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Squats aren’t bad for your knees, but still ankles are!

by Tyler Triggs MS, LAT, ATC

Takeaway points:

  • Squats are NOT bad for your knees

  • Ability to squat well is key to healthy knees

  • With knee pain or poor squats always look at ankle mobility

  • Improved ankle mobility allows the knee to function properly

Let’s just get this out of the way, squats are not bad for your knees. If you have ever been told this by anyone like a friend, medical professional or fitness professional, I highly encourage you to socially distance yourself from them and find new people to work with (seriously though).

Squats with bad technique or the inability to squat well is what is truly bad for your knees!

The squat looks bad, now what?

Everyone can see the squat above on the left is not a good safe squat. On the right, while less noticeable is also not a good squat position and noticing squat imperfections is not an easy task many times. For proper evaluation, I recommend finding yourself an experienced and qualified professional to help you find the things preventing you from squatting well and helping you find a plan to correct them.

Going at it alone can also be effective at times, but can be more time consuming and present more challenges.

I already can hear many people thinking, “I JUST WON’T DO SQUATS THEN.”

While doing heavy back squats are not necessary for 100% of people, doing some form of squats is.

Squatting is a simple but complex movement. Simple because it is a fundamental movement for humans, but complex because of the full body nature.

  • Maintaining the mobility to deep squat maintains mobility of the ankle, hip and knee preventing degenerative joints and surgeries

  • Squatting is a functional task, we get up and down daily

  • Squatting helps you perform better in all types of athletics and fitness activities

Look to the ankle

The first thing I have almost any athlete/client who works with me do when they have lower body pain is a bodyweight squat. If the squat looks bad I always then check ankle mobility. Limited ankle mobility is the #1 thing we can fix quickly and get a huge change in squat form and knee pain.

Here is a quick ankle mobility test:

  • Kneel near a wall

  • Place the foot three inches from the wall

  • Keep heel down and drive knee over the foot towards the wall

  • Repeat at five inches if you passed at three

What You Can Do:

  • If you passed at five inches and are still struggling

    • This indicates that ankle mobility is not a problem for you. You likely have restrictions in another area, which could be more complex.

    • Seek professional assessment, this should be with a qualified movement specialist such as an Athletic Trainer or Physical Therapist.

  • Passed at three inches

    • Add in stretching of the calf muscles as well as self-release (foam-rolling).

    • Frequently set in a deep squat

    • Seek individualized programming from your local athletic trainer on WaveOn for individualized guidance if mobility does not improve.

  • Failed at both three & five inches

    • Avoid heavy squatting while mobility is addressed

    • Add in the calf stretching and self-release (foam-rolling) daily.

    • Sign-up for WaveOn for further assessment and a daily routine to get you moving pain-free.


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