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Views from the Box: How to Fix Common Squat Problems and Complaints

I have a confession to make. My knees have hurt the last two weeks, and I’m pretty sure it is from following a ramped up squatting program. But it isn’t the program’s fault. The program is written by a fantastic company who has worked with thousands and thousands of athletes. It is my own fault, namely the fault of my ego. This has caused one of the most common squat problems with me, and forced me to reevaluate how to go about “the king of exercises.”

You see, I have always squatted wider than many people would recommend, particularly those in the CrossFit community. This is probably born out of a habit of putting up the best weights possible, not moving as well as I possibly can. It is very hard to not be competitive in the gym; I get it. Plus, competition does help breed results. But on technical movements such as squats, deadlifts, snatches and clean and jerks, you should only be comparing to what you did yesterday, not the people you work out with. I made this mistake and now I have to completely change my squatting style. However, I’m always looking for the silver lining, and this gives me the chance to evaluate some common squat problems and figure out how to fix them.

Common Squat Problems, Complaints, and Fixes:

  1. Lower Back Pain: This is especially common when doing the back squat, as many people tend to bend at the hip as they descend. This causes your lower back to do the job your hips and legs should be handling, thereby causing the lower back to seize up. A funny way to identify this is by the name “Not So Good Mornings” as it looks like half squat, half good morning.

Fix: A lot of hip and ankle mobility makes it easier to stay upright. Also, squatting facing a wall forces you to stay upright instead of bending over because you’ll hit your face on the wall if you do! Amazing how that causes change.

  1. Knee Pain: I’m unfortunately going through this myself. This is often caused by the knees going valgus (pushing inside) repeatedly. Mine do this when I do too many reps at too high of a weight, which is a very common cause of the knees going valgus.

Fix: Drop the weight! While weight is definitely the biggest reason for the knees pressing inside, narrowing your stance also can help. If your feet are too wide, your knees will be set up inside your feet before you even begin squatting, which makes it pretty difficult to keep them over your toes throughout the move. Technically, we should all be squatting just about at hip width, so shoot for that over time. I guarantee you’ll get the heaviest weights in this position, over the long term, anyway.

  1. Knee Pain…Again: I repeated this because it is far and away the most common complaint, caused by the most common squat problem, not going deep enough into the squat due to lack of mobility. When you squat, your hip joint needs to pass you knee joint at the lowest point. If you cannot do this, you will get knee pain, back pain, or both.

Fix: There are a lot of ways to fix this, starting with mobility. Stretches for the hips such as the Spiderman, Pigeon, and Kneeling Hip Flexor are a good place to start. Additionally, sometimes the proper depth is just a totally foreign concept. Placing a medicine ball behind yourself when you squat is a good reminder of how deep you need to squat. Of course, everyone is a different height, so some may need an object bigger or smaller than a med ball to get the right height.

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