MONDAY MOVE

A Simple Tip to Help Your Knees Enjoy Squats

Sick of the snap, crackle, pop? Try this small but powerful tweak.

A funny thing happened approximately five minutes after I turned 34: My knees turned into Rice Krispies. I’ve been fit and active for most of my adult life — including plenty of squats, which I maintain everyone who can sit and stand should be doing regularly — so this sudden sign of joint aging took me by surprise. I soon learned that crackling, popping sounds in a joint are called crepitus (I’m choosing to ignore the extremely rude fact that that word sounds kind of like “decrepit”), and thankfully, if they’re not accompanied by actual pain, they’re pretty harmless.

Still, they’re a little disturbing, and for me, they’ve made squats uncomfortable: not because they actually hurt but because the popping sounds are just kinda yucky. Luckily, I’ve learned a super-simple way to make squats less creaky: adding a loop band.

Looping a mini band (or, if you don’t have one, a pair of tights, leggings, or pantyhose tied in a loop) just above your knees for squats will encourage you to drive your knees out rather than allowing them to collapse in toward each other, and that outward-driving effort fires up your glutes. In turn, those fired-up glutes do more of the work of lowering and raising your body, preventing your hamstrings and other muscles from taking over, which is often what makes your knees hate squats so much. And if you’re anything like me, they’ll quiet down as a result.

You can use a band during pretty much any style of standard squats, weighted or not (not for sumo squats, where your legs are too wide for a band, but those don’t bother my knees quite as much). One thing to try, especially if you’re planning a squat-heavy workout, is to do a few banded squats verrrrry sloooowly — several seconds down, pause at the bottom, several seconds up. This will allow you to focus on your form and really keep yourself honest: You’ll notice the moments within the movement where something shifts weirdly or you try to “cheat” and move quickly past a difficult portion, and you can use that information to guide you as you work toward getting stronger.

(Shoutout to trainer Crystal Fasano for opening my eyes to this technique.)

For more about proper squat form, check out this helpful article by Elemental columnist Christie Aschwanden:

As Elemental’s executive editor and an ACE-certified personal trainer, I’m suggesting a simple move each Monday to start your week on the right foot. Have a great one, and see you next week.

Editor and writer. Past: Elemental, Real Simple, Refinery29, SELF. Certified personal trainer; prenatal and postnatal exercise specialist. Cat & person mom.

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