T Nation

ATG Squats and Knee Pain


For years I've avoided ATG squats, trying them every now and again based on the endless recommendations by lifters I respect. Every time I try them and crest over 200 lbs, my knees start to give me grief.

So I started trying them again a couple weeks back. Took it easy and built my way up. Started doing sets with 225 tonight, and on the fourth rep of the second set... crick. Right knee.

My form was tight. I was good and limbered up, so it wasn't a flexibility issue, either. For the life of me I can't figure what's doing this, and since I'm enamoured of the idea of being able to walk when I'm an old man, I thought I'd throw this out to the T-Nation: Has anyone else here had knee problems due to ATG squatting? If you managed to work around it, how did you do it? If not... I'd still like to hear from you. I'm curious how common this is.


for the first 2 or 3 weeks of starting atg squats i felt very uncomfortable and my knees bothered me for just about the whole time...i just worked through it and now i have no problem doing atg squats and i have been able to improve significantly...it sounds like you might have had more pain than me but that was my experience. good luck.


What kind of pain is it? For the first few months after I started ATG squats, my knees were sore (for lack of a better word). It felt like someone was holding a bar perpendicular to my leg, right below the kneecap (so my calf and the bar make a T), and pressing gently but firmly into my leg.

The feeling was greatest while doing some sort of squat movement (walking up stairs, squatting, etc.), but went away after a few months. I had never done "normal" (parallel) squats before, though. The first time I did squats, I did them ATG.


maybe use less weight, get your form perfect with 135, then 185, before 225!


thats how i felt. good description blooey.


I've suffered from anterior knee pain in my left knee for years. Part of the reason I started squatting was to strengthen my left VMO to improve patella tracking.

Although I sometimes get a pain like that described earlier (like a bar pressed on your knee) after heavy squats, it's never debilitating and goes away after a day.

I always perform ATG squats as it's less stressful on your kness than going to parallel, and also helps achieve a balanced musculature around the knee joint (or so Poliquin claims).

Maybe you should go lighter for some time until your legs get used to it...or try front squats ATG, you won't be able to use as much weight as with back squats and they'll work your quads more.


I have had a lot of problems with my knees when squatting. Here is what has helped me: Good Warm-up (25-30 minutes in length), Strengthening Hamstrings, Stretching Hip Flexors (refer to Ian Kings end of kneedless knee pain article for good stretches) Increased Dorsi-Flexon ROM, Learning to sit back/box squats, Glute activation work (works especially well when coupled with hip flexor strecthes), TKE's, unilateral leg work, etc. In short it would do you well to read Ian Kings article as well as the NNM series by Cressey and Robertson. For me, doing front squats with the heels elevated were a great exercise to help me regular squat without knee pain.

Take Care


I am in agreement with the idea of starting slow. I think you are just pushing the weight too early. ATG squats are very different than a parallel powerlifting style squat. If you really want to do them, it will take some patience and a bit of work to prepare. I personally think it will be worth the effort.

I would recommend that you just start doing some bodyweight only 1 1/4 ATG squats holding a doorway for several sets a day. You could hit a set of 8-10 every hour or so. Do this for a couple of weeks in addition to your normal workouts. It will teach you the full range of motion and maybe even assist in recovery from your leg workouts.

After a couple of weeks you could add in 3 or 4 light sets (start with the bar for a week, then 95 for a week, then 135...) of 3-5 ATG squats daily after your warmup. Also add in a few light sets after your normal squats or DL's.

After a month or two of this stuff you will be ready to start using ATG squats in your normal workout with little risk of injury. I would still advise to go slow with the weight though.

BTW, I would also advise you to address any flexibility issues that may be contributing to difficulty with the movement. Lack of flexibility in the hips and ankle can really make it difficult to go ATG. Mike Robertson has written some great articles to help with those issues. Add in some mobility work in your warmup and on your off days. It will be the best thing you've ever done to make sure that you can still walk when you're an old man.

Good luck...PM me re: your progress if you decide to try this.


I've never been able to do ATG squats without knee pain afterwards.


Thanks for the tips guys.

I'd be surprised if it were a flexibility issue. I can hit bottom without any rounding of the back, and I'm careful not to let my knees drift through the range of motion. Nor do I allow myself to relax at the bottom, as some make the mistake of doing.

It was once suggested to me that the issue might be ankle flexibility. My left ankle was busted pretty badly when I was a teenager, and it never regained a comfortable full range of motion. So I've tried putting plates under my heels, and that seemed to work at first. Helped keep my body more upright as well, instead of feeling like I was folding down into the bottom position.

As for the level of pain: I had to stop before I hit my 5th rep on the second set last night. Afterward it was bad enough that I couldn't even manage a single bodyweight squat. Today getting up from a chair is a tender affair, and managing stairs is less than comfortable.

Prior to this I've done wide stance squats to parallel, never having had them cause a problem with my knees -- even when I was loading up over 300 lbs for 15-20 reps. I've utilized front squats to finish my thighs off, and never had a problem with my knees then, so long as I warmed up carefully before hand.

For some reason, 200 has always been the magic number when it comes to my knees. If I go deep, my knees hit a danger zone around that weight.

I'm going to skip deadlifts on Friday, and see how my knee feels by next week. I can't stand the thought of slacking off in workouts just because of this, limiting myself to lighter weights... so maybe I'll do my warm-ups with the narrower stance, and then go wider as I increase the weight? Perhaps in that way increase the durability of my knees. Perhaps even use light front squats for a finishing set after.

I'll take a second look at the suggestions that have been made in this thread. I'm pretty pissed off about my knee crapping out on me at the moment, so a clear-headed second look will probably do me a world of good. :slightly_smiling:


bjaff's progresssion looks really good to me, and I also like the suggestion to try front sqauts full ROM first.

When I really got back into training 2-3 years ago, I found I could get deeper on a front squat than a back squat. I worked my way up in weight on front squats, to the point where I was using about 75% of what I would use for a back squat in the same set/rep scheme. At this point, I went ahead and started doing full ROM squats and didn't experience anything I would describe as knee pain.