Squats Might Be Killing Your Body

With fitness influencers online and countless articles and videos about how to get in shape, there are so many exercises to help you tone your body and feel better about how you look. One commonly mentioned exercise is squats as they are a go-to exercise for most trainers. But, is it possible these might not be the right exercise for your body?

As a fitness expert for over 25 years, I have gotten so many questions from clients and non-clients about different fitness and health topics. Yet, the one subject I get asked about more than any other is squats.

Here are some of the questions I’ve been asked about them:

  • I know I’ve had an injury, but why does my back, knee, or hip hurt when I do squats despite following the correct steps?

  • Why have my legs gotten bigger from squatting? I thought squats were supposed to tone them and make them smaller.

  • Why does everyone tell me to do squats, but I don’t feel good when I’m doing them? Are they good for me?

 

You may have similar questions about squats if you’ve been using them as a part of your workout, 

I always try to remind people that we are not all the same, and what is good for one person is not necessarily good for another. This is so important with exercise. If anything you are doing hurts or causes pain, STOP doing it. Don’t follow the “work through it” mentality. The truth is squats can cause injuries and pain. However, it might not be fair to place all the blame on squats because there are other extenuating circumstances like an injury from something else. Still, squats are known to cause pain or hurt a pre-existing injury.

As a fitness professional, I would never want that to happen to anyone even if they are not my client. Yet, I have seen many people with these same complaints about pain from performing squats. I have always wondered if there are some factors that create an environment which makes people interpret and perform exercises incorrectly. Could the exercises be too fundamentally complex for certain bodies to execute properly or are they just not meant for everyone?

It might be a little bit of both. Most people are not aware that there are certain steps and requirements to go through before attempting a single squat. As much as I think going through each requirement is a great and very responsible idea, the list is impossible for some to adhere to. Let’s take a look at the list and what makes it so difficult to follow.

Squatting Requirements: 

  1. Learn to do the proper technique
  2. Have good posture
  3. Don’t have limited mobility
  4. Don’t have a pre-existing injury
  5. Have loose muscles
  6. Have the proper footwear
  7. Don’t be imbalanced

Some of these may be more obvious than others, but let’s take a more in-depth look at each requirement.

  1. Proper Technique: When thinking about what the problem with squats might be, this is probably the first thing that came to mind, and poor technique can make a huge difference. A lot of people do exercise with poor technique, and the squat is not an exercise that people can afford to do this with. The potential for serious injury from squatting is extremely high. It can become the grim reaper of exercises when not done with proper form.
  2. Posture: Posture goes hand in hand with proper technique for squats. A lot of people complain about shoulder and hip pain when they squat, and the pain they experience in their shoulders is often due to bad posture when they squat. This could be from having poor posture in everyday life, but often, the pain comes from squatting with that poor posture. Either way, squatting with bad posture is painful and could cause more serious injury if continued.
  3. Mobility: Another common complaint from people is back pain when they squat. The pain might not be caused originally from squatting, but the pain does not discriminate. It should be a requirement that you have a high level of mobility and flexibility in your lower back before you start squatting. Otherwise, you put tremendous pressure on the spine. Having high-mobility and flexibility can help you to avoid pain or injury when doing this exercise. However, most people are not very flexible and their mobility is often limited, making squats a less-than-helpful and even harmful exercise.
  4. Pre-existing Injuries: A lot of people have back issues or old back injuries that linger. This injury can flare up with squats, and it may cause pain, further back injury, and long-term health challenges. Generally, it’s best to avoid doing squats if you have or have had a back injury. You could be causing more harm than good.
  5. Muscle Tightness: Many people have muscle tightness or muscle inflexibility. For squatting, if your muscles are tight or if you have a limited range of movement in the joints, it will cause pain and stress to your body.
  6. Footwear: A lot of people don’t realize squatting requires a specific and unique type of footwear. Most often, improper footwear won’t provide proper arch support and can cause serious issues with squats. Before you start squatting, be sure to get special footwear.
  7. Imbalances and Weight: Having body imbalances can be detrimental when trying to properly do a squat. Since we all have a dominant side and experience some type of imbalance, i.e. one leg is longer than the other, we can put too much weight on certain parts of the body. When we load the spine or another part of the body with too much weight, it can cause an imbalance and pain and injury can eventually happen. Problems can also occur when people use too much weight when attempting to squat. This excess weight also can cause imbalances.

These are just some of the requirements that anyone who wants to squat should consider if they do not want to damage or have pain in their joints or body in general. Ironically, the same requirements that make a perfect squat are the reasons I believe it very challenging for most people to use squats in their exercise routine and do them properly.

It’s an extensive and very involved list of requirements, and a lot of people can’t meet all the requirements even if they are trying. They might be able to achieve some of them but not all. The good part about that is that it’s okay. Most people believe that pain is a requirement for success, but that is not a belief I subscribe too. When we have pain in our body, that’s the body’s messaging system trying to alert us that something is wrong. We lose out from having pain not the other way around. It’s important to know your own body and adjust your exercise regiment from that point.

Squats are popular but very risky, and it is your choice if the risk is worth it. For some, squats can be a great exercise, but for others, alternate exercises can be just as beneficial without the negative side effects. Remember that exercise isn’t a one-size-fits-all kind of activity, and many different exercises or methods can give us the results we seek. We have different body types, shapes, strengths, and goals, so it makes zero sense to say that only one exercise—the squat—can address those differences for all of us.

Instead, there are many techniques, routines, or combinations of routines that we can employ to achieve our goals. I don’t squat, and I know a lot of people who do squat, and that’s okay! If squats aren’t working for you, here are some of my unique UFiiT exercises that will get you awesome results.

  1. UFiiT One leg: Tilt
  2. One-legged kick-backs
  3. Lateral or side to side lunges

( These unique exercise routines can be found in the Ufiit exercise gallery)

 

It’s important to know your body and know which exercises are right or you. Now that you have a better understanding of some of the issues squats can cause, you can make an educated choice on what exercises will most effectively help you reach your goals, stay strong, and enjoy an active lifestyle.