Why Low Bar Squats Hurt Your Knees and How to Fix it

Strength Training 3 min Read

Written by

Keith Hansen

When you execute the low bar squat correctly it should not hurt your knees at all.

In fact, with correct progression and technique, no squat variation should hurt your knees.

Most pains associated with the high bar squat, low bar squat, overhead squats, front squats, etc. are due to incorrect technique first & foremost, and seconded by incorrect progression.

After you hone your technique make sure you progress appropriately by using our free beginner program.

Download The Seriously Strong Beginner Program


Why Low Bar squats hurt your knees

If you have knee pain in the low bar squat that’s not an injury or chronic inflammation, it is most likely caused by too much motion in the knee.

When a low bar squat is performed correctly there is just a couple inches of forward motion at the beginning of the descent coupled with lateral motion, but about 1/3rd of the way down this motion stops and the knees simply become a pivot point.

Low bar squats allow you to lift more weight than the high bar squat because of their high dependency on the large hip extensor muscles, namely the hamstrings and glutes.

This translates to a high degree of hip flexion which should top out right around the depth that your hip crease becomes parallel with the top of your kneecap. If you have knee pain, chances are you are squatting too low or engaging your knees at the wrong time.

squatting Too Low

Due to the mechanics of the low bar squat and the high dependency on hip flexion this squat variation is most suited for depths no lower than hip crease parallel to the top of the knee cap. For most people, this is the depth where maximum tension is created throughout all joints in the system, and this point creates a natural bottom.

When you see people low bar squatting below this depth (common in USAPL) you will find their knees begin to crash in (valgus knee movement), they lose lumbar extension (butt wink), and often times they lose the perfect vertical bar path that keeps everything balanced.

This happens because in order to move deeper than parallel other joints in the body must move further into flexion causing a loss of tension.

This sudden shift of load to the knees coupled with valgus movement torques & shears the knee creating stress that often leads to pain.

Watch the video below to find your perfect squat depth and fix your knee pain.

Knees bending first

Good low bar squats start with knee flexion, hip flexion, and lateral knee movement at the same time. If we break at the knees too early they will receive too much load and therefore more stress than they should, causing pain.

Usually, this is caused by trying to be too upright with your torso as you squat down.

Try to focus on breaking at the hips and knees at the same time while leaning forward as you squat down to keep the knees from riding forward.

Knees bending last

Another common fault in the low bar squat pattern is latent motion in the knees. This is most often caused by a lack of knee motion at the beginning of the movement and forced knee motion towards the end to reach depth.

Try slowing your squat down and focusing on bending the knees and hips simultaneously from the beginning of the movement.

Watch the video below to test your squat and find the proper position. It will take some fine-tuning but have patience, video yourself, and adjust accordingly.

The Conclusion

Most of your pain problems with lifting can be solved with perfecting technique. The squat technique is difficult to learn.

But that’s okay because I’ve got you covered with the Serious Guide to the Low Bar Squat. It’s free, and it’s awesome.

If you’ve got your technique down and your knees are feeling better download our free beginner program below so you can start adding weight to the bar.

Download The Seriously Strong Beginner Program

Keith Hansen

Keith was an All-State wrestler in high school and in 2007 hung up his singlet to attend Florida State University to pursue a B.S. in business management. He wasn't sure what industry he wanted to be involved in at the time, but soon realized after graduating in 2011 that fitness was the ever-constant activity in his life. Keith began studying to become a personal trainer and in 2013 earned the National Strength and Conditioning Association's Personal Trainer certification. After a short stint as a big box gym trainer he realized he wanted to bring something different to Tallahassee. Keith competes in Powerlifting, Olympic Weightlifting, and Crossfit.