6 Ways to Fix Knee Pain When You Squat

Cathe Friedrich doing a plie squat with a wider stance that helps to reduce knee pain


Squats are one of the most basic but effective exercises to build strength and improve your overall athletic performance. They’re a proven way to work your core and build lower body strength. While squats are one of the most effective lower body exercises, they can be uncomfortable if you’ve had a knee injury in the past or have arthritic knees.  If that’s the case, there are several ways to adjust your form and make minor changes to prevent knee pain when squatting:

Get the right shoes for squatting

The first thing you should do when trying to fix knee pain from squatting is to wear the right shoes. This may seem obvious, but it’s amazing how many people don’t know about this tip for preventing knee pain. If you don’t have shoes that are specifically designed for squatting, your feet will be at risk for injury and you’ll place more pressure on your knees, especially if you have flat feet or high arches.

So, what kind of shoes should you wear? One option is to invest in Olympic weightlifting shoes. These shoes have a raised heel, which helps reduce stress on your knees by allowing you to sit back into your squat more.

Another option is to wear a pair of athletic sneakers that aren’t too bulky and are built with good arch support and cushioning in front as well as along the heel area (for impact absorption). A firm sole and good arch support will help keep your feet aligned correctly.

Shoes designed for cross-training are another option. They often have a flat, wide base that provides good stability. This can be helpful because it allows for a more natural alignment of the feet and ankles during squats.

Choose your shoes carefully. The right shoes can make all the difference in how your knees feel when you squat.

Squat with a wider stance

Some sources believe that a wide stance places less stress on the knees because your hips can move more freely and the angle at the knee joint is smaller. Yet others point out that a narrow stance allows the quadriceps muscles to work more effectively, which helps to stabilize the knee joint. Ultimately, the best stance for you will depend on your body mechanics and any preexisting injuries or conditions you have. If you have any doubts, consult with a qualified healthcare professional or a strength and conditioning coach.

However, there are reasons a wider stance could be safer for your knees. You’re less likely to round your back when you use a wider stance. A wider stance also makes it easier to keep your knees and hips in line. You’ll also discover it’s easier to go lower into a squat when you use a wider stance. If you have a history of knee problems when squatting, lighten up on the weights, focus on form, and listen to your body. If it feels uncomfortable, modify it.

Keep a neutral spine

Maintain a neutral spine while you squat to avoid placing added stress on your knee joints. A neutral spine is when your back is straight and you aren’t rounding your shoulders or jutting your head forward. When you maintain a neutral spine, it shouldn’t appear that you’re sticking your butt out or tucking it under. It also means that when someone looks at you from behind, they won’t see an obvious curve in your lower back area. Have someone knowledgeable critique your form!

Try Sumo squats

If you’re susceptible to knee pain, the sumo squat may be for you. When you do a sumo squat, your toes turn slightly away from your body and there’s less flexion at the knees. Your quads also don’t move as much with a sumo squat. But with any squat variation, there are certain basics you should do to protect your knees. For example, keep your knees in line with your feet and don’t let them travel past your toes. Also, keep the weight in your heels rather than the balls of your feet to reduce the impact on your knees.

There are other advantages to doing sumo squats. They’re the most effective lower body exercise for targeting your inner thighs, an area that doesn’t get enough emphasis.

Try box squats

Box squats are a type of squat that you do using a box or bench to align your body as you lower into the squat position. Some experts believe box squats are easier on the knees than traditional squats because they allow you to sit back into the squat position rather than having to lower all the way to the ground. This can potentially reduce stress on your knee joints. The box squat also allows you to engage your glutes and hamstrings more, which helps take some of the load off of your knees. As you progress, you will find you can squat more deeply with better form and have greater confidence in your strength and stability.

Correct weaknesses that make squatting harder on your knees

If you have weak core or glute muscles, it’ll place more stress on your knees, so work on correcting weaknesses that create added knee stress. If you have tight hamstrings or calves work on stretching and loosening them since they can affect your alignment when you squat. Then work on strengthening your core and glute muscles, so you can approach squats with better alignment.


Hopefully, these tips have given you some ideas on how to feel better when squatting. If you’re still experiencing knee pain after trying these suggestions, see a physical therapist or doctor who specializes in orthopedics or a sports medicine doctor. Always focus on the quality of the squats you do and avoid using momentum, especially if you have a history of a knee injury. Be ready to modify squats if they cause knee pain or discomfort.


  • “Sumo Squat: How-To, Benefits, and Muscles Worked – Healthline.” 12 Jan. 2021, https://www.healthline.com/health/fitness-exercise/sumo-squat-exercises.
  • Slater, Lindsay V.; Hart, Joseph M.. Muscle Activation Patterns During Different Squat Techniques. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research 31(3):p 667-676, March 2017. | DOI: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000001323

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