Lunges and squats kill my knees!

So many lower body workouts are all about lunges and squats and I just can’t do them. It produces sharp pains in my knees.

What are some effective alternatives?


  • goal06082021
    goal06082021 Posts: 2,130 Member
    What goal are you trying to accomplish by doing the lunges and squats?
  • sviers13
    sviers13 Posts: 109 Member
    Toning and firming.
  • AnnPT77
    AnnPT77 Posts: 27,592 Member
    edited May 2021
    I have bad knees, experience pain with most forms of lunges and squats. For some unknown reason, machine leg press is a little more tolerable, but still chancy. I can row or cycle, and those will "tone and firm" to a certain extent, but much more slowly and less efficiently than things like lunges/squats. To get continuing progress, it's necessary to make the rowing/cycling progressive through duration/frequency, and/or technique+power (in the case of rowing, boat or machine), resistance (in the case of stationary biking) or hills (in the case of actual biking).

    Also, just because I can do those things without further aggravating my particular knee problems doesn't mean you'll have the same experience. Have you considered asking your doctor for a physical therapy referral, getting advice from a profe,ssional?

    ETA: When I say I have "bad knees", I mean I've been formally diagnosed by an orthopedist as having knee arthritis and a torn meniscus for which the medical intervention would be surgery (but I'm deferring the surgery as long as I can manage the discomfort level, with the orthopedist's approval). I worked with a physical therapist who agreed that weaknesses in the relevant muscles were not a significant causative factor in the discomfort/pain. I agree with the guys below, if you don't have a medical problem. If you might have a medical problem, get a diagnosis.
  • Theoldguy1
    Theoldguy1 Posts: 2,284 Member
    edited May 2021
  • viajera99
    viajera99 Posts: 252 Member
    Another thing (which may or may not make a difference for you, but helps me) is to do reverse lunges (i.e. step backwards, not forward).
  • yirara
    yirara Posts: 7,935 Member
    Does the same happen when you lean forward more when doing especially squats? We're always told to keep an upright upper body, but if the ratio between upper body and leg length doesn't work out it's not possible. It's also more difficult/impossible if your lower legs happen to be substantially shorter than your upper legs. Other than that: Need a form video.
  • 33gail33
    33gail33 Posts: 1,155 Member
    I also can't do squats or lunges due to bad knees (like really bad knees).

    I can do regular and kettle bell deadlifts, so I do those along farmers walk, military press (and various upper body lifts). That along with 3-4 times a week on the spin bike is what I came up with for a lower/full body workout.

    Just a note that I am not a trainer and have no qualifications - I came up with this plan myself to try to activate as many muscle groups as possible within my limitations, because as you have probably noticed most people will tell you that you can do squats even when you tell them you can't. :wink:
  • 4legsRbetterthan2
    4legsRbetterthan2 Posts: 19,560 MFP Moderator
    edited May 2021
    I agree, probably something in your form is off.

    For lunges - I used to have alot of knee pain as well, it was a result of putting my feet too close together, it's a little odd at first but your feet need to stay hip width apart as you place one foot forward, for me it felt more normal to move them closer togethe so it was more like one foot in front of the other, but that creates some odd angles and pressures side to side when you sink down. If you look at your legs strait on knees should stay over your toes.
  • sviers13
    sviers13 Posts: 109 Member
    I appreciate all of your replies. There are several of your tips and suggestions that I plan to try.
  • Theoldguy1
    Theoldguy1 Posts: 2,284 Member
    sviers13 wrote: »
    I appreciate all of your replies. There are several of your tips and suggestions that I plan to try.

    You mentioned in your initial post you have knee pain with squats and lunges. Have you ever had an exam by a medical profession to determine the root cause?
  • owen1826
    owen1826 Posts: 53 Member
    Look up knees over toes guy.
  • cwolfman13
    cwolfman13 Posts: 41,330 Member
    edited May 2021
    sviers13 wrote: »
    So many lower body workouts are all about lunges and squats and I just can’t do them. It produces sharp pains in my knees.

    What are some effective alternatives?

    Could be a form thing. Also could be that you just need to do a workaround for those things. I don't do traditional back squats much anymore due to a disk issue in my upper back that makes my lower arms and hands go numb. I would definitely prefer them, but I generally do leg presses instead or do goblet squats.

    I have a really hard time with lunges because I've broken my big right toe about a million times and it hurts like hell when I bend/flex it too sub for that is Bulgarian Split Squats.

    I also have a hard time with barbell bench due to a crapped out right shoulder...but I've found that incline bench or using dumbbells for flat bench don't bother it.

    Sometimes you just have to find some alternatives that do basically the same thing but don't cause issues. It could also be a matter of just needing to strengthen the muscles around the knees before trying to load up a barbell by doing bodyweight squats or using dumbbells for dumbbell squats or goblet squats.
  • jtechmart
    jtechmart Posts: 67 Member
    Do you get the pains if you just do bodyweight squats? Have you tried squats with bands?
  • middlehaitch
    middlehaitch Posts: 8,408 Member
    Another small thing to look at is foot placement and knee tracking.

    When I was first starting most instruction had the toes turned out to some degree with toes tracking over. That gave me knee pain.

    Once I adjusted to feet straight out and knees tracking all was well. I walk with my feet straight out and knees forward so the strain of trying to turn my knees out was incredibly uncomfortable.
    I can now squat with toes out a bit, but my preferred squats are straight. Maybe, if you have no known knee problems, look at how your feet track walking and standing and emulate that.

    Lunges are legs slightly wider than my narrow hips and straight feet.

    Not a doc or PT just giving my own experience as a recreational lifter.

    Cheers, h.
  • kshama2001
    kshama2001 Posts: 26,376 Member
    I've been dealing with knee issues since 2009. I no longer attempt a traditional lower body workout.

    This time of year I spend hours gardening, and am often either in a very low squat or stretching my hamstrings.

    As long as I'm careful and don't overdo it, I can do squats and lunges that are part of a yoga routine. The form is different for the squats. The lunges aren't lunge lunge lunge lunge ... but lunge, hold, downward dog, transition, downward dog, lunge and hold on the other side.

    I regularly do yoga warmups and all my PT exercises for knees and hips, and less regularly Sun and Moon salutations.

    I also do this regularly, and throw in some extra downward dogs:

    Since the above is challenging for me, in between the exercises I throw in these (and also some pliés.)
  • westrich20940
    westrich20940 Posts: 671 Member
    As other's have stated it could be a form issue....which is impossible to know without pictures or video of you squating/lunging. But you could look up some videos just to check your form is good.

    It also maybe depends on why your knees are hurting --- do you have knee issues? Because sometimes the knees can hurt if you have weak glutes/etc....muscles. So doing squats/lunges will HELP with the knee pain.

    I'd suggest getting some resistance bands to see if that can help --- when wearing one it's a good cue for you to push outward with your legs and it can make you feel more steady on your feet --- make your knee feel more stable while doing those exercises.

    If you want to work on your glute muscles without squats/lunges ---- you can try glute bridges, hip thrusts, donkey kicks, fire hydrants, and hip abduction/adduction machines too. Most of those moves can be modified/done with resistance bands as well to increase the resistance as you get stronger.....then you can try squats/lunges again to see if it's helped.