Don’t Let Deadlifts Destroy Your Knees: Tips For Pain-Free Deadlifts

Spread the love

Last updated on March 15th, 2023 at 01:49 pm

You would think that as deadlifts are a hip-hinge movement they wouldn’t have much impact on your knees.

In fact, knee pain is more commonly associated with poor form when you squat.

However, deadlifts can cause knee issues due to the following reasons.

The main reason that your knees hurt after deadlifts is due to poor movement patterns caused by muscle weaknesses. If your hips are weak, the knees typically twist inwards causing excessive stress on the knee joints. Plus, if your adductors are relatively weak compared to the quads and hamstrings, the knees will tend to turn inwards once more.

Work Out Your “Weak Spot” in the Deadlift

A Man Straining Himself to Lift a Heavy Deadlift

The number one reason your knees hurt after you deadlift is due to incorrect movement patterns.

More often than not, this is caused by certain weaknesses in the muscles.

The most common “weak spot” will be the hips.

The deadlift is obviously a hip-hinge exercise.

Therefore, it does require a snap of the hips during the movement.

I would hazard a guess that the sumo deadlift is the lift that causes the most problems with knee pain.

Although, I’m sure you may have experienced sore knees with just about every variation.

Basically, if the hips aren’t strong enough when performing any deadlift variation, the knees have a tendency to rotate inwards.

Now, the knees are a different type of joint to the hips and the ankles.

The hips and ankles are quite happy twisting in all directions, whereas the knee joint likes to hinge back-and-forth.

Any hint of side-to-side movement and you’ll place excessive strain on the ligaments and tendons.

The Adductors Could Be Your Weak Spot

I’ve spoken previously about adductor weakness, especially when we squat.

In fact, often what is mistaken for sore hamstrings after squats is actually the adductors.

Yet again, the knees have a tendency to collapse inwards during the deadlift if you have weak adductors.

I guess when it comes to leg exercises we all typically have a heavy concentration on the quads, glutes, and hamstrings.

However, during various leg exercises the adductors are actually stimulated far more than the other muscles.

I guess you could add the hip flexors to the list of “neglected muscles” when working the legs.

So, it makes perfect sense to work on and strengthen these muscles in their own right.

Reduce the Amount of Weight You’re Lifting

This should be fairly obvious if you’re experiencing knee pain with deadlifts, but I’ll say it anyway:

Reduce the weight on your deadlifts.

If you’re struggling with proper technique due to muscle weaknesses, it’s not going to get any better if you carry on the same vein.

So, I would recommend putting your ego in check, taking a plate (or two) off the bar, and honing in on perfect technique.

If you do have a weakness in the hips or adductors, you can still strengthen these areas with lighter deadlifts.

In fact, you’ll probably find that as you’re using better form your weak points will soon catch up.

I think we all have a tendency to try to lift too much weight, while not many people tend to deadlift with light weight for high reps.

Okay, yes the name of the game is progressive overload.

However, this should only be adhered to if your technique remains intact.

So, fix your form, and it’s likely your knee pain will be a thing of the past.

Change Your Foot Position

I once heard a saying about foot position when it comes to deadlifts and it’s stuck with me ever since:

“Place your feet closer together than you think you should and have them turned out slightly more than you think you’ll be comfortable with”.

So, let’s break this down a little.

Your feet should definitely be in a different position during a hip-hinge exercise when compared to a squat.

When it comes to the barbell back squat you’ll typically have your feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart and turned out to 15-30 degree angle.

However, when it comes to the conventional deadlift your feet should generally be less than shoulder-width apart.

With that being said, most of us tend to have our feet pointing straight ahead.

But, this can actually cause the knee to turn outwards when you deadlift.

So, you should have the feet ever so slightly turned outwards.

And I do mean “slightly”, definitely not as far as with the squat, but more like a 5 degree angle.

Additionally, the starting position of the bar in relation to your feet is extremely important.

The bar should line up with the middle of the feet.

Too far forward and you’ll require excessive knee bend to get to the bar.

Plus, this also puts a huge amount of stress on the lower back.

Too close to the shins and your knee pain from deadlifts is likely to be caused by the bar banging against the knees.

So, aim for that “sweet spot” and you’ll take a great deal of stress off the knees and the lower back.

Control the Descent of the Bar During Deadlifts

A Person Performing a Deadlift

Okay, I’ll admit if you’re going for your one-rep max things may be a little different.

However, most of us tend to deadlift in the 3-5 rep range (and some of you rebels may even go as high as 8-10 reps).

With this being the case, I believe it’s far more important to control the descent.

As I say, if you’re hitting your one-rep max then the likelihood is that you’re going to drop the bar to the floor.

But, things change a lot in terms of technique when you’re going for reps.

You’ll often see people put everything into lifting the weight from the floor followed by a rapid descent over which they have no control.

In effect, they ARE dropping the weight, but with their hands still attached to the bar.

I cannot begin to tell you how many issues this can cause.

This fast “drop” of the bar (while you’re still attached to it) puts a huge amount of strain and force onto the ligaments and tendons of the knee.

Furthermore, it increases what are known as the compression forces.

I think the best way to describe this is that your knees typically act like shock absorbers with heavy squatting and pulling.

So, it’s best not to add to the “shock” further.

I will also add that allowing the bar to drop too fast and with no control will also have a negative impact on various other joints.

And let’s not forget the lower back too.

So, if you are performing deadlifts for reps, please lower the bar under complete control.

Key Learning Points

  • The sumo deadlift is most likely to cause knee pain due to the more upright torso position (more quad-dominant). However, any deadlift variation can still cause knee issues.
  • Weak hips can cause the knees to rotate inwards when you deadlift.
  • Weak adductors can also lead to the knees collapsing inwards.
  • Reduce the weight and perfect your form if deadlifts cause you problems with your knees.
  • The greatest deadlift quote about foot position, “Place your feet closer together than you think you should and have them turned out slightly more than you think you’ll be comfortable with”.
  • Make sure the barbell isn’t too far in front of you and not too close to your shins. The bar should be lined up with the middle of your foot.
  • Not controlling the descent places a lot of stress on the tendons and ligaments. When deadlifting for reps always lower the bar in a controlled manner, as opposed to dropping it.

Next, discover more about lat soreness during deadlifts – should you be feeling your lats or not?

Leave a Comment