of your back…

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  • Osher Barda

    Mike if it takes me longer then 2 seconds to get back up should I lower weight?

    • Michael Matthews

      Not necessarily no. If it’s your last rep and you’re struggling up that’s okay.

  • halevi

    I worked out in the gym today AFTER work when it was really busy. Normally, I work out in the morning when it’s slow. Even then, it was easy to do barbell exercises without waiting. What’s going on? It seems like fewer and fewer people are using barbells when there is increasing evidence showing the effectiveness of that type of workout. As a side note, my primary gym is mostly white middle class people, whereas the one I go to closer to home (not nearly as often) is made up of mostly African American middle class people and the men tend to do barbell exercises and you can see the difference. The African Americans are in great shape.

    • Michael Matthews

      Hahah barbells are haaaaaard. 😛

      • halevi

        They ARE hard. I video tape myself doing squats every 2 weeks or so and I still don’t have perfect form, but I’m getting closer. I don’t mind, though. The results speak for themselves and I can’t see myself doing all the wacky exercises that people are doing these days. Also, my workouts are very simple and focused. Finally, being strong feels so good that I’ll never go back!

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  • Sean

    Mike, is it wrong to use knee wraps? I have been lifting for 30+ years and see the squat as an intregal part of my leg routine. That being said, i have some discomfort in my right knee that does not present when i wear wraps. I start light(135) then sets of 225 and 315 with knee wraps.I am able to do deep and heavy squats discomfort free with wraps.

    • Michael Matthews

      You know I’m actually not totally sure, but I would guess there’s nothing wrong with it. It’s not like a weightbelt in terms of how it affects mechanics.

  • Alina

    Hello. I am 15 years old and I started to do squats 5 days ago , since I started ,I ‘ve got a terrible knees pain . I wanna to ask you is that a normal thing or may damage my body soon , and is it comes if I’m not doing squarts in the right way . Should I stop doing exercises? -I’m gonna wait for your answer thank you i♥

    • Michael Matthews

      You shouldn’t feel pain. My guess is your form is off. Are your knees extending past your toes on the way down?

  • mdringler

    As far as I can tell, split squats (which effectively train one leg at a time) appear to be an adequate substitute for traditional back squat. http://www.strengthandconditioningresearch.com/2013/05/13/split-squats/

    Given the large number of people who for whatever reason are incapable of maintaining proper form when back squatting resulting in recurring back injuries, I figured this might be a helpful substitute. The data thus far suggests that similar muscle activity and hypertrophy is induced, but with reduced risk of back injury in the inflexible person. As always I’m interested in your opinion.

    • Michael Matthews

      Yes, that is a good workaround!

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  • SageHopkins

    Squats make me feel like I could pick a fight with a horse and kick it’s ass. Squats rule!

    • Michael Matthews

      Lol don’t test that urge. 😉

      • SageHopkins

        Wouldn’t dare; feelings are subordinate to reason most of the time for me…but what a great feeling nonetheless!

        • Michael Matthews


  • rei

    I completely agree that squatting is great! TBH I used to have horrible back problems (because I sit too long) and knee pains (overweight and ran a lot), but now I don’t have either problem. Squats have strengthened my back muscles and the muscles around my knees (sorry I don’t know what they’re called). When I ran I couldn’t lose any of the fat in my thighs (they were like saddlebags. seriously), but the squats have REALLY made my thighs less flabby/ wobbly and taken off a few inches. I can feel the muscle underneath just by pressing a little, when before I used to have to press quite hard lol and I only squatted 3-4 times a week and started with 10-15kg. Also, since I started deep squats, my waistline has reduced. I used to run until my legs felt like jelly and my lungs felt like they were on fire, but it really didn’t do squat for me! (sorry I just had to…)

    The only risk you run is overdoing it (too many reps and sets, too much weight, not waiting to fully heal), so best to not be too enthusiastic? That was my brief problem in the beginning. Better to start slow with good form!

    • Michael Matthews

      That’s great! Keep up the squats!

      Yes you’re right on the volume/frequency point.

  • “Who’s the winner, in the end? Who will consistently get bigger and
    stronger, and who’s the least likely to get hurt? The latter, of course.”

    nonsense, they will both get equally strong and big provided the latter does some ab exercises with various weights.

    • Michael Matthews

      You think that a person doing quarter reps will make the same gains as someone doing full reps?

  • wayne

    Thanks for these important tips ill be certainly taking them on board

    • Michael Matthews


  • Paul

    I’ve been loving your workouts so far, making way faster progress than ever before, so I’m trying to stick to your 4-6 rep range routines.
    However, I had a torn ACL and achilles tendon from a rugby injury so I’m still working on getting my leg strength back. I like the heavy lifting, but I’m worried that the stabilizing muscles in my knee aren’t quite ready. Should i drop weight for now, or will the heavier weight help that strength come back quicker?

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  • Alena Heath

    Great read, and I appreciated all the link-outs to PubMed. You helped me feel justified in my beliefs about squatting. I have had trouble in the past with traditional squats due to a weak low back, and recently switched to front loaded barbell squats. What a difference it has made! Just hit a new PR yesterday actually. I’m going to try a wider stance as you suggested for more activation in my glutes going forward 😉

    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks Alena! Front squats are great. Good call! Are you deadlifting to build up your back strength?

      • Alena Heath

        You know I am! 🙂

        • Michael Matthews

          Nice! 🙂

  • Dusty Stansel

    Mike I have been doing the BLS program for about 3 months now and have noticed popping in my knees. It doesn’t hurt or anything, you can just hear it when I bend/extend my leg. Is this normal? I have tried to pay strict attention to form and have recently started doing the hip and ankle mobility routines in BBLS.


    I weigh 160 lbs and squat 425 for a 1 rep max… this can’t be healthy for me is it?

    • Michael Matthews

      That’s awesome. Down to parallel?

      Regarding health, I’m with you. I’d figure there’s a point where it can’t be good to go heavier, but I think this would change from person to person…

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  • Jim anderson

    Hi Mike due to rotator cuff problems I don’t have the flexibility for barbell squats,are dumbbell squats as effective ?,or is there an alternative,like front barbell squats?

  • Hi Mike. I’ve not squatted for a number of years but have decided to follow your program for the year and have a concern. For as long as I can rememeber, my flexibility has been limited. I can’t get to parallel on squats, and i know i need to keep working on form. The question is since i am doing BSL and cannot get to parallel, should i substitue another exercise or keep working light even though i nkow i wont make the same gains?

  • Brad

    I started squats about 4 months ago and was highly focused on form with lower weights and higher reps. I was doing 5 sets of 15 very light weight reps. I was out about two weeks due to being sick and got back into the gym and did my squat routine at about the same weights. However, I injured my back and can barely walk now. So my question is that with everyone saying squats are completely safe for your knees and back if done in proper form, would you say their is some increased risk to injury by doing squats over a squat machine? It seems like everyone says no, but here I am injured. I’m guessing I must have been off on form some? Seems like the risk to injury comes from the risk of not holding absolutely perfect form every single rep which nobody tells you must be harder than it seems, even at light weights. Seems like the risk of that is high, especially for a newer lifter and therefore their actually is increased risk of injury with squats. I’m confused at how I got so injured by something that is supposed to be safe.

    • Michael Matthews

      Some people’s bodies are naturally more injury prone than others but the movement is essentially safe.

      But yes, if form slips, the risk of injury goes up and again some people injury easier than others, which explains why you see some guys get away with atrocious form on the squat and deadlift for years without getting hurt.

  • Michael Matthews

    Thanks for stopping by and checking out my article! I hope you enjoyed it.

    Feel free to comment below if you have any questions. I do my best to check and reply to every comment left on my blog, so don’t be shy!

    Oh and if you like what I have to say, you should sign up for my free weekly newsletter! You’ll get awesome, science-based health and fitness tips, delicious “guilt-free” recipes, articles to keep you motivated, and much more!

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  • Kate

    Hi Mike,
    I’m a eighteen year old girl, whom considers herself in very good shape. I work out five days a week in a gym and the other two in my home. I do cardio three times a week and recently started squatting about a few months ago. I squat with the barbell behind my back with light weight (I’m slowly moving up the weight bracket) but I was just curious if switching the barbell from behind the back and to the front has a dramatic difference in how much muscle your glutes and leg muscles will build or if it doesn’t really matter becasue their basically just dealing with the same muscles?

    • Michael Matthews

      Great on what you’re doing.

      Front is easier on the lower back and is a bit more quad dominant. You should do both–back and front squats.

  • Will

    is it bad to squat more than your body weight when starting out?

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  • TritoneJapan

    This article claims that squatting isn’t bad for your knees yet there is even evidence in the article about how squatting can be bad for your knees. I squat twice a week. I used to squat 3 times a week but guess what, it started making my knees feel bad! Not pain, but definitely not like they were benefitting from squats (when I walked down stairs I could really feel something strange). Could be my form.

    • Many variables here like form, training style, condition of joints, genetic predisposition to joint/tendon injury, etc. As a movement, however, the squat is NOT bad for the knees.

      • Robin Turner

        Just anecdotal evidence, but I’ve found squats to be _good_ for my knees. I’ve had operations on both knees, so they let me know (painfully) if they’re unhappy (serious running is out of the question, for example). Since I’ve started doing barbell squats I haven’t heard a peep from them, except when I tried doing machine leg extensions (which I’ve stopped).

        • Thanks for sharing Robin! Glad the knees are doing well!

          Not a fan of leg extensions at all.

    • Orion Antares

      From what I’ve read and experienced if you squat improperly, usually by not going deep enough, you over emphasise the quad which can cause it to pull too much on the knee. This can lead to a high riding patella in individuals susceptible to developing the issue. Issues walking down stairs are one of the symptoms.

      • Yep.

      • Justin

        Yep that happened to me. Used to do light (100lbs) for reps, only going to parallel because I read ATG was bad for your knees. Lo and behold I developed knee tracking disorder and needed to get phsyiotherapy for it.

        Now I powerlift; 5X5, ATG, 200+lbs (working up to 300) and my knee has actually IMPROVED from it.

  • Anne

    Hey mike, I’ve been doing ATG squats but recently switched to parallel bc my hips are so tight. I’ve done normal sets and a PR with parallel squats and just wanted your input on whether it’s more dangerous to do PRs with parallels. I know that AGT works your legs more, but in terms of safety (knees, hips ankle back etc) is parallel a poor option? I haven’t had any pain (less infact) and am using barbell. Thoughts?

  • Sarah Sanderson

    Hi Mike, I have recently started strength training and I’m looking into buying your book “The year one Challenge”, only thing is are there any alternatives to barbell squats/ deadlift? Would I get results if I use less than 20KG (bar) i.e lighter weights such as kettle bells? Reason is I have been suffering with a lot more back pain since I upped my weight on barbell squats. At first strength training improved my back pain but since going heavier than 20kg I have been suffering with more pain. I really concentrate on technique and holding my core (been group strength training for over 3 months so have been supervised quite a lot with regards to technique etc The thing is my legs are strong but my back is weak and get tired quickly. I have spondylolisthesis of the L5/S1 joint although I guess a lot of my pain is referred and could be due to tight muscles like hamstrings. I am naturally lordotic so have to consciously set myself up correctly before each squat etc. Do you have any advice please?

    • That’s great Sarah!

      You might like this:


      Hmm how are front squats for you? They are very easy on the back.

      Are you doing hyperextensions to build up your back strength?

      • Sarah Sanderson

        Thanks for getting back to me.
        Front squats – Holding bar at the front? Never tried them? I guess if that felt uncomfortable I could try holding a plate or KB? No I’ve not been doing hyperextensions as I’ve been advised not to bend my back in that way.

  • Tim

    I popped a groin recently while squatting. What would I be doing wrong with my form to cause this? How long should I lay off doing squats before adding them back to my workouts?

    • Dang, sorry to hear that. Have you seen a sports doc/PT to assess the damage?

  • Karan

    Hello Mike, I love your articles specifically because each of them have a lot of scientific research to back them up and so I was wondering if you could shed some light on a concern that I had. I’m pretty sure my concern is going to sound silly in the least to a majority, but I’ve read quite a few articles suggesting that squats can reduce your height by around 3.3mm by causing a phenomenon called spinal shrinkage, which means that the space between the vertebrae gets compressed. I would like to know your view on this and also if this effect is permanent. I really hope you answer, thank you.

    • Thanks Karan!

      This happens every day as a natural consequence of gravity (we wake up taller than we go to bed) but I’ve not seen any credible evidence that squatting permanently reduces height.

  • Cole Lomas

    If getting some pain in knees on the leg press, would DB lunges be a good option to swap out as a more natural sort of motion for the knee?

    • Yep, if you’re able to do lunges without pain or discomfort, they’re a good substitute.

  • Aloxis

    Great article, but just one question… what if you already have pain in one knee before you start squatting? I´m getting old you know… and I had an injury and it comes and goes, I squat very light because of it and some weeks i have pain some dont… do you think a band would help? regards!

  • Moti Hazani

    Hi Mike’
    thanks for the post regarding the squatting.
    i am interested in knowing further the spine – torso position and how they are supposed to be located during the squat.
    straight? butt out?? i am confused…
    i’ll appriciate your response

    also youtube movies will be great.

  • Heath

    I’ve tried to keep squats and deadlifts in my routine, but with a persistent lower back issue that I may suffer from for the rest of my life…I can no longer justify having them in my routine.
    I had switched to front squats, and have injured my mid back twice (I’m not lifting too heavy, but may have bad form. I think I just have super week support muscles.) I have also tried the Trap bar, which still causes soreness, but not near the pain as a shear force on my lower back.
    Being in the military part time and getting up there in age, push ups, sit ups, 2 mile runs and being able to ruck over 50 pounds on my back is where my focus should be, cant do any of that with an injured back.

    I think I may have to switch to an all upper body workout that is kind to my back…I hope lunges will prevent bird legs. 🙁

    • No problem! You still have the Hack Squat, Leg Press, Bulgarian Split Squat, Lunges, and Ham Curls 🙂

  • I had to take a break from squatting and deadlifting because my lower back was killing me. Turns out I have gluteal amnesia, something more people suffer from than they know. Because we sit so much the glutes don’t know how to fire properly causing your hamstrings and calves to compensate and putting way too much stress on your lower back.

    Form is also important but it’s impossible to keep your knees from going beyond your toes like you suggest. If you did that you would fall over backwards every time. I’m gonna put weights under my heels and see what that does. Maybe it will help me to keep my back more straight.

    • That can happen for sure. Can also be due to poor mobility and that’ll lock things up. (Happened to me!)

      It’s definitely possible to keep your knees from going beyond your toes. Strength and mobility issues might prevent you from doing that. Or, you just need to shift your center of gravity a bit. I don’t know what your form looks like right now so it’s hard to comment on it. If you want to shoot me an email and share a vid, I’m more than happy to help you out 🙂
      Roger at muscleforlife dot com

    • Ron Stewart

      I’m not flexible and my knees don’t go past my toes.

  • Eric Fiumanò

    I think that unless you use no-weights or low weights you always ruin yourself a little.
    The problem then is not squatting itself but being able to have a v good form. I could see tons of boys doing heavy squats to show how strong they are…truth said is that until you don’t have a certain age or have certain back problems you can hardly notice back pain.
    I think that the back and the knees are too important to be sacrified just for a stupid exercise. There’s tons of wealthy ex to do.

    • As long as you’re consistently lifting with good form, there’s no sacrificing of your back or knees.

    • Ron Stewart

      Did you read the article? Squats don’t damage the back and knees, they strengthen them as long as proper form is used.

  • Ethan

    One of my friends has a twisted back, so when he squats, one arm goes lower and further back than the other. Are there any suggestions regarding his leg training?

    • I am not sure I know what you mean by a twisted back. Scoliosis? If that is the case, a physician should help him try to correct it, if that is possible. If it is just muscular imbalance, unilateral (lunges, single arm rows, etc.) strength exercises should help even him out.

      • Ethan

        I don’t think it’s scoliosis. The back problem actually stems from the fact that one leg is longer than the other, so his back naturally compensated. He used to squat, but when he started having pain, he went to a chiropractor, and his chiropractor recommended that he stop squatting because the compression of his spine put it in a vulnerable position.

        • In that case, it might be best to listen to the chiropractor. Squats are an essential exercise, usually, but not appropriate for some people who have injuries or pre-existing conditions.

          • Ethan

            Thanks so much. Do you have any worthwhile substitutions for squatting?

          • Machine assisted squats or leg press, if you don’t have access to a hack squat machine. Hope this helps!

          • Ethan

            Great! Thanks so much!

          • Anytime!

  • Tom DeFelice

    Hi Mike. Thanks for all your helpful advice. I injured both of my knees 25 years ago playing sports (torn meniscus and torn ACL). They were never repaired and I still have a good bit of pain. My cartilage is nearly worn away and I have some lateral looseness that causes pain. My orthopedic has told me I will need replacements in both knees eventually but he doesn’t think I’m there yet. I’ve tried squats (free and machine) and leg presses but they cause me serious pain. I have pretty strong legs so 85% of 1RM is pretty heavy. I know how important squats are in your routines, but do you have any substitute leg exercises I can do that won’t affect my knees? Thanks in advance for your help.

    • Hey Tom, sorry to hear about the knees! Have you tried front squats? Those place less stress on the knees. You could also try lunges (the rear lunge tends to be easier on the knees) or Bulgarian split squats. Romanian deadlifts and hamstring curls might be useful for you, as well. If you can’t do those without pain, it might be worth talking to a doctor/PT.

      Check out this article: https://www.muscleforlife.com/joint-pain/

  • Great article, but terrible photos of stock photography models using absolutely horrid form. Look at that knee cave… In general I think all the MFL articles would be more legit if they ditched the fitness models and used better images.

    • Thanks for the feedback. I’d definitely like to improve the images, but it’s a lot easier said than done when it comes to finding good photos we can use.

      Anyway, I’m glad you enjoyed the article overall 🙂

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