Knee pain on Deadlifts happens most when you hit them with the bar on the way down. Lower the weight by bending your hips first. Don’t bend your knees first or you’ll hit them with the bar. Keep your knees back by bending your hips before you bend your knees.
Knee pain on Deadlifts can also happen if your knees cave in when you Deadlift or if you hyper-extend your knees at the top. Keep your knees out when you Deadlift. Lock your knees at the top but don’t hyper-extend by taking your knee joints past their normal range of motion.
Painful, bruised knees are unlikely if you Deadlift with proper form. Deadlifts increase knee stability by strengthening the muscles around your knees. They don’t hurt your knees. The key is to move your knees around the bar and keep them out, without hyper-extending at the top.
Knee Pain from Hitting Knees On Deadlifts
Hitting the knees on Deadlifts is most common on the way down. But you can also hit your knees on the way up. Both can cause lower back pain on top of knee pain. The bar can’t move in a vertical line if you hit your knees. It has to move around them. But the further the bar from your body when you Deadlift, the more lower back stress. Plus, a non-vertical bar path is longer and ineffective for increasing your Deadlift.
Deadlifting in knee sleeves to protect your knees is a bad idea. Knee sleeves create friction on Deadlifts. They create a bump on your shins. The bar will catch the knee sleeves on the way up. This slows the bar, decreases effectiveness and makes the weight harder to Deadlift. Worse, knee sleeves don’t fix what causes knee pain during Deadlifts. They encourage you to Deadlift with bad form by covering the pain you’d otherwise get.
Switching to Sumo or Trap Bar Deadlifts is also a bad idea. You can’t improve your Deadlift form by doing substitution exercises for the Deadlift. You can’t get better at playing violin by playing the guitar. You have to Deadlift to improve your Deadlift form. If you don’t, you’ll keep hitting and hurting your knees. Don’t waste your time with substitution exercises. Practice Deadlifting with proper form until you get it right. It’s not hard.
How to Stop Hitting Your Knees On The Way Down
Lower the bar by bending your hips first. Push them back while lowering the bar to your knees. Once the bar has reached your knees, bend them. The bar will pass your knees without hitting them. It will move in a vertical line which is shorter and more effective. The key is to keep your knees back at the top to create space for the bar. The bar can’t move around your knees or it will hit them. Bend your hips first, then your knees.
Never bend your knees first on the way down. This puts your knees forward and in the bar path. The bar will hit, bruise and hurt your kneecaps. It will move down around your knees in a C-curve which is more stressful on your lower back and ineffective. The bar will land over your forefoot which is bad setup for your next rep. If you pull from you forefoot, the bar will scrape your shins. Your knees, back and shins will all hurt.
Bend your hips first and keep your lower back neutral. Don’t let your lower back round. Don’t let it hyper-extend either. Maintain the natural arch in your lower spine. Bend from your hips, not your lower back. Chest up, head neutral. Your whole foot must stay in contact with the floor for proper balance. Don’t let your toes come off the floor. Keep the weight on your mid-foot and your toes on the floor.
Lower the bar under control but don’t be slow. If it takes five seconds to lower the weight, you’re taking too much time. Deadlifts is mostly about the way up. This doesn’t mean you should drop the weight from the top. You want to work that part of the movement too. But don’t be slow. The way down shouldn’t take more than a second. Keep the bar in your hands and lower it under control but not slow.
If you lower the bar correctly, it won’t hit your knees. Your knees will move out of the way and the bar will drop in a vertical line over your mid-foot. You might feel a stretch in your hamstrings by bending your hips first. Your torso will be more horizontal compared to when you where hitting your knees. This is safe as long as you Deadlift with your lower back neutral. The way down must be a mirror of the way up.
How to Stop Hitting Your Knees On The Way Up
Don’t Squat your Deadlifts. Setting up with your hips lower than your knees like in the bottom of your Squat doesn’t work. Low hips put your shins more incline. The bar has to hit your shins and knees because they’re in its path. You’ll scrape your shins until they bleed. You’ll hit your knees which hurts. And you’ll get back pain because the bar moves away from your body to go around your knees. Deadlifts aren’t Squats.
Setup with the bar over your mid-foot. Doublecheck which lace faces the middle of the sole of your Deadlift shoes. Put that lace right under the bar when you look down. Then grab the bar and bend your knees until your shins touch the bar. Don’t push the bar forward with your shins. Keep it over your mid-foot. Start from scratch if you moved the bar. Pull the weight from your mid-foot with your shoulder-blades over the bar.
If you have long thighs like me, setup with your feet out 15-30°. Pull the bar from your mid-foot while pushing your knees to the side. This creates space for the bar to pass your shins and knees without hitting them. Long thighs put your knees more forwards so it’s easier to hit them. There’s no such thing as “knees sticking out more” though. If your knees stick out more, your Deadlift form is wrong. Setup right to fix it.
Setup correctly for Deadlifts and the bar will never hit your knees or shins. Your hips will start higher than in the bottom position of your Squat. It will look like a half Squat. The bar will go up in a vertical line which will feel shorter. Your shins and knees will move back and out of the way of the bar as you straighten your legs to lift the bar. You’ll have more leg power and increase how much you Deadlift.
Knee Pain on Deadlifts Is Knee Pain on Squats
If you lower the bar wrong on Deadlifts, you’ll most likely lower it wrong on Squats too. Bending your knees first and forward to lower your Squats is wrong. It stresses your knees. And it stresses it even more than on Deadlifts because the range of motion is twice as long. Unfortunately there’s no bar to hit your knees during Squats to make you aware you’re lowering the bar wrong.
You must Squat with your stronger hip muscles. Many people have hurt their knees because they only use their quads. Many people blamed knee pain on Squats as a result. Few people will admit (or even realize) bad Squat form is the issue. Because Squats don’t cause knee pain, Squats with bad form do. Proper Squat form is outside the scope of this guide. For more info, read my guide on how to Squat with proper form.
Knee Pain From Knee Caving on Deadlifts
Deadlift with your knees pointing in the same direction as your toes. Setup for Deadlifts with your toes turned out 15-30°. Then pull the weight by pushing your feet through the floor while pushing your knees to the side. Don’t let your knees cave in or you’ll twist the ligaments in your knees. This can result in knee injuries like ACL tears on heavy weights. Pain is your first warning your Deadlift form is off.
If you can’t Deadlift without your knees caving in, push them out harder. If they don’t stay out no matter how hard you try, lower the weight. Don’t push through knee pain from bad form or you may get hurt. Some will tell you to do assistance exercises to strengthen your groin (the adductor muscles). The best way to keep your knees from caving in when you Deadlift is to Deadlift without your knees caving in. Keep it simple.
Knee Pain from Hyper-Extending Knees on Deadlifts
Don’t hyper-extend your knees at the top of your Deadlifts. If your knee bends backwards, you can tear a ligament and injure your knee. Lock your knees at the top of your Deadlifts without taking your knee beyond its normal range of motion. Your legs should be straight but not bent back. You can lift fast to recruit more muscle and increase your Deadlift. But don’t be aggressive with the lockout at the top.
Note that the rep doesn’t count if your hips and knees aren’t locked at the top. And it’s dangerous to hold a heavy weight at the top with unlocked knees. It increases muscle tension but if your muscles are too tired to hold the weight, you can collapse and injure yourself. Let your skeleton carry the weight at the top of your Deadlifts. Finish your Deadlifts by locking your knees so you achieve maximum stability.