Is knee pain during training getting you down? Don’t let it stop you from making progress in the gym! With some simple tweaks and extra attention to this area, you can start to make progress without pain again. Years of wear and tear can contribute to knee pain, but you don’t have to let it dictate your life.
Note: By seeing a sports medicine doctor, they will be able to give a more accurate diagnosis. For many active people, knee pain is a common complaint, and can be due to many factors. If knee pain is persistent, it’s wise to get yourself checked out by the professionals. You may find you have early osteoarthritis or a chronic degenerative meniscal tear, and it's important to get the best advice for your particular situation!
If you find you have pain at the front of the knee during squats and lunges, then you may be suffering from Patellofemoral pain syndrome (runner’s knee). It’s common in seniors and athletes, especially women. Another common ailment that happens on the side of the knee is the Iliotibial band syndrome (ITBS) - you'll feel it as a pain between the hip and knee.
Never start your working sets without first having warmed up! It may seem obvious, but you’ll be surprised how many people in the gym (even seasoned lifters!) tend to negate a proper warm-up. Perhaps they just want to hurry up and get into it, but a proper warm-up can save much damage down the track.
You can start to get some blood flow happening by jumping on the cardio equipment for a few minutes. A stationary bike will be kinder to your knees than running on the treadmill. You can also start with some bodyweight squats and lunges, and a few of the supplemental exercises listed below. Take the time to be aware of your body and how it moves.
Change your form:
Focus on perfecting your technique, and consider squat and lunge variations that put less strain on the knees. For now, distribute more of the weight from the knee and quads (quadriceps) and more to the hip and glutes. Strong hips help your knees to track correctly!
For example, to start relieving pain:
Instead of walking lunges, try:
- Static lunges, with slower and more controlled movements
- Reverse lunges, which will keep your shin more vertical
Instead of full-range squats, try:
- Half range squats, being careful not to bring the knee too far forward. Deep squats are great for the glutes and aren't bad for your knees, but can cause undue pressure on the joint if you have a pre-existing condition or improper form.
- You can also use a chair or box behind you to focus on sitting back
- If knee pain is particularly bad, you can start with quarter squats
- Wall squats are also a great idea to focus on keeping your back straight
Tips to remember:
- Squeeze your glutes!
- Don't lockout: When you lock out your knees, you transfer the weight from the muscle to the joint, which increases the amount of pressure on that joint – not ideal! If you need to, decrease the weight so you can complete the set without locking out your knees.
- Many athletic shoes aren't fit for lifting at the gym. If you find your foot unstable or shifting forward in a squat, then see how it feels without shoes. If you struggle to shift weight back, you may have stiff ankles! Of course, I don't recommend training without shoes in the gym – You can purchase specialised weight lifting shoes, or you can look to buy shoes that are flatter (Converse are a popular choice!). Also consider adding foot stability exercises into your routine, for stronger support!
Strengthen your muscles:
When your lower body is stronger, you’ll feel more significant support around the knees. Look to strengthen your quads, hamstrings, glutes and calves. If you're feeling a lot of knee pain, don't rush into heavy lifting, which can aggravate it further. Controlled bodyweight movements or with the assistance of resistance bands can go a long way in helping you to zone in and focus on the area, and they'll make your bigger lifts stronger too.
Try these exercises to supplement your training:
- Glute bridge
- Calf raises
- Stability ball leg curl
- Crab walk (with resistance band)
- Isometric VMO (Vastus Medialis Oblique) straight leg raises
By focusing on the muscles around your knee, you’ll be able to relieve the ongoing strain on the joint. With less pressure being places on the knee, you'll have a greater chance of relieving pain and avoiding further injury.
Flexibility and Mobility:
Stretching the muscles that you work to make stronger is essential for preventing injury and restoring the range of motion. By incorporating stretching along with your strength training, you can help keep your muscles long, flexible and find a way to manage muscle soreness.
Aside from stretching, a foam roller can be a helpful tool to help you recover. If you're up to it, bumpy foam rollers can be great for releasing trigger points, or use a trigger point ball. If you want to take it up another notch, the Theragun is a widely used massage gun. Try a trigger point release on the TFL (tensor fasciae latae) and glutes - you'll feel the pain but be grateful for it later!
Another thing to consider is incorporating a yoga class into your routine; it might just supercharge your results in the weight room!
Consider getting extra help:
If you’re starting out, or you’ve been having ongoing knee pain, consider using a personal trainer so you can have someone watch your repetitions and make sure you’re executing each one correctly. It can be hard to keep everything in line when you start to fatigue! Investing in a physiotherapist can also assist you in specific exercises for your body, that will help you get more out of your gym sessions. Remember that if you want long lasting results, you need to make it a priority - even fifteen minutes a day spent improving your knee joint can bring big payoffs to your results!
Ethier, J., 2020. How To Squat Without Knee Pain (4 Mistakes You’Re Probably Making). [online] Built with Science. Available at:
Jospt.org. 2020. Knee Pain: Safely Strengthening Your Thigh Muscles | Journal Of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy. [online] Available at:
Jospt.org. 2020. Trunk And Shank Position Influences Patellofemoral Joint Stress In The Lead And Trail Limbs During The Forward Lunge Exercise | Journal Of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy. [online] Available at: