The squat pattern is a movement that everybody should perform on a regular basis. Not only is it great for overall strength and power development, it’s one of the basic human movements that we perform every single day. So, needless to say, being able to perform the squat with correct form and proper strength is important to maintaining a healthy body and functioning in everyday life.
The problem many people run into, though, is that they are never properly taught the correct way to perform the squat, and therefore end up having injuries because of this. And one of the injuries many people develop over time is knee pain. And once knee pain starts to come on, people start to avoid the squat like the plague (or they simply avoid it all together because they believe that the movement inherently develops knee pain).
Doing a correct squat is imperative to overall strength and power. It is also necessary to ensure that you aren’t one of these people that develops knee problems from a faulty pattern. So before we look at how we can address this issue, let’s first see what causes knee pain in the first place.
Like I said, knee pain is one of the most common (if not the most common) complaints that I’ve heard from people about doing squats. It doesn’t matter if they’re 15 years old or 50 years old, knee pain has been in issue for many of our clients at TF when they first came to us.
Sometimes there isn’t much we can do about the cause of pain in the knee from the squat pattern. For instance, we currently have an athlete who has the Osgood-Schlatter disease. Sounds scary, right? If you don’t know what OS is, it’s a disease (non-contagious) that affects mostly kids going through growth spurts (and typically playing sports on a regular basis, which our athlete is) in which a lump develops below the kneecap. The lump is the cause of the pain, and therefore, we can’t do anything about it. Typically, the issue resolves itself once the person stops growing. So this is an instance where knee pain is inevitable (for the most part) and needs to be managed.
However, 9 times out of 10, most people who come to us with knee pain have developed the pain because of some sort of biomechanical issues (meaning they have bad form or move poorly), or because of a weakness in the hip stabilizers. This is true even for people who have had knee surgery to repair an ACL or meniscus. People who have came to us with chronic knee pain from an injury have gotten to the point where they can do a parallel squat (femur parallel to the ground) with no pain.
Let me give you an example. We currently have a member who has been with us for about 6 months now. When he came, he was sure that he wouldn’t be able to do squats because of the chronic knee pain that he had developed from being a college athlete. After some simply screening and assessments, we noticed that is knees would collapse into valgus (meaning, as he squatted, is knees collapsed in on each other…this happens to A LOOOOT of people). This means that his hip stabilizers, mainly his glutes in this case, were not strong enough to stabilize his knee through the squatting pattern. Therefore, when he did squat, his knees collapsed inward, putting pressure on the inside of his knee and creating the chronic pain. You’ll be glad to hear that he currently has no knee pain and squats to parallel with about 50lbs of weight.
So if fixing weak hip stabilizers is going to help my knee pain go away and allow me to squat, then how do I do that?!?!? I’m glad you asked.
One of the exercises we use at TF to strengthen the glutes is called the band walk. Although this exercise LOOKS simple and easy, it’s caused its fair amount of pain and misery for our members.
The band walk is a great exercise for strengthening the glutes because it targets the glutes directly when done right. You might be thinking “aren’t deadlifts and squats the best exercises to get my butt strong?”, and you would be right. However, if squat and deadlifts are causing you pain, it’s extremely likely that you’re doing then incorrectly. And if you’re doing them incorrectly, you are not getting the maximum glute benefit out of them. The band walk will strengthen (and lift) your butt so that you can get the maximum benefit out of your squats and deadlifts.
When you’re putting band walks into your program, shoot to do 3 sets of them for distance or steps. For instance, maybe you pick a starting spot and ending spot and step down and back. Or maybe you do 10 steps down and 10 steps back. Since this exercise is not very intense on your nervous system, you can do this in every workout if you’d like. Try supersetting them with an upper body exercises for maximum efficiency.