My Doctor Said I Can’t Do Squats (Everybody Squats)

The doctor said that you can’t do squats? You sought the help of a trained medical professional with over a decade of collegiate education and years of work experience. You wanted a diagnosis and specific guidance for your situation, and left with a simple can’t and maybe a steroid injection.

“Doc, it hurts when I do this.”
“Well don’t do that.”

At the clinic, when a client tells me they cannot do squats, I ask them if they are willing to try some “Sit to Stands.” ; )

One major problem with “Don’t do squats” is that everybody squats. Squatting is everyday function. Have you ever risen from a chair or car or stooped to lift something off the ground?  The problem is that many people, including athletes and fitness enthusiasts, squat poorly. Squats done well and in moderation are usually (but not always) well tolerated and helpful for establishing strength, motor control, and mobility at areas that take stress off the lower back and knees!

Mostly, I’m too hard headed to accept simple cant’s. Straight-up cant’s are usually unnecessary. They often reveal ignorance of the topic matter. Cant’s are usually blanket statements that enable the doctor to quickly move on to the next patient.

Does your doctor allow for partial depth squats? Would he rescind the decree if you do time working on the strength and mobility of your trunk and hips and ankles and feet? Does he allow you to squat down to lift a bag of groceries, or would he prefer that you do the spine-mangling bend and twist? What if you have to poop in the woods? Or carefully lower a saucer of cold milk to your kitten?

If you don’t -squat well- you will simply function in the same old manner that has been chewing up your knees and lower back all along.

No one is exempt from time. At some point, our knee cartilage erodes and we simply can’t squat -heavy-, jump, and vault.  At some point athletes will move on to more appropriate and noble deeds than being physically awesome. But if they are alive, they will still have to squat.

So long as we have to squat, let’s do it WELL!

Deep squats (including single leg pistol squats) are generally not good for the ACL or the cartilage on the back of the knee cap, whether or not you had surgery. If a person tore their knee meniscus from crappy form while squatting and they still have crappy form, then by all means, that person should not squat until they make some major adjustments.

Proper squats and variations are useful for establishing the strength and stability that protects the ACL, patella, as well as your ability to be awesome! Seated leg extensions, pilates, the recumbent bike, and other non weightbearing exercise are inadequate for establishing resiliency for the times when you must accelerate or leap or catch yourself from a stumble.


So let us replace Can’t with 3 Rs.

  1. Rest – Lay off, take the medicine, injection, or whatnot. Use ultrasound, foam rolling, brace, manual therapy, and whatnot to manage the pain.
  2. Rehab – Find and specifically work on what specifically causes your poor quality squat.
  3. Revise Expectations – Maybe you should never really “go heavy.” Maybe that Insanity 2 million squats in 30 minutes DVD is indeed, well, insane.

You should not perform thousands of crappy low resistance reps, or heavy reps piling on the weights in the traditional barbell squat if you have…

  • huge thoracic kyphosis (humped upper back posture)
  • minimal lumbar lordosis
  • core (mid back, lower back, abdominal) weakness
  • hip inflexibility (and aformentioned weakness) that causes your lower back to round
  • hip weakness (especially gluteus medius – the side butt muscles)
  • ankle inflexiblity

Revising your expectations also usually means changing exercise selection. Have you tried Goblet squats, box squats, single leg variations, lunge variations, or bowler squats? All of these can be seriously challenging and serve as corrective exercise.

If squats hurt and you really want to squat, I’m nearly certain that I can get you there. You may not set a new world record. You may have to finangle around a touchy meniscus or patellar chondromalicia (worn out knee caps). But you will function better. You will become stronger in ways that protect your joints and deepen your awesome bucket.

I’m going to be stubborn with this, having seen helped many people smash through their can’t.

Because everybody squats…some time…hold on!

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