Squatting with poor form is a chief offender in knee, hip, and back pain. A very common issue occurs when there is inadequate control of the pelvis, allowing the spine to move out of neutral position and placing increased pressure on the front of the knees. In these instances the movement becomes “quad dominant”, meaning that the quadriceps carry the majority of the load as opposed to using other hip muscles.
Correcting this common movement fault requires some patience and practice, but can prevent some serious injuries and will improve overall performance. The key areas to focus on are maintaining a neutral spine, keeping weight in your heels, and performing activities that increase gluteal activation. Maintaining both of these during a squatting motion will result in eccentric quadriceps activity, decreasing pressure on your knees and freeing up the back. For ideas about how to do this, check out these recommendations.
Although this article focuses on squats in the gym, these same concepts can and should be applied to the squatting done at work and at home. This includes things like lifting boxes off the floor, getting up and down off of the floor, reaching for low shelves, and working in the garden. Even reaching down to tie your shoes provides an opportunity to re-train this movement pattern.