Ask a Trainer: Are Squats and Lunges Bad for Your Knees?

There’s good pain and there’s bad pain. Here’s how to tell the difference.

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You may already know how great squats and lunges are for strengthening your lower body (and let’s face it, giving your behind a little lift). But word on the street is all that body-lowering action isn’t doing your knees any favors. It is true? Must you sacrifice a strong lower-half to preserve your knees. 

“The easy answer is no, unless you have preexisting conditions,” says Holly Rilinger, Nike master trainer. “I think it’s important to talk about what kind of pain you’re having. Form is key with any lower body exercise, so if you’re not doing it properly, it’s likely that you’re going to have pain.” 

Good Pain vs. Bad Pain: What’s the Difference?

The type of pain you’re experiencing while or after doing squats and lunges makes all the difference here. If you’re feeling muscular pain, a.k.a. soreness, that’s totally normal, says Rilinger. That’s a sign that those muscles are working and getting stronger.

Here’s the thing about squats and lunges: “You’re working three very big muscle groups: the quads, the hamstrings, and the glutes,” says Rilinger. “It’s likely that they’re going to be sore after you work them.” (Learn more about soreness after workouts here.)

Now, if you’re having a shooting pain anywhere in your body or you’re having pain in your knees, “that’s a totally different thing,” says Rilinger. “I would check with your doctor or your trainer [to see if] you’re doing the exercise properly. And just make sure to monitor that pain.”

Warming Up: A Key to Pain-Free Exercise

Warming up before exercise is important. It gets your muscles revved up and warm, and eases you into the exercise. “If you’re not warmed up and you try to go right into a squat with weights, then it’s likely that you’re going to have pain or you’re not going to be warmed up enough to do the exercise properly.” Rilinger recommends dynamic stretches to warm up those muscles.

The takeaway: Soreness is good, shooting pain is bad. Always warm up before an exercise and be sure to check with your doctor if you experience any unusual pain.

“In the end, it’s important to exercise pain-free. So, if you have pain you need to get to the root of it,” says Rilinger.