In this article I am going to give you the answers to the following questions:
When should you go see your Doctor about knee pain?
How do you stretch your ankles and hips (the common reasons why people have knee pain when squatting and knee pain in general) to help you squat and move better?
The two different types of squats you can do and how to perform each.
And a hell of a lot more!
I hope you enjoy!
Quick Squat Tutorial
This is a real quick down and dirty squat tutorial where I go over the two types of squats – The power squat and natural squat.
Tests to determine what’s causing your squat issue.
There are three easy tests we use to assess someone’s ankle and hip mobility (mobility differs from flexibility). Mobility refers to how easy a joint moves, flexibility refers to how easy a muscle can move. Think gymnastics for mobility and yoga for stretching. For our purposes, we want good mobility, but as far as you are concerned the terms can be interchangeable when discussing the squat.
First test – Can you touch your toes?
This test assess your straight leg ankle mobility. If you cannot touch your toes this doesn’t mean you can’t squat, but it certainly tells us some stuff…mostly that you have tight ankles in a straight leg position.
Second test – can you squat, hips below knees AND hold it there for 10 seconds?
This test is pretty straight forward – Can you squat without pain? If you want to squat…you need to squat! This test allows us to assess your overall tightness. Specifically, we are looking at it from the hips down. Can you get below parallel? Can you hold it there? Bonus points if you can hold it there WITHOUT SHOES ON. Not a necessity, per se, but that is something to work towards. Some people can bounce down and up with no problem, we don’t want that.
Third test – Can you squat with hips below parallel AND keep your toes pointed straight ahead?
This is another pretty straight forward test – Where are your toes pointed once you get into the full squat and what do your knees do? Do your heels come up off the ground (tight ankles)? Do your knees cave in (tight hips)? Do your feet turn out (tight ankles)?
If you cannot perform any of those movements WITHOUT KNEE PAIN then skip down to the last video on this page – When should you talk to your doctor about knee pain with squatting?
Start at the ankles.
Most knee pain can be attributed to tight ankles. What exactly is a tight ankle/how do you know you have tight ankles? Well…you probably do. Tight ankles and a tight upper back are the MOST COMMON joint restrictions we see at our gym. World renowned Strength Coach Mike Boyle (arguably the guy who brought functional training into the mainstream) always says – “You can always improve your ankle and thoracic mobility.”
There are two ways you need to stretch your ankles – in a straight leg and in a bent knee fashion. You have two muscles that make up your calf (gastrocnemius and soleus – One likes a bent ankle, the other likes a straight leg) both need to be stretched in two different ways.
Then go to the hips.
Hip mobility is the next thing to tackle. Poor hip mobility will cause your knees to do some wonky things during the squat as well as possibly cause lower back pain if you are trying to force yourself into the bottom of the squat.
When should you see your doctor if squatting hurts your knees?
Understand something – Most, as in over 95%, of your aches and pains can be alleviated through proper exercise selection, rest and good coaching/program design. At the end of the day, it takes time to heal things.
Case in point.
Having said that – If you perform these stretches, a few times per day, for 30 days and you still have knee pain when squatting, you might want to consult your doctor. These are just STRETCHES/MOBILITY exercises. If you came to our gym with knee pain, we would use these exercises PLUS strengthening moves that target the hamstrings and glutes. But, that is too much for this article.
Here’s a quick video on WHEN you should go see your doctor about knee pain with squatting.
There ya go! I hope you enjoyed this article and that it helps you squat better without pain!
Do you have knee pain? Let us help you! Give us 30 days and we will show you how to fix your knee pain while also getting some weight off of you, improving your energy and teaching you a lot of things about your body you didn’t know!
Have you ever heard that “Squats are bad for your knees?” Let’s bust that myth RIGHT NOW because it is FALSE!
Where did this come from?
First of all – there are NO studies to support this statement. Zero. None. There are a number of studies that look at the loading forces on the knee through various squat depths, however, none of them conclude that squatting is “bad for the knees”. This is just one of the studies I found.
“Contrary to commonly voiced concern, deep squats do not contribute increased risk of injury to passive tissues.”
There is some talk about a Dr. Karl Klein who back in the 50’s looked at the rising knee injuries in college football players. He concluded that deep squats were what was causing the issues. Hmmmm….could it have been maybe that players played both offense AND defense? This story then got picked up by Sports Illustrated after he released his findings in 1961. Then the American Medical Association came out with their position stand on squat – stating that squats were bad for your knees and should be avoided.
And that folks…was the early death of squatting. Thanks to Dr. Klein, SI and the AMA we, as trainers, had to listen to our clients tell us how bad squats were for your knees..for the next 50 years. All this was based on NO SCIENTIFIC STUDY. That’s an important point to remember.
Squats aren’t bad of your knees…the way you are doing them is bad for your knees.
Saying squats are bad for your knees is such a silly thing when you think about it. Every time you get out of a chair/take a dump/get out of your car – that’s a squat. As human beings we were MADE to squat!
From an evolutionary perspective – if we couldn’t squat, we wouldn’t have been very good hunters. Ever try hiding standing up? Also…did you know that the first firing position initially taught to rifleman in the military was to fire from a deep squat? That’s right!!! It’s much easier for you to drop down into a squat position and get back up into a run then it is to lay all the way down on the ground, sight, fire, then get up. Maybe not in hunting a deer, but certainly in a fire fight against an enemy.
The reason this was taken out was because people were complaining of knee pain. I’ve worked for the military, they don’t just throw out an idea and hope it works. This was a position that was used for hundreds of years that had to be changed in the mid 20th century due to people sitting more and not having good mobility and/or strength to perform this task.
Then you have the biomechanics perspective – our knee joint is a hinge joint, it’s made to go from a full straightened position to a fully flexed position. Black, red, brown, white no matter your skin color, we are all built the EXACT SAME WAY. So, explain to me why entire continents of people can squat ass to grass (that means all the way down in fitness talk) with no pain? Often times when I throw this out to people, the answer I get the most of is – “because they do it often.”
Where does the problem lie?
The problem that arises when people try and squat, i.e. the reason why people’s knees hurt when they squat is three fold:
Their form sucks.
They have poor mobility in their ankles and hips which leads to their knees getting beat up.
They have an underlying pathology of pain like arthritis (even if you have arthritis you can still squat safely and effectively) or a torn meniscus or something along those lines
Bad form folks. Don’t be like Jonny “I don’t know Squats”.
That’s it for part one. In part we will go over the two different ways to squat as well as how to fix tight ankles and hips AND when you seriously just shouldn’t squat.
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At the end of our RAMP (Range of Motion, Activation, Movement Prep…fancy way of saying warm up) we have some movements that improve your balance through locomotion. These movements are basic play ground exercises like skipping, side shuffling, cross over, 360 runs, etc. It’s amazing how many people can’t skip! We do this to help our members improve their balance (among other things). Prevent falling is one of the more common goals we hear from our older members.
Locomotion is simply moving from one point to another point, i.e. running.
Falling is a real fear as you age. Falling is also a real fear if your weak. I have VERY good balance from years of wrestling, Judo and Brazilian Jiu-jitsu. When I was going through chemo, I would often lose my balance JUST WALKING DOWN STAIRS. If you want to feel what it will be like when you get older with no exercise…go through 2 months of chemo. Eye opener.
Why do we fall? Simple – because we lose our balance! However, WHAT causes us to lose our balance? Well…that doesn’t really matter. That’s the wrong question to ask, the right question is – how do I prevent myself from falling. That one is simple – improve your dynamic and static balance. And getting stronger, that tends to help with everything.
Static and Dynamic Balance
True story! As you age, you get weaker if your not working on getting stronger, that’s just a natural thing that occurs. Well, as your muscle mass/strength decreases, so does your ability to hold your self up right on one leg – static balance. Now for most people static balance isn’t the issue because it’s rare that someone just falls over from losing their balance standing still. That’s called passing out…and we can’t really train you to prevent that.
Chris working on his dynamic balance with some lateral skips.
Dynamic balance is the issue. How many times have you heard – “I was walking and lost my balance, fell and hurt my arm/knee/hip/back, etc.” from a friend or older family member? A lot i bet! That’s dynamic balance – as you move from one leg to the other are you able to keep your center of gravity and mass between your legs and not outside your base of support.
Falling is an uncontrolled run, because all running is a controlled fall. Try it. Try to run with out leaning forward, you don’t really go very far. You must lose your balance ever so slightly, catch your self and then continue that…it’s just a series of falls. Now, running it’s self won’t improve balance because people tend to fall when they CAN’T RECOVER FROM LOSING THEIR BALANCE. Remember – walking is a controlled fall. We can fall great, but its when we can’t recover that we actually cause an injury to our self.
That’s where things like skipping, side shuffling, backwards running, etc. all come into play. By practicing those movements we haven’t done since we were kids we improve our dynamic balance, help ward against fall related injuries AND get to practice a skill we haven’t used in a while which helps the brain stay young. Plus, it’s a lot of fun! I dare you to skip with out smiling!
So…check out this short video on WHY we locomote after our RAMP and to hear a little bit more on dynamic balance.
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I think there are three classifications of working out that correspond to different parts of the year/your schedule – training, working out and exercise. If your super busy, then you probably shouldn’t be doing any training.
Training is goal focused, time committed, DRIV-ICATION!
Let me explain further. I have a lot going on right now – Jamie and I are getting married IN EXACTLY ONE MONTH!!! Holy shit balls. Plus, it’s been about 6 months since my last chemo round AND I am getting back into the gym full time. From January of last year to March of this year I lost over 10 pounds of muscle. That sucked. I worked hard to gain that mass and it was heartbreaking to see my body whither away from the chemo.
Side Note – The weight didn’t didn’t wither away that much, but rather I lost muscle and gained a substantial amount of fat. Cachexia be damned! Cachexia is muscle wasting/weight loss associated with chemo. Well, I lost the muscle but gained some fat thanks to my little friend (maybe I will talk more about him later 😉
It was tough going from this…
After chemo, I was READY to start TRAINING. But first, I had to build my body back up, so I started with EXERCISING before moving into WORKING OUT, then I TRAINED to get my lean body mass back.
Which incidentally was ALMOST a success, I gained about 7 pounds of the 10 I lost. The other 3 pounds will come back eventually, but not right now.
I will get my guns back.
The exercising consisted of walking and biking with some light resistance training and yoga. Truth be told, I was just happy to be able to get out of the house without throwing up. That lasted for roughly 3 months, from September to December. In December and January, I started to work out. I pushed it harder, incorporated more resistance training and more interval training. In February I started TRAINING.
I was so happy to finally be able to just WALK with out getting winded.
From November to May my goal was to get back down to under 15% body fat (from over 20%), get my lean body mass back up to 150 pounds (from 140) AND work on getting my strength back (interestingly my strength came back much faster in my upper body than my lower body). PLUS I wanted to start my new life. They say that after you go through cancer treatment you are never the same.
I can say I agree with that 100%. The old Ben is gone, he was burned off with the cancer cells. The new Ben is still trying to figure out where he fits in all of this. But god damn it if he doesn’t have close to his old body back!
As of April 14th – I hit almost all of those goals. Now I could still lean out a little bit more before the wedding, however, I am choosing to drop back to just working out and moving away from training for the next month. And, I am still trying to figure out who the new me is, but it’s coming along.
Here’s why – I am busy. Busy with planning the wedding. Busy with working more. Busy with getting my life back.
This time last year I was losing my hair, starting my 2nd round of chemo and watching the world go by around me while I sat and played video games, watched Netflix (it might sound like fun, but going from a very driven and healthy state to not having enough energy to walk and talk wasn’t fun….and trust me on this fellas, while it may seem like your missing playing video games and vegging out, no one got healthy and/or successful by just doing that) and counted down the days until my next treatment.
When you wake up and have every day like that…watching the world around you change and evolve and your looking down at your fingernails bending back while you’re trying to open a can of club soda…it can be pretty depressing.
Let’s review the three stages of working out before we get deeper. Understand that you should NEVER just “go to the gym” without a goal in mind. Whether that goal is to improve your body composition, get stronger or just to stave off aging, there should always be a goal.
1. Training –
You are 100% focused on your goal, nothing can get in your way. You want to lose 10 pounds, or improve your deadlift, or do a tough mudder, etc. This level requires time, commitment and probably a pretty hefty dose of improving/working on your diet. You are 100% focused on your goal, nothing can get in your way. You want to lose 10 pounds, or improve your deadlift, or do a tough mudder, etc. This level requires time, commitment and probably a pretty hefty dose of improving/working on your diet.
2. Working out –
You are focused on your goal…but maybe not committed to it. While working out your goal is to keep at least 80% of the results you got up to this point, ideally 90%.
3. Exercising –
You think about your goal, but realize that right now, it’s probably best just to go in, get a workout in to maintain your results and go home.
Training is meant to happen for 4-16 week blocks. Why 4-16 weeks? Because most people have a life. Training takes 100% focus on yourself. You have to get those workouts in, you have to (maybe) get those calories in or really focus on your diet. Life needs to take a back seat because you are FOCUSED 100% on that goal related to your body.
Not the time to be training for anything…except to SURVIVE!
Working out is a step down from training. Are you supposed to get 4 workouts in? Maybe you get 3 this week plus an at home circuit. Are you supposed to eat 4 meals or hit 2000 calories? Maybe you were just too busy to really focus on eating. During the working out stage, the diet tends to take the first hit as that’s the most time-consuming.
Exercising? Well now, that’s party season. If you are a dedicated gym goer, you probably won’t ever really get to this level and instead bounce around between working out and training. Exercising is moving around with the goal of improving your baseline health. Walking, swimming, jogging, cycling, some group fitness classes, etc. Those are all examples of exercising. The diet during exercising tends to be in the lines of “what diet?”. Another way to think about exercising is what you do if you go on a week long vacation. You enjoy your vacation life while still being active. At least that’s what KDR members are told to do!
You need time to TRAIN.
You need less time to work out.
You need even less time to exercise.
What happens if you FORCE yourself to train during a time you should be working out?
1. First – nothing bad. That’s called driv-icated, or a mix of driven and dedicated…to yourself. We can’t be driv-icated 100% of the time because we would have no friends, no life and no future outside of whatever we are focused on.
But, because training takes a lot out of you, you must pay that back. If your goal is to really:
– Lose weight.
– Build muscle.
– Change your body.
You need to prioritize nutrition, sleep, and gym. Not in that order, but pretty close. If you’re in the gym 5 hours a week, plus prepping and food shopping for 3 hours per week and prioritizing your sleep (which means 8 hours per night minimum) AND working an 8-hour job…that’s a lot. Probably don’t want to be doing that while you’re trying to stay cool organizing a wedding. That’s time for working out.
2. Second – you will often times either get injured, spin your wheels without making progress, get frustrated at your results and at the worse…waste your time.
If you’re truly training for something then you need to recover WAY more then you need to train. And recovery is essentially stress management and destress strategies. Understand that the body identifies stress as anything that moves it out of homeostasis, from winning the lottery to being attacked by a bear…it’s all the same hormones and stress response by the body. So if your fighting over table placement or working on lifting your personal best in the squat…you need to recover from that stress.
Bottom line for me (and probably some of you reading this) – I can’t continue to work out 3 days per week HARD in the gym for an hour, and do an hour of cardio per week, plus 90 minutes of yoga AND count my calories and get 8 hours of restful sleep…4 weeks before I get married and short staffed.
I need to go back to working out while still focusing on my diet and sleep. But, the workouts need to be less than 45 minutes strength training (just like our small group workouts) AND about 20-30 minutes of interval training (just like our team training classes). We’re so smart at KDR.
So – here’s my question for you. Look at your schedule, do you honestly have AT LEAST 4 weeks to commit to a pursuing a goal and TRAINING. 4 weeks where nothing is coming up, no plans and you can commit to yourself 100%? Maybe you have 8 weeks…then do our 8 week Eat to Lose challenge.
But if you don’t have 4 weeks, that’s ok, that doesn’t mean you stop going to the gym, that means you just work out and focus on keeping 80% of your progress.
Knowing I can do things on my own IF I have to. Have you ever had to pick something up at a store and thought to yourself “can I do this on my own, do I need to ask for help? I have! I don’t like feeling limited by my own thoughts or physical strength.
2. Being a Role Model:
I want to be physically(and mentally) strong for those that look up to me…most importantly my son. Sure asking for help is super important but I don’t want him to doubt himself, or hold himself back, thinking he is weak. I know the struggles that come along with training and mentally changing self-doubt and physical limits, but it can be done. I see a lot of people who hold themselves back because they think they can’t do something or change. It’s never too late.
3. If feels good!:
You bet your ass it feels good! Does it feel good to deadlift 250lbs? It’s hard as shit, but after you’ar done it feels amazing to do something you couldn’t do before or thought you NEVER could do. I want to be able to do whatever I want to do whenever I want to do it. Run a mud run obstacle race, throw some kettlebells around, compete in a powerlifting meet, do a sl squat, bust out push-ups whenever I want, carry all the grocery bags in the house in one trip, going skiing, do yoga, hike mountains, throw a football…all of these things I have done…will continue to do..IF I stay healthy and strong as I get older.
4. Taking care of family: There will come a time when you will have to step up and help take care of a loved one. When that time comes, you need to be strong physically and mentally. I know if Ben gets sick again I can take care of him, Logan AND myself. Knowing I can get 1 ton of pellets moved for heat, get our 90lb old hound into the car if needed, get the trash moved, make house improvements, the list goes on and on but its important to me. I don’t feel helpless.
5. Not feeling helpless: It’s an awful feeling, and I have felt that way before. There are things I can not do but I know I just need to train for it, work on it, practice some more and I will be able to do it. I want to help others NOT feel helpless and bring out their strengths.
Rage against the dying of the light! Dylan Thomas wrote a great poem called “Do not go gentle into that good night”, about aging and our quest to stay young. It goes like this:
Do not go gentle into that good night, Old age should burn and rave at close of day; Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Though wise men at their end know dark is right, Because their words had forked no lightning they Do not go gentle into that good night.
Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay, Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight, And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way, Do not go gentle into that good night.
Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay, Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
And you, my father, there on the sad height, Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray. Do not go gentle into that good night. Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
What does it mean?
I have always liked that line, however, after Cancer, the poem holds a lot more importance to me. This poem means two things to me:
Fight to stay young, fight with everything you have. From the day you wake up to the day you die you should be striving to improve your health while having as much fun as you can. Someone should be as capable (with in reason) when their 80 as when their 30. You should be partying like a rock star, chasing women or men, taking journeys, building memories and kicking ass when your 80!
Strive to create a legacy. Work towards creating as big of an impact as you can. Obviously you can’t take it with you. You are remembered by the people you touched and the impact you made on individuals. Make peace with the end, the only way to do that is to live a life that was justified by what you did to help your fellow human beings.
My mom is one of the strongest women I know, and I have trained A LOT of strong women.
My aunt (on the left) and my mom. Open your eyes mom!
Her ex-boyfriend died before her eyes in his bed, and her current boyfriend is slowly dying from brain cancer. Yea…that one hits home a little too hard. I talk to her weekly (ok maybe not weekly, but damn it I try!) and she fills me in on Brad’s fight. One of the underlying points that always comes up – his sometimes rapid decline and his inability/desire to fight the disease.
I can relate, I know what it’s like to get cancer “treatment” (bunch of fucking poison they either inject into you or shoot at you, or if your lucky enough…they just cut a piece of you away) and be so tired that you can’t get out of bed. Sickness so bad that you can’t eat. Depression so deep that you don’t want to move. But those were all passing moments with me – I always said to my self – “Fight, fight against the dying of the light.” I know where Brad is coming from.
That smile didn’t last long.
My Docs told me that it was because of my health that “treatment” hit me so hard and it was because of my health that I was able to bounce back so fast.
What is youth?
Youth is the ability to do whatever you want with little to no thought of the consequences, in my opinion. Call it ignorance, or call it just not giving a shit. It’s the same thing at the end of the day.
We deal with all sorts of people that have all sorts of goals. I think the most common goal has to do with aging, specifically how to slow down aging or how to prolong our youth.
Basically – people want to do what they want to do with out worrying about “Is this going to hurt? Am I going to get injured? Will I be successful doing this hike/run/race/journey/job?”
Jamie and I built KDR out of a desire to help as many people as possible slow aging. We didn’t think of it at the time, we thought of it as helping people accomplish a goal.
We were young and fearless in our 20’s.
One of the first talks I ever did at our old space. Still got it baby!
Now were approaching 40, still young and fearless, but a lot wiser. We understand now that people may want to lose weight and gain muscle, but ultimately it all comes back to staying as young as you can for as long as you can.
ONE of our legacies
We used (ok we still do) to get upset when someone invested thousands of dollars on their heath/goal in a year and quit the gym. We are a small business where the owners are right there with the employees. We get to know our customers, sometimes, very intimately.
We share stories with them, we share beers with them and once in a while we share tears with them. We share our lives with them. You can’t help it, we see our members on average 10 times a month, that’s over 100 times a year. That’s more then they will see their doctor in their life, in one year. We have the ability (more so then any other profession) to change someones life.
There isn’t a lot of places like that. Members (or as we like to call them our “fit-fam”) come and members go, they quit for all sorts of reasons. Sometimes we would hear – “Don’t worry, I will still work out. I am just going to go over to X gym instead.” We know they usually don’t. They usually just stop. They stop working out. They stop caring about what they eat. They stop trying to fight aging, they decide to go gently into the night.
Your health is the only investment that you are guaranteed a return on. Every second that you spend on your health, every penny, will add minutes on to the end. No investment gives you that kind of return.
People like our gym because we are the only gym in the area that actually cares if you miss a work out, or don’t fill out your food journal, or are in pain, or don’t get results…or aren’t happy. We hear “I have never been to another gym like KDR before.” We know when that person says, “I am going to continue to work out” that a HUGE majority of the time, they won’t. Most of our members accomplish their goals because of the camaraderie and accountability we offered.
That’s what we do. We help people stay young.
Don’t go gently into that good night. RAGE, RAGE against the dying of the light.
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