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Friday, January 22, 2010

Squats for Almost Everybody: Bodyweight Half-Squats

(Remember: I'm not a doctor, so all standard disclaimers apply. Proceed at your own risk!)

I know some of you have bad knees, and squats are the last thing you want to hear about. However, there are squats and then there are squats; with the right technique, you might find that squats are a valuable addition to your workout. I've found videos of two different ways to squat... and today I'm going to give you additional instructions for the first one, which might help you gain a lot of leg strength without hurting your knees.

Ok, this first video shows a regular bodyweight squat. The guy who did it should have had his subtitles spellchecked, but it's still a good video; try not to laugh so hard at the subs that you miss what he's doing.

Key points in this video:
  • Feet are shoulder-width apart, with toes pointing straight ahead or just barely to the side
  • Arms are used for balance
  • Feet remain FLAT on the ground throughout the squat (this is probably different from what you're used to), which means most of your weight is on your heels
  • Your knees move straight ahead and NEVER get ahead of your toes
  • Back stays flat (don't hunch your shoulders)
Now, you probably noticed that the guy in this video never bends his knees really deep; at most, he looks like he's sitting in a chair. If you try this, unless you're really strong I doubt that you'll get that low. THAT'S GOOD. You don't need to, because we're going to add some imagined resistance to this squat!

All you need to do is imagine that a large weight is resting on your shoulders; this will cause you to tense your leg muscles, especially your quads (the big muscles on the front of your legs). Don't do it so hard that it hurts; just tense them enough to feel some pressure. Got it?

Now, slow the movement down (the guy in the video is actually going TOO FAST for our half-squat) and only bend your knees about HALF as much as he's doing. That's right - at the bottom of your squat, your knees will only be bent about 45 degrees, not the 90 degrees that you see in the video.

This half-squat is the primary range of motion most people use in the course of a day. It doesn't go low enough to put a lot of strain on your knees, but it goes deep enough (when combined with imagined resistance) to really strengthen your quads.

A lot of knee pain is simply caused by weak muscles, and this half-squat gives you a low-strain method of working the muscles. Obviously, if you try it and it hurts, don't do it. But I'm betting a lot of you with sore knees will find this exercise helps reduce your pain if you try it a few weeks.

And for you diehards out there, tomorrow I have the mother of all deep knee bends. I get tired just thinking about them...


  1. I agree. Not many people know that weak leg muscles on the knee area can cause knee pain. podiatrists suggests leg strengthening exercises.

  2. It is a very effective leg and knee strengthening exercise. Some knee problems maybe caused by weak knees. This exercise can be accomplished even at home.

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