This is an age-old question that usually comes to surface with many new starters or people that have been training for a while and started getting knee pain.
If you scour the internet for the answer you’ll come across hardliners who believe no one should ever squat below the knee line and that all issues are caused by doing so. There are even those who will say that the knees should not go past the toes when squatting.
I’m here today, not to tell you what you should or should not do, instead, I will provide sensible information so that you can make up your own mind. I will also tell you as a 45-year-old what I do to stay safe, strong, injury-free, and the fittest I have ever been.
What causes knee pain?
Does squatting cause knee pain? No, squatting does not cause knee pain. Common causes for knee pain are, an incorrectly performed squat with incorrect progression, insufficient strength or flexibility can cause knee pain and most likely will happen over high reps. A correctly performed squat helps prevent knee pain and only make the knee joint stronger.
Squat full depth
I squat full depth with and without weight, I do so to get full range, increase my flexibility and stay under load longer. I have been doing so for over a decade without any issues. I make sure that my programming is spot on, this means, the right amount of reps, the right amount of weight, the right amount of rest, and the right amount of recovery paired with the right amount of squat mobility work. When I squat full depth I make sure that my technique is spot on:
- Feet remain flat on the ground
- Knees come forward and hips come back
- Hips move toward the ground and shoulders stay high
- The spine stays neutral
- The pelvis is positioned appropriately throughout the movement
- Proper alignment between the three squat joints is maintained in each leg
Your first task is to keep the feet flat on the ground during a squat. Heels that leave the ground means either flexibility issues or the knees coming too far forward. Heels leaving the ground during a Hindu squat is another thing, and certainly something that is included in my own training, but that’s a more advanced topic.
During the squat your knees should come forward and your hips should come back. You should not squat deeper or create fake range by bringing the shoulders down to the ground. If your hips don’t go down further, stop, and work on quads strength. Stay at the range you are and focus on going deeper over time while maintaining correct form and technique.
Your hips should always be moving down toward the ground, once they stop moving down you should stop altogether and not create fake range with the shoulders. Yes, I mentioned this for the second time, but it’s the number one mistake people make. Keep your shoulder high and move the hips low.
The spine should stay neutral throughout the squat. The squat is not just a leg exercise, it’s just as much a back exercise, especially when adding load to the movement. You need strength in the erector spinae and other back muscles to be able to keep the spine straight/neutral during the squat. If you lack that strength, stop, don’t move further down once the back starts to arch, stay at this range and improve over time.
You need good mind muscle connection to control the position of the pelvis during the squat, it moves in and out of hip flexion and extension during the squat. During that movement, the pelvis needs to be aligned with the spine which is attached on top of the pelvis. Not doing so will cause lower back pain (lumbar).
What I call the three squat joints are the ankles, knees, and hips. On each side they need to stay aligned through the movement, this means that the knees should not cave in or be out too far, it needs to be right, one visible straight line between the ankle, knee, and hip joint on each side.
Does one always need to squat full depth? No, and neither do I, it all depends on what you're doing and what you're working towards.
Should you squat lower than 90 degrees?
You should now be able to answer that question yourself by taking the above information and analyzing your own squat. Do I believe that everyone should aim to squat deep through a proper progression? Yes, I do.
Here are some of the squat or other exercises I include in my training to keep my legs, strong, safe, and injury free.
14 kettlebell squat variations
Dead clean, squat, and press
Stretch for the quads
The Reclined Hero/Warrior pose is the key stretch I include in my training to keep my knees flexible and without popping or cracking noises. This is an advanced stretch to which I have written a chapter about in my book Caveman Mobility Program which is available on Amazon or Cavemantraining.
I have provided you with some details to start thinking deeper with the squat, to understand where issues can arise etc. but there is so much more that can be said about the squat, in fact, a whole book can be written about it. With this, I hope to have provided some insight into the squat and sparked your curiosity to dig deeper.
Written by Taco Fleur from Cavemantraining.com
Cavemantraining Certified, IKFF Certified Kettlebell Teacher, Kettlebell Sport Rank 2, Russian Girevoy Sport Institute Kettlebell Coach, CrossFit Level 1 Trainer, CrossFit Judges Certificate, CrossFit Lesson Planning Certificate, Kettlebells Level 2 Trainer, Kettlebell Science and Application, MMA Fitness Level 2, MMA Condition Level 1, BJJ Purple Belt and more. Owner of Cavemantraining, World Kettlebell Community, and Kettlebell Training Education.