Weight, reps, sets, all those can be adjusted, but a non negotiable in the weight room is the form. Bad technique is one of the most common reasons barbell athletes develop knee pain. There is not a one size fits all fix for lack of control of the knee, some cases will be more acute than others, however, regardless of the severity, If the issue is not approached immediately, any amount of technique problems has the ability to create frustrating and lingering knee pain that affects performance.
When the knee is not in alignment with the hip and the foot, there is a force that causes the knee to go out of place, hence increasing and/or producing pain in the area that is very likely to develop in a stopping point for progress and worse, a possible injury.
A very common though when it comes to knee injury is a torn ACL. Knee cave during a barbell squat is not the main cause of such a severe injury, the cave can give room for the development of other conditions. When the knee cap moves and this occurs over a period of time, the rubbing motion will make the kneecap create friction against the femur and can lead to erosion of the cartilage on the lower portion of the bone.
The knee cave can be hidden underneath a regular bodyweight squat, so the best way to clear any doubts about any possible knee cave is to run the knee through some test. First, a good full depth squat requires a good ankle and hip mobility, core/pelvic control, and sufficient balance. If all these check in and nothing seems to be out of place, then the next step is to asset the body unilaterally, in this case, using a single leg squat.
If there is any pain or difficulty while trying to perform this exercise then, more than likely, there is one source of the pain: poor coordination. The question is now, what to do about it? The answer? improving knee stability, through proprioception, in order words, making the body aware of how it moves by making it feel how it moves.
Band work would be the best way to give the body feedback about squat positioning and knee movement. Going from a full squat with a mini band around the knees to push against, all the way to a single leg squat with bad assistance, split squat with band assistance of a single leg squat reach.
There are several ways to address and work on this deficiency that does not seem as a big issue but if left unseen, can have a huge negative impact along the line. Is not only about how big, or strong the muscles are, but more importantly how, which and when muscles are activated through a movement. Force without control and coordination is just wasted energy, and even worse, harmful. Remember, no one escapes poor form, sooner or later, it will show and hit.
Author: Jesus Vincente