Whether you’re setting records in the gym or going for a run, you’ve likely experienced knee pain. In fact, chronic knee pain affects about 25% of adults, according to the journal Annals of Internal Medicine. It’s one of the most common sports– and workout-related injuries there is, and that pesky pain can hinder even the toughest athlete from getting reps in on the squat rack.

“Most commonly, the knee pain people refer to in the gym has to do with the anterior (front) part of the knee,” says David Otey, C.S.C.S., a personal training manager at Equinox. “Proper form in squatting is crucial for this. Standing up through your heels helps push the emphasis to the glutes and quadriceps rather than [putting] forward pressure between the tibia and patella.” 

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Of course, if you’re experiencing knee pain, it’s always smart to see a doctor to ensure it’s nothing serious. “If there is bone to bone contact and minimal cartilage, I would advise staying away from squatting until you can medically resolve the issue,” says Otey. But if you’re able to push some weight, he suggests the three modifications below to make things easier on your knees.

If you’re dealing with lingering knee pain, you can also help yourself by reducing volume, decreasing load, and taking the rest that you need. Otey recommends limiting squats or other leg-heavy workouts to one to two times per week and focusing on exercises that drill home proper movement patterns rather than intensive muscular fatigue. For example: opt for goblet squats with lighter weight instead of traditional back squats.

“The last thing you want to do is push yourself to the limit until leg day is no longer an option,” he says. Check out three knee-saving squat variations below. 

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