Are Deep Squats Bad For Your Knees?

Squatting deep is bad for your knees….but not really

It’s pretty common, especially in gyms, to hear people without any education or professional background spout off about things they don’t fully understand and present their opinion as fact. Everybody has that friend or family member who talks a lot of nonsense. Whether its politics, finance, or health and fitness, it all sounds the same! 

In the gym specifically, you often hear the “bros” talking about all of their beliefs as far as gyms are concerned. This is typically referred to as “bro-science”. The term has been around for a while and has become a popular way to refer to “gurus” who don’t have any idea what they are talking about. Unfortunately it hasn’t really deferred anyone from committing the cardinal gym sin of spreading misinformation…

Let’s start with a disclaimer here. Exercise Science is in fact a science. While working in a gym may be looked down upon by some as not a “real” job, it very much is for many people. Many of those people are quite educated and even more qualified to provide scientifically backed advice. Often, the local guy hanging out on the bench press with the milk jug full of water is not that person. 

So to clear things up. Investing in stocks does not make you an investor. Putting out a grease fire doesn’t make you a firefighter. And working out regularly doesn’t make you a fitness expert. 

Now that we’ve cleared that up let’s talk about a pretty common fitness myth. 

It’s been said that squatting below parallel is bad for your knees, but I call bullsh*t. 

A simple understanding of anatomy and biomechanics will tell you that this is untrue entirely. 

The overall anatomy of the knee looks a little like this. – Photo Credit

Current science tells us that the ligaments of the knee (ACL, PCL, MCL, LCL) are actually under the highest amount of tension during roughly the first 4 inches of squat depth. This has a lot to do with the differences in types of force, compressive vs shear force. (Check out this article for more in depth info on this) Know that because of the way our knee manages these two types of stress, a deeper squat actually leads to a reduction in overall stress on the knee itself.

This fact alone completely disproves this common gym myth. However, that is not to say that there are no situations where squats can be dangerous in some form. The squat is an overall complex movement and many things need to go right for it to be beneficial.

Some situations that make squatting dangerous are pre existing issues such as overall knee health, arthritis, or cartilage damage. These things may fundamentally change the functioning environment for the knee there by increasing overall risks and possibility for pain and injury. 

Secondary to that are things like positioning and overall understanding. Not all pain is created equal and without education or direction one may be driven to think that they cannot squat at all let alone squat deeply. Considerations need to be made regarding anke and hip mobility. Without proper movement mechanics or coaching you may find yourself in a position where your movements do not track properly or you simply perform the movement incorrectly. These things may also lead to localized knee pain. 

The take away from this article is a simple one. If someone, especially someone who is not a professional in the field is spouting off absolutes like “squatting below parallel is bad for you knees” you should go the other direction. Like everything else in life there is more to it than simple umbrella statements. In this particular instance there is widely available research that disputes this claim specifically. In other situations, know that the answer is likely nuanced and not so straight forward as a simple ignorant statement. 

If you struggle with understanding certain movements or have pain due to incorrect movements, you should hire a coach or get an evaluation, because if this has been an issue for a while, you are increasing your risk for injury significantly.

Contact us directly and we will do a full movement analysis and fitness evaluation for no cost. We’re here and happy to help you if and when you need it.

Compass & Anchor Fitness and Performance, Personal Training in Wallingford CT