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Squats hurt my knees. What am I doing wrong?

The question

A few weeks ago I decided to incorporate squats with a bar on my back into my gym routine. I was shown how to squat with proper form, but I still felt the exercise in my knees. I have never had knee problems. Any idea what I might be doing wrong?

The answer

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Assuming you were taught proper form, it sounds like you tried to do a version of the squat that was too advanced for your level of experience with the exercise.

For now, stop squatting with the bar on your back. Instead, follow the progressions I have listed below. Over time your body will become strong enough to safely squat with a bar on your back.

Note: Only progress to the next level once you can do all the suggested reps and sets with perfect form and no pain in your knees.

To start, perform two sets of eight reps of body weight squats.

Progression 1: Do three sets of 15 repetitions.

Progression 2: Slow the tempo down. Take four counts to lower yourself down, and two counts to stand up.

Progression 3: Squat holding light dumbbells. Start with five-pound weights and work up to 15 pounds.

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Progression 4: Squat with a weighted bar. Most bars are 45 pounds. Some gyms have 35-pound bars. If possible, start with the lighter bar and progress to the heavier bar after one to two weeks.

If knee pain persists, make an appointment with a physiotherapist. You may have a muscle imbalance that needs to be fixed before you can do squats without pain.

Trainer's Tip

Don't just think about the squat as a leg exercise. When squatting, your core has to work to maintain proper form and buttress the spine. As you squat, consciously think about bracing through your core to help maintain proper form.

Send certified personal trainer Kathleen Trotter your questions at She will answer select questions, which could appear in the Globe and Mail and/or on The Globe and Mail website. Your name will not be published if your question is chosen.

Read more Q&As from Kathleen Trotter

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The content provided in The Globe and Mail's Ask a Health Expert centre is for information purposes only and is neither intended to be relied upon nor to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

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