“My Knees Hurt for Years until I Started Doing Squats”

NOTE by Mehdi. Here’s more proof that the StrongLifts methods work. This is the story of SL Member Michael aka “mjh” (30, New Zealand) who is one of my long-time Members. Michael struggled with knee pain for years UNTIL he began doing parallel Squat as I recommend. Oh, he also gained 55lbs in 1 year. Here’s his success story…

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A little about me:  30 years old. 189cm tall, 100kg. I’m from New Zealand, but I’m currently living in Asia, where I work as an English teacher. When I first found stronglifts, I was 75kg, and could barely do a push up, let alone a pull-up.

I’d always been tall and skinny, but had started to develop a little pot belly. Until stronglifts, I had led a sedentary life, and have only my bird-like appetite to thank for my not being fat. I played sports when I was young, but a serious knee injury at age 11 put an end to that.

During P.E. class, I ran into a pole on the school tennis courts. My left knee took the full impact and fractured into 3 pieces. I underwent surgery and was left with a wire holding my knee together. I was left with reduced knee mobility, thigh atrophy and a lot of pain.

Physiotherapy was boring, inefficient and painful. I soon stopped the home exercises and therapy, and my sedentary life style began. My knee healed well enough to walk and run, but before long I’d be in pain. I started to favour my right knee to “protect” my left knee, which I thought of as weak and fragile. In my early twenties I suffered multiple subluxations of both knees. These injuries led to a diagnosis of trochlear dysplasia and arthtritis.

So there I was at age 22. Arthritis, unstable kneecaps, constant aches and pains. I started to joke about shopping for a mobility scooter, but I was only half joking.

By age 28 I was sick and tired of being skinny and weak. I knew I had to make a change before my bodyfat got out of control. I was also sure that I could do something to help my knees. I signed up at a gym, but I was too intimidated to use the weight room. So I just used the machines in the circuit training room.

Then I found stronglifts, and started reading. Free weights, basic movements, strength over aesthetics. It made sense to me, but I was sceptical about squats. After all, the squat is performed by the knees, right? Surely it was a bad idea to use my beat-up knees as a hinge for a heavy exercise?

Stronglifts corrected my flawed understanding of the squat. I learned of the benefits of free weight squats, the role of the hips and hamstrings in the squat, and the importance of sitting back. I tried some with just my bodyweight, using that technique, and it felt good, with no pain or discomfort. I was encouraged and decided to start on stronglifts 5×5.

I did bodyweight squats for a few weeks, along with my first ever deadlifts, presses, and rows. Then I started squatting with the bar, and it was hard. My balance was terrible, the rack position hurt my wrists and shoulders, and I was worried about my back and my knees. But after just a few sessions I was getting the hang of it. I made sure to warm up well with hip mobility exercises, and things gradually got better, and I started adding the little plates to the bar.

I was using a cheap neoprene knee support. One day I forgot it, but when I squatted I could barely tell the difference. My knee felt stronger and I could see a new muscularity working as I moved. The muscles around my knees had blown up and now held my patella much more securely. I felt more confident about my knees, and the aches and pains were greatly diminished.

However, I soon saw a major problem that needed addressing. My right thigh was stronger and 8cm bigger than my left thigh. It was bearing more of the load in the Squat, which I knew would only make the problem worse. I deloaded and paid extra attention to symmetry in the squat movement, and supplemented with unilateral exercises like lunges and step-ups.

These efforts showed results. Compare the left photo from February 2008 with the right one from May 2008. My injured left knee is on the right in the photos (you can see the scar from my surgery). My left knee muscles are bigger and stronger. I can no longer move my patella around in its socket. The size difference between the legs has reduced from 8 to 4cm.

SL Member Michael's Knees Before and After StrongLifts

My knee pain has reduced. My aches and pains are now just ordinary post workout soreness. A large part of the improvement was psychological. My left knee no longer feels weak, and I don’t protect it from daily loading or balancing anymore. Over the years, various doctors and physiotherapists had prescribed machine-based exercises, such as leg extensions and leg presses, but all they ever did was cause me a lot of pain. It wasn’t until I started squatting that I saw any improvement in my knee health.

My squats progressed slowly over the next year, as I added weight conservatively, and addressed a postural problem that was causing shoulder pain. I sometimes envy the guys who have taken their squat to 1.5x bodyweight and beyond, quickly and smoothly, but keeping my knees and shoulders happy was far more important to me than chasing numbers.

I have gone from having difficulty climbing stairs to a pain-free squat PR of 115kg, 3×5. I can do push-ups and pull-ups (not very many, but more than I could two years ago). I have learned good form on the basic exercises, and learned a lot about my training needs. I have radically changed my nutritional habits. I now fill out my size large t-shirts, instead of drowning in them.  I have also gone from being too scared to step foot in a weight room, to moderating a rapidly growing community of lifters.

I also gained 25 kilos, going from 75kg to 100kg in about a year (I’m 189cm tall). The biggest challenge for me was increasing my calorie intake. It wasn’t until I significantly increased my calorie intake from around 2000 to 3500-4000 that I started seeing any difference in my size and weight. I learned how easy it is to under-estimate how much you eat and lie to yourself about your habits.

I have no idea what my body fat percentage is, and I don’t care. I would guess that it’s in the high teens or low twenties. I have a pot belly and love handles, and at this moment I DO NOT GIVE A SHIT. “Having visible abz” has never appeared on my list of goals, and I’m a long way from being concerned about getting fat. Contrary to what some skinny boys seem to think, “not having visible abs” is not necessarily synonymous with “fat” or overweight. I’m sorry, but I think that kind of attitude is silly emo bullshit.

I’d had 100kg as my goal for a while. My squat and other lifts could be higher.  The reason is that I’ve had periods where I’ve prioritised other things, such as my studies. I make no apologies about that, because I have only ever lifted weights on my own terms, according to my own needs, and in pursuit of my own goals. Lifting is not my life, but it has become an integral part of it, and I can say with confidence that lifting has improved my quality of life immeasurably.

- SL Member Michael aka “mjh”, 30, NZ

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Here’s more proof that parallel Squats are the only way to Squat, and that they’re much safer than those half Squats dumb doctors and idiot personal trainers will tell you to do. This was posted by SL Member Jstahly (52, USA)…

I had minor surgery on my left knee a little over 2 years ago to fix some cartilage and a grind down a bone spur. This knee is the one I hurt in high school during wrestling practice and has the tender patella tendon. I use to wear a very tight knee wrap when I did my squats because the tendon above the knee would ache badly if I didn’t and this knee would randomly ache throughout the week.

Since I have started doing parallel Squats instead of partials my knee(s) has gotten much better. I no longer wear a knee wrap, even on the heavier lifts and the tendon pain is almost all gone. The tendon is less sensitive to touch as well and almost never aches now. I have had this problem since 1973 when I originally injured it.

All in all even with my 52 year old body complaining (loudly at times) about what I’m putting it through the aches and pains are lessening. I feel better today than I did 10 years ago, my health, weight and mental attitude have improved a lot. I would do this all over again if I had too, the rewards have been to great to give up on and I know there are still more and bigger benefits yet to be received. It’s just hard to remember that sometimes when your in the hole of a heavy squat.

Do StrongLifts 5×5 exactly as laid out: parallel Squats, using free weights, 3x/week. If you got bad knees: start light, add weight slowly but systematically, and let pain be your guide.

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