Tip: Got Angry Knees? Squat Like This

You don't have to ditch all your leg training when your knees are acting up. Try this squat variation instead.

Got achy knees? Give the box squat a try:

  1. Set up a box or bench allowing parallel squat depth. Go a little higher if you're still feeling knee pain, but don't let it become a way to use too much load through a miniscule, restricted range of motion. If you're able to use a greater ROM pain-free, go for it. Parallel tends to be a safe starting point for most people.
  2. "Grip" the floor firmly with your feet. Torque and rotate your hips externally to pull the knees into alignment with your hips and toes, creating a strong arch. Foot stance varies by individual, so find one that allows comfortable movement and the best range of motion.
  3. Keep in mind that the feet don't need to be placed symmetrically – not everyone has symmetrical hip joints. Aim for a placement that allows you to feel the leg muscles evenly. Maintain external rotation of your hips through the entire rep. This should prevent your knees and ankles from collapsing inward, which would place greater stress on the knee joint and ACL.
  4. Maintain vertical shins by sitting back into your hips onto the box. A common issue here is poor ankle dorsiflexion. This can be immediately addressed by elevating your heels with squat shoes or a wedge, but is better managed with ankle mobility work for long-term resolution. By sitting back farther than a regular squat, we reduce the shear force, potentially alleviating the pain.
  5. Take a big breath and flex your abs hard to lock in that air and maintain a neutral spine. Brace your core all the way around your spine.
  6. Sit in a controlled manner onto the box without disengaging your core or legs and avoid rocking backwards to create momentum for the positive, or lifting, part of the rep. Use a controlled touch or brief pause. For added challenge, sustain a longer pause before the positive rep.

Keep the movement strict and avoid failure, which would increase the likelihood of further aggravating your angry knees.

Andrew Coates is a trainer who is focused on strength development for everyday people and young athletes. He’s a fitness writer, speaker, and host of The Lift Free and Diet Hard Podcast.

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