T Nation

To Squat or Not to Squat


hi guys, i am 51 years old and i train 5 days a week. i can squat 3 plates a side 4 times. i am 6ft 190lbs. i am asking this question because my knees, back and hips are starting to feel the effects of squating and i am wondering if maybe i should stop squatting. i am not trying to get bigger or enter any contests so i am thinking at this point of my life maybe the squats are unnessecary and doing my body more damage then good. right now when i work my quads i do, squats, leg press, hack squat and leg extensions. if i do stop squatting what do you think i should replace the squats with. thanks guys


I had the same problem and this is what I did. I backed off the weight and added reps. Now I do sets of ten at 220. I was doing sets of five at 270 and the occasional double at 300. It was beating me up too much. Age does catch up with us all. I can easily twenty rep 180 and that is fun once in a while. I should up that to 200 next time but . . . I won't enjoy the pain.

Try front squats. Great for the quads. I use a clean style grip. Wrist bands help. My wrists have almost acclimated to the extreme dorsiflexion. Keeping the elbows high helps the wrists. FS are great for thoracic spine mobility, too.

I avoid the leg press because it loads the spine while in flexion. In a properly executed back squat, and especially a front squat, the spine is neutral in flexion/extension, where it is strongest. I had a herniated lumbar disc about six years ago that I think was caused by leg pressing. A pox on it.

Front and back squatting is all I do for legs, other than calf raises. Really, what else do you need?

Oh, that and deadlifts, of course. My favorite.

Have you tried glucosamine? I really think it might help, and I am a skeptic. It took about a month but my knees feel better now. Of course, I also lightened up on the weights at the same time, so I can't credit the glucosamine for sure.

We put our elderly cat on it and damned if he isn't off his heating pad and out mousing again.


Have you tried lunge variations (forward, backward, backward from deficit, sliding, etc.)? They are much healthier for your back, and can be great for knees and for hip mobility - if you do them with absolutely perfect form, which is not trivial.


look at some of the powerlifting sites and see how those guys squat. If you're squatting 3 wheels, you could still be squatting in a "quad dominant" fashion. try this next time you squat. break at the hips first, not at the knees. think about keeping your shins perpendicular to the floor. sit back as far as you can. this causes you to do the squat in a more hip dominant way, and really engages the glutes and hamstrings. Because it does not rely so heavily on the quads, it does give you some respite on the knees. I was just told that I need a knee replacement, cuz my left knee is bone-on-bone. I can still squat fairly heavy (for me anyway), as its repeated use like hiking that causes me the most trouble. Anyway, think of sitting back, use the hips, and your knees will thank you.


thanks for your input guys. i am wondering if its the leg press that is hurting me more than the squats because i feel the aches more in my hips but i am going to try squating pushing my hips out first and see how that feels. one other questions about deadlifts, i do the sldl for my hamstrings and i am wondering if i am correct in assuming that this type of deadlift works the hams more than anything else. i am taking glucosimine and its done wonders for my knees, i finished my bottle and now am trying fish oil because it is suppose to be better for you. thanks again for all your advice and input.


SLDs work hammies, how much depends on individual and style.

I had knee trouble, two things fixed it. I swallowed my ego and took weight off the bar. Dropped 100lbs off the bar and squatted slowly down tight bottom drive out of hole. I squat with bar up, and shoulder width stance.

Found if I went down slower, my knees got better. I don't squat any more but my control with heavy weights is enormously improved, and my strength profile (the range where I can apply strength) has increased.

Other thing, and I do not recommend then, was split snatches. The plyometric effect and the various strain on my knees forward and back worked wonders. Would not recomend it but it worked for me.


yes, sldl's work the hamstrings more then anything when done correctly. I think the leg press might be giving you issues. it's hard to leg press deep without the hips raising off the pad and this could very well be the source of your problems. pavel actually mentions this in beyond bodybuilding. if you're just lifting for health, and not necessarily trying to gain size, I say drop the leg press, and leg extensions. if you're squatting right, there should be very little pressure on the knees. a solid back or front squat, sldl or rdl, lunge, and calf raise variation is all you need.


hey turtello, i thought the good about the leg press is that your back is supported and you can use heavy weights. i have not tried front squats but can you generally use the same weight you use doing normal sqauats


Nicht so. Watch someone using the leg press machine. Their lumbar spine will be in flexion when their thighs are against their chest. That is a set-up for a herniated lumbar disc.

Lumbar discs herniate posteriorly. Flexing the lumbar spine and loading it up, as with a leg press, encourages the disc to squirt out the back. This can happen to young people.

The lumbar spine should only be loaded in a neutral position, ie: the normal lordotic curve of good posture. The spine is strongest in that position. As in a proper squat.

I don't like leg extensions either because the quads are working unopposed at the knee. Now consider a squat. The quad forces on the knee are balanced out by opposite forces generated by the hamstrings. The knees are happier.

Did I mention that I disapprove of leg curls? They always makes my back hurt. It's an unnatural movement, too. When do you ever flex your knees against a load with your hips extended? The hamstrings extend the hips and flex the knees at the same time, in real life. Why train your CNS to do an unnatural act? Deadlift instead. That's a movement with utility.

I like front squats but I can't go heavy. My best is 220. The bar hits my right shoulder just so and it really gets sore. Sore for days and days. Plus, my wrists hurt. I can't get my elbows up high enough due, I think, to a lack of thoracic spine mobility, and my wrists have to take up the slack. But I am getting better with practice.

I've read that you should be able to FS 80% of your back squat. I can't. I usually do 130-150 for reps of five, sometimes 180 for three. When I quit it is always because my wrists and right shoulder hurt, not my tired legs.

Another problem with heavy FS is once I let out my air, ie: take a breath, I can never get my chest up high again unless I rack the bar. So I usually do a couple of quick reps on a single lung full of air. I must be doing something wrong.

It is easy to go ALL the way down with a front squat. It is a good feeling.

BTW, Olympic lifters back squat ALL the way down with a high bar and a vertical back, much like a FS. They won't tolerate any other way. The best squatters I've seen are Olympic lifters. When I squat at an Olympic gym I can only do 220 to their satisfaction, and even then they advise me to lighten up and perfect my form. Good advice.

Also, I don't face a mirror when I squat. Too distracting. No useful information to be gained by looking in a mirror. Better to face the other way and rely on proprioception. Try it and see.


Well said, about increasing reps.


hi guys, ok did my legs this morning and for squats i went with lighter weights and pushed out with my hips first instead of bending the knees first. it was harder probably because i was being more strict. i only went with one plate per side in the 20 rep range and man i still got a good workout. for the leg press, i still did it but made sure my butt stayed flat against the surface. i read that its ok to do the leg press if you didnt let your butt raise off the pad. back to deadlifts, does the rdl work your back more than the sldl. i so sldl during my hamstrings workout but if i want to hit the back more should i just do the rdl.


I started having knee pain and later hip pain after 50 and have helped it a lot by doing a couple of rounds of 12 reps of leg extensions, leg curls, abdutor and adductor machine before squating to warm up and pre-exhaust. I still ATG squat 3 plates for 5+ reps (afer pre-exhausting) at 54, although there is always some pain or soreness. I only squat heavy once every 2nd or third session; do a couple of sets of 12 with 225 on the "recovery" sessions.