Update to this post two years later – I have found a fix, read here!
Ever since I first began weightlifting I’ve experienced the frustrating problem of my (right) knee caving in during squats. Both knees are perfectly in line with the toes on the descent but, on the ascent, my right knee will sway (almost “twist”) inwards.
I’ve done a LOT of reading and research into this issue and have tried many different suggestions to fix it. I wanted to write this post to summarise my experiences in aim to help other people.
If you’re a beginner to squatting, please ensure you have as good a form as possible from the start. Do make sure you always push your knees out, keep the weight on your heels, use your hips not your knees and keep your knees in line with your toes. If you want to read more about good squat form, I recommend this webpage: http://www.exrx.net/WeightExercises/Quadriceps/BBFullSquat.html
Why does my knee cave inwards when I squat?
We could argue biomechanics for a long time. I’ve heard many different ideas. Some people argue it’s due to weak glutes, weak adductors, tight hips, poor mobility, overactive quads etc. In my mind, it could be any one of these things or a combination of these things. Basically there is a weak part in the chain, an energy leak. It could also be a mindset, i.e. bad habit.
This image illustrates what your knees should not be doing during a squat:
When the knee caves in we are putting extreme stress on the medial portion of knee ligaments.
How to stop my knee caving in during squats
My right knee still caves in, particularly when the weight gets heavy. However, it has improved a lot. Through these different techniques I have been able to improve my squatting technique:
Squatting with the empty bar
If I’d drilled in poor motor patterns by allowing my knee to cave in for a long time, then I’d developed bad habit. Eventually I hit a ceiling. I got to a certain weight and couldn’t progress because I was worried about my knee. I started to wonder whether I had a muscle imbalance or lack of strength in one leg. So, as difficult as it was to do, I went back to the drawing board and starting doing squats with the empty barbell (20kg). I spent a lot of time working on my form during the weeks I trained with light weights. I slowly increased the weight, sometimes every session, sometimes every other session. I increased the weight in very small increments.
This technique did improve things. My knee was still caving by the time I got back to the high weight, but I felt a lot more confident in my form. The weight also felt easier, so I’d become stronger over the time.
Squatting with my feet close together in a narrow stance
I can honestly say that this has been a huge help! The way I see it is if the legs are closer together, the knees have less of an opportunity to sway inwards. If your stance is very wide, there is a lot of room for the knees to move.
Since I am now into Olympic weightlifting, I have to keep a relatively narrow squat stance anyway, so this suits me!
Squatting with knee wraps
For a long time, these were an amazing aid. I didn’t squat without them for around twelve months. I used these Knee Support Wraps With Velcro Closure Knee Wrap Support, which are very strong and thick. If I wrapped my knees very tightly (so tightly that I had to unwrap and rewrap between sets), my knee moved inwards a lot less.
Interestingly, a year later, I’ve found I do not need to use the wraps at all. I have not used them for the whole year.
Wrapping a mini band around the knees
LOVE THIS TRICK! By putting a resistance band just above your knees (I recommend PhysioRoom Resistance Band Exercise Thigh Loop Medium), it teaches you great squatting form by forcing you to push your knees out on the ascent. If you don’t push out, the band goes slack. When I use the resistance band, I really feel my glutes are activated and my outer thigh muscles are working.
For a while I gave up full, deep squats and only went as deep as the bench (bench squats). At the time I did no have a box to go any lower. Unfortunately the bench felt too high to give me any real benefit. I now have a low box I can use, so I will try it. Some people say that if you don’t go so low down, your knees won’t cave in.
I incorporate these into my warm-up routine. I believe it’s very important to train muscles unilaterally. Lunges and Bulgarian Split Squats are awesome for individual leg training. At the moment I’m training my right leg/glute only, because this is my problem area. I need to teach the right glute to fire up properly to help stop the knee cave.
This is an example of a Bulgarian Split Squat:
Placing an ‘instep’ inside my shoe
I have a condition known as overpronation, which means the ankle rolls inward when stepping, walking or running. This overpronation also causes the knee to track inward too. Interestingly, for a while I did have some success placing a 1 inch high instep inside my shoe, just under the arch of the foot, ensuring it’s toward the front of the foot not the heel. This approach seemed to help stop my ankle rolling inward, simply because it’s pretty much in a fixed position. As a result, my knee cave was reduced as well.
The squat stretch
This is a mobility exercise for the hips and ankles. Place your elbows against the inside of your knees and push outwards – it’s important not to let your knees roll in! I do this stretch every day, sometimes multiple times, and it has really helped.
Trial and error – how I squat now
Over the years I’ve been weightlifting I’ve tried numerous different things. I’m now at the point where I am able to squat a significant amount of weight for reps without my right knee caving in. Either I’m a lot stronger or my form is better, or most likely it’s a combination of both.
I’m pleased to say that I now squat without knee wraps and without the instep. I don’t use a box or a bench, I’m insistent in squatting deep. I do carry out some lunges on my right leg every now and then. I execute the squat stretch as often as I can, finding it particularly helpful before my squat sessions. Most importantly, I always squat now with a mini band around my knees. So far, this has been my greatest solution. Update to this post two years later – I have found a fix, read here!
Do your knees cave inwards during squats? What has worked for you? I’d love to hear your opinions on this, as it’s been the devil in my training ever since I started.