It wouldn’t be the first time I’ve heard a physician say to never squat again to one of my patients because it hurts their knees or they have arthritis. Statements like these have never made much sense to me because it is impossible to NEVER bend down or squat. And many times we need to bend our knees much further than we would to stoop or squat down like when we get in/out of a car, using steep stairs, or sitting on an airplane. So how can you get back to bending down and squatting when it hurts our knees? Let’s talk about a few ways to get these movements back!
Assessing Your Technique
A great way to assess your squat technique is to place a chair behind you and squat down to touch your bottom to the chair and then stand back up. Through this motion are you able to control it without using your hands? Does your bottom only touch the very front of the chair? Do your heels come up off the ground?
When we squat, we want our heels to stay pressing into the ground to help activate our glutes which assist us in driving back up towards the ceiling and decreasing the strain put through our knees. If you noticed that your heels came up when you squat then you aren’t getting the glute activation that you need to perform squatting and bending appropriately.
Did your bottom only touch the front of the chair when you squatted? The more forward our bottom is on the chair, the more strain we place through our knees because they come even more forward over our toes. If you aim to get your bottom in the back of the chair you should notice decreased pressure through your knees.
When squatting down did you have to use your hands to assist the descent or when pressing back up? It is important to gain the control and eccentric strength in your quads and glutes to allow you to get up and down from a squat without using your hands so that you are able to get up from the floor should you need to go that low. Working these specific hip and knee muscles can be a life saver!
Strengthening Your Glutes and Quads
There are many, many exercises that you can do to strengthen your glutes (buttock muscles) and quads (thigh muscles). These groups of muscles are vitally important in mastering squatting and bending down. Strengthening these muscles is the first step to eliminating pain and difficulty with the functional movements. Here are a few of my favorite exercises to begin the process:
Glute bridges - Laying on your back with your knees bent, contract your abdominal muscles and buttock muscles. While holding muscles contracted, lift your bottom off the floor.
Glute blasters - On your hands and knees with your abdominal muscles contracted, straighten one leg straight out behind you and then bring it back down to the ground and switch sides. Do not let your hips and trunk rotate when extending your leg.
Long arc quad eccentric - Sitting at the edge of your bed, supported as to not fall off, extend your leg in front of you using your other leg to assist. Once your leg is straight, tighten the muscles of your thigh and release your opposite leg assisting. Slowly lower your leg to a 5 second count.
Learning How to Use Your Muscles When Squatting or Bending
As your muscles begin to get stronger, you need to make sure you know how to use them to your benefit. This transition from strengthening to functional movement is the most important to mastering these skills.
As I mentioned earlier, when we squat down our feet should be flat to allow us to press through our heels and activate our glutes. We should aim to hinge at the hips and send our bottom back to decrease some of the strain through our knees. Also important to preventing knee pain with these activities is to make sure your knees aren’t coming together as you bend down. This doesn’t mean that you bring your feet further apart to separate your knees more, but simply keep your feet where they are comfortable and press your knees apart using your glute muscles as you lower your body.
Technique and muscle activation together will be the ticket to getting rid of your knee pain when you bend down or squat. It will not happen overnight or be a quick fit, but instead take time to build strength and master the technique. Yet, once you reach that point, you will know how to care for your knees and squat for the rest of your days!
Needing Some Guidance?
If none of these steps are making sense or you aren’t sure where you need to start, well…I’m your girl! Let me know and we can work together to help you master these skills and be able to get back to your life without knee pain. Here’s a link to schedule a free phone consultation so that we can discuss your situation specifically.