I’d like to paint you two pictures. In the first, you are a novice gym goer who is looking to get fit and healthy this winter but really struggles with planning your gym routine or deciding which machine to use. The second scenario sees you as an avid gym attendee who has developed an occasional knee ache over the course of a few months and is now concerned about which exercises to do and which to avoid for fear of “setting it off”. In either scenario you’re now headed to the gym, what exercise is at the top of your list for tonight?
The answer should be squats. It should always be squats. Even if you did them yesterday. Even if you plan on doing then tomorrow. Do more squats.
Why should I be squatting you ask? For a beginner this may seem like a bridge too far. A compound lift that requires too much technical skill, the squat, you’ve heard, can be dangerous. As for the gym regular, who may have the form down pat, the squat is a knee intensive exercise. Surely a movement like that will only aggravate their knee. While these are valid concerns in the minds of either of our avatars, they are wholly unfounded. Let me explain why.
First let’s discuss the technical/dangerous aspect of a squat. Can you stand up from a chair? Yep, you’ve mastered the squat. That’s all squatting is and if that’s challenging enough for you then do that. A bunch. At some point this might become easy for you in which case it’s time to start adding weight or variations but by then you’ve got the basics down.
If knee pain stops you from squatting, you may be missing out on one of the best exercises to help clear that up. A new study shows therapeutic exercises do not exacerbate knee pain or cause inflammation1. The squat is most definitely a therapeutic exercise. With most joint injuries the goal is to increase the resiliency of that joint and its ability to cope with the rigours of everyday life. Squatting will do that. Building muscle mass in the quads, glutes and hamstrings offloads the knee joint and makes you more able to get up from a chair, get up a flight of stairs or just get up to face the day.
As an aside, high weight/low rep or, conversely, low weight/high rep multi-joint exercises increase testosterone production in the body. Testosterone builds muscle, which burns fat, which makes you a better you.
Go do some squats.
If you’ve got knee pain and need a program tailored for you or you want to start squatting but are unsure of the finer points, come in and we’ll get you started on the right path.
1. Bricca, A., Roos, E.M., Juhl, C.B., Skou, S.T., Silva, D.O. and Barton, C.J., 2019. Infographic. Therapeutic exercise relieves pain and does not harm knee cartilage nor trigger inflammation. British journal of sports medicine, pp.bjsports-2019.