Dear Coach: I'm Pregnant and Squatting Hurts My Knees!
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I'm in my third trimester and I want to do lots of squats to prepare for childbirth but I think I have bad knees. It hurts my knees to squat. Is there a different way I can do lots of squatting to still get good results?
No Squats For Me
Dear No Squats For Me,
First of all, congratulations on your pregnancy – you’re in the home stretch now! Before you know it you’ll be holding that baby in your arms.
Until then, take it easy with the squatting. There’s no need to rush it at this point. Trust me, if your feel yourself wanting to squat during labor, it will happen. I’ve worked with several women who have similar knee issues, particularly later in pregnancy when you’re carrying the extra weight. If the pain is mild and only occurs during the squat, you can probably do modified squats. However, remember that you don’t have to do 100 air squats a day at rapid-fire speed to reap the benefits. In fact, I encourage you to start with gentle stretches that will lengthen the muscles in your legs and ease you into squats slowly. Here’s how to do that:
1. Get comfortable. Here are 4 exercises I do to loosen up clients who have a hard time squatting. They also happen to be excellent exercises for pregnancy in general.
- Tailor Sitting: Sit with your feet together and relax. Breathe deeply, close your eyes, and lose track of time. Don’t focus on lowering your knees to the ground; rather, breathe and let your muscles do what they do. Tune into what’s going on with your baby and your body. If you feel your lower back start to round, come out of the stretch and move on.
- Hamstring Stretch: This is different from the usual standing hamstring stretch where you round over to touch your toes. Biomechanist and squatting queen Katy Bowman details it on her blog. Stand with your feet a hip width apart and put your arms straight out in front of you, or extend them to the side if that is more comfortable. Keep your legs straight as you gently hinge forward from the hips. Stop when you feel a stretch in your hamstrings. You might not make it far; that’s fine. Hold for 5 seconds, then release for 10 seconds. Repeat 3 to 5 times.
- Calf Stretch: Stand facing a wall and move into a lunge, with your hands pressed against the wall for support. Straighten your back leg until you feel a gentle stretch in your calf muscle. Don’t stretch to pain. Hold for 5 to 10 seconds, then release and repeat on the other side.
- Side Lying Release: This is a great exercise from the Spinning Babies website. Lie at the edge of a massage table or bed, with your legs stacked on top of each other. Place a table next to the bed so you can support yourself. Flex your feet slightly and keep your legs straight. Keep your hips stacked and do not tip forward. Gently let your top leg hang without shifting your hips. Stay in this position for one minute, then repeat on the other side.
2. Get Support. Do you have a stability ball? I highly recommend you get one to use during these last weeks of your pregnancy. You can do a wall squat with the stability ball to ease you into squats and minimize knee pain. Place the ball between your lower back and a wall. Gently squat down without allowing your knees to bend beyond ninety degrees. Start with 3 – 5 of these each day, and see how your knees feel.
You can also ask your partner to sit in a chair with his knees apart. Stand between his knees, facing away from him, and lean back into a squat while resting your arms over his knees for support. Stay in a shallow squat with the knees less than ninety degrees. During labor, you may find it helpful to do this same exercise in a deeper squat.
3. Adjust Your Feet. If you haven’t been squatting up to this point, chances are you will find it difficult to squat with your feet facing forward. Modify the squat with a gentler version by opening your feet wider and slightly turning out your feet. Squat down without sticking out your butt, keeping your knees in line with your toes. After your pregnancy you can work on moving those feet.
4. Walk Every Day. I know this might not seem related, but walking does a world of good for mastering the squat. If you haven’t been walking throughout your pregnancy, start with 10 – 15 minutes of walking each day, and work up to 30 – 45 minutes.
5. Get Off the Couch/Chair. No wonder people have a hard time squatting with all the hours of desk work we do! If possible, replace your office chair with a stability ball, or make a standing work desk where you can stretch your legs frequently. If that’s not possible, try to take a break every hour to do the stretches above. At home, get off the couch and sit on the floor instead. I like to sit on a rolled up towel and stretch out my legs, or do a mini-stretch routine on my yoga mat during a long movie.
For now, I would avoid deep squatting. This is particularly important if your baby is not positioned in the most favorable position (head down, occiput anterior). Lots of natural movement, gentle stretching, and modified squats will be most beneficial and least risky at this point in your pregnancy.
Most of all, soak in these last weeks! I hope this advice is helpful. Feel free to drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org with any other questions. (And I would love to hear how everything goes – both with the squats and with the baby!)
Coach Nicole Crawford