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Squatting places a lot of stress on the knee joint.
Some people may experience knee pain because of squatting too heavy/frequently, a lack of technique, or improper equipment.
One of the ways you can address knee pain while squatting is by using squat shoes that place your foot and ankle in an advantageous position.
The Adidas Men’s Powerlift 4 Weightlifting Shoes are the best squat shoes for knee pain. It is one of the few shoes that come with a heel raise of about 0.6 inches. When you have knee pain, you want a small heel height (less than 1-inch) because it will shift the loading demands from your knees to your hips. The Powerlift 4 shoe also has a durable construction and design to improve your stance and stability while squatting.
Top 5 Squat Shoes for Knee Pain Available on the Market
There is a range of reasons why you might get knee pain while squatting. Before continuing, you will want to seek medical advice to find out exactly why you’re experiencing knee pain in the first place.
With that said, proper shoes can help alleviate or mitigate knee pain while squatting.
The top 5 best squat shoes for knee pain are:
- Adidas Men’s Powerlift 4 Weightlifting Shoe
- Reebok Men’s Legacylifter Cross Trainer
- Converse Chuck Taylor High Top Sneakers
- Adidas HVC Wrestling Shoes
- INOV-8 Lifting Men’s Fastlift 400 BOA
1. Adidas Men’s Powerlift 4 Weightlifting Shoe – Best Overall #1 Pick
Starting the list with one of the best overall shoes for squatting. I like that the Adidas Powerlift 4 is made with quality materials and designed to have a relatively low heel for better hip contribution and reduced knee pain.
The shoe is the updated version of the iconic Powerlift 3.1. It has a 0.6-inch heel raise, which lies in the sweet spot that balances between reduced dorsiflexion and reduced knee pain.
The heel is also made of solid high-density EVA foam to give you the stability and support you need while lifting.
The rubber outsoles are durable and resist slipping for extra anchoring to the floor while squatting.
The canvas constitution of the shoe gives it both the durability and breathability needed to be worn for a long time.
Moreover, the shoe is available in a wide variety of sizes and color options, so you can choose the one that fits your lifting gear nicely.
- Ultra-durable shoes that last for years to come
- Excellent heel height for balancing the benefits of squat shoes and minimize knee pain
- Available in a variety of colors
- Not ideal for other forms of exercise
2. Reebok Men’s Legacylifter Cross Trainer – Runner Up
The runner up for the best squat shoes for knee pain has a bit higher heel raise. However, it’s also an excellent choice if you have a wide profile and looking for a shoe that can give you the toe freedom for stability and anchoring on squats.
The Reebok Legacylifter Cross Trainer comes with a heel raise of about 0.75 inches, which isn’t as low as the Powerlift 4.
Yet, it’s still low enough to allow the hip flexors (the glutes) to contribute more to your squats.
The heel is made of non-compressible yet ultra-lightweight thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU) for improved performance.
The rest of the sole is also synthetic. However, the bottom frame is durable enough to handle heavier weights efficiently.
The upper is made of both breathable mesh and perforated synthetic leather, which combines elegance with functionality. The main drawback of this shoe is its premium price tag, which isn’t great for a highly exclusive training shoe.
- TPU heel is super solid and lightweight
- Double upper straps for added security
- Various colors and heel finishes
- A bit expensive
3. Converse Chuck Taylor High Top Sneakers – Best Flat Sole
If you squat on a wide stance where your legs are wider than your shoulder, you’re better off with a very low heel to flat sole. In that case, the iconic Converse Chuck Taylor Sneakers are the best option for you.
Chuck Taylors have been used as weightlifting shoes for decades now with some powerlifters swear that they’re better than any other shoes for that task.
The best thing about Chuck Taylors is that they’re available in an extremely wide range of styles and finishes while staying relatively affordable for any budget.
Personally, I prefer the high top sneakers for that task because they can also add to the ankle stability on squatting, despite not being much.
The high-pressure rubber used in the flat-soled shoes also ensures that they’ll keep your feet stabilized even if you’re lifting heavy weights on your squats.
Another nice thing about Chuck Taylors is that they’re always good shoes to wear casually, which counts as extra bang for your buck.
If you’re interested, you can read my article on why powerlifters prefer to wear converse shoes.
- Ideal for buyers on a budget
- Perfect for wider stances and low bar squats
- Solid and slip-resisting flat soles
- Lacks strap security
4. Adidas HVC Wrestling Shoes – Most Versatile
You might be wondering whether a wrestling shoe is good for such a job. Surprisingly, the design of wrestling shoes with low heels makes them great for squats and deadlifts too!
The Adidas HVC Wrestling Shoes lower the solid soles needed for stability while doing squats. Additionally, they provide you with good ankle mobility, especially if you do low bar squats.
Another great thing about this highly versatile shoe is that it comes at a surprisingly affordable price despite being extremely durable and well made.
Despite having an attractive finish, the color options are limited to the black and white variety only, which is a bit disappointing.
- Can be used for squats, deadlifts, and wrestling
- Excellent balance between ankle support and mobility
- Surprisingly durable for its price
- Limited color options
5. INOV-8 Lifting Men’s Fastlift 400 BOA – Most Comfortable
Last, if you want a squat shoe that reduces the load on your knees without compromising on the comfort quality, consider this shoe from Inov-8.
The underrated Fastlift 400 has a heel raise of about 0.65 inches, which is low enough to shift the load from your quads to your glutes while squatting, easing off the knee pain.
However, it’s also designed to be extremely flexible and comfortable with extra toes space, which allows for a stronger toe grip whenever you need.
The upper is made of a breathable mesh fabric and velcro straps to give your midfoot a snug fit for added comfort.
The stability of the shoes also comes from the external heel cage design of the non-compressible TPU frame that surrounds the heel area.
As for the outsoles, they’re made of synthetic rubber, which is good enough to resist slipping although they could’ve adjusted the pattern better for an even better grip to the floor.
It’s a good investment because you can also use it for other weightlifting purposes. However, I wouldn’t recommend it for extremely heavy weight lifts.
- Lightweight design with solid heel cage for stability
- Super comfortable with flexible upper and adjustable straps
- Low heel raise for reduced knee pain
- Lacks a good gripping pattern on its rubber outsoles.
Knee Pain Conditions When Squatting
There are various conditions that can cause knee pain. To understand how to deal with them, you should know what they are and what causes them.
The Most Common Condition – Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome
The most common condition while having knee pain is patellofemoral pain syndrome. People suffering from Patellofemoral syndrome will frequently feel pain at the front of the knee. The pain might also shift to the kneecap (the patella) while squatting hence the name.
It’s also known as ”runner’s” or” jumper’s” knee. The most common reason for it is joint overload while doing certain sports.
The pain is typically felt in the front of the knee and it affects the depth of your squat extensively. Although the condition is more common among females than males, it’s still common among both sexes.
According to one research, patients with patellofemoral pain have a higher degree of knee valgus angle while performing squats as well.
Related article: Knee Pain When Squatting: What To Do & How To Prevent
In addition to the runner’s knee, there are other conditions that might cause knee pain while you’re squatting. These conditions include:
- Osteoarthritis: another common reason for knee pain, although it’s more common among seniors than young adults. It causes swelling and general weakness of the knees, with popping noises while moving the knees.
- Patellar tendonitis: this one is an inflammation in the tendons of the kneecap. It causes a burning sensation with swelling in addition to the dull pain.
- Bacterial inflammation: less common but also a reason for the knee pain is bacterial infection of the region. It’s characterized by swollen, reddish, and warm knees with rare fever and dietary disturbances.
Proper Diagnosis Is Key
In addition to these reasons, there might be other genetic and medical reasons for any knee pain you might have.
That’s why you must always get a proper diagnosis and seek medical advice before squatting if you have knee pain, especially if you lift a lot of weights on your squats.
How to Deal With Squats If You Have Knee Pain?
Ideally, when you’re squatting, you’re recruiting various muscle groups, mainly the quads, the hamstrings, and the glutes.
The quads are the knee extensor muscles in your body while the glutes are the hip extensors ones.
By moving your knees forward while squatting, you’re using the knees extensors (the quads) more, which isn’t bad in any way while squatting normally. After all, it’s the right way to squat for most people.
However, for someone who’s suffering from some kind of knee pain like patellofemoral syndrome, you should want your knees to contribute less and focus your load and movement on your hips by engaging the glutes.
To load up the glutes more and load the quads less, you should try to keep your shins slightly more vertical rather than pushing your knees forward.
In that case, you’ll look more like you’re just “sitting back” more into the bottom of the squat, keeping your knees at a right angle as much as possible.
Achieving this shift in load is always much easier if your heels less angle and closer to the base of your shoes.
While most regular squat shoes have a high heel of about 1 inch, reducing this heel height to about 0.5 to 0.75 inches might actually help in recruiting more glutes in the squat.
Wearing squat or weightlifting shoes with such smaller heels will help you maintain this technique much easier.
Is It Better To Squat In Heels or Flats If You Have Knee Pain?
Choosing between heels or flats depends on many factors. Let’s have a brief overview of each one of them, so you can pick the one that suits you the most.
Bar Position Matters
By correcting your heel height and correcting the pressure of your feet against the floor, you’ll get a more efficient and stable squat performance.
However, choosing between lower heels or fully flat soles depends on the technique used while squatting.
In fact, some people might even find it ideal to squat in a completely flat-soled shoe with no heel at all.
Ankle vs. Knee Mobility
You’d be lucky to be able to achieve high dorsiflexion naturally. However, even if you can’t, you can still use a shoe with a raised heel.
Heeled shoes can change your squat kinematics, utilizing more knees, so you can reach a deeper squat.
The problem is, with knee pain, you can’t squat comfortably with 1-inch heels. So, by reducing the heel raise to around 0.75 inches, you’ll achieve the deepest squat possible without overloading your knees.
Yet, you can always train your ankles for further mobility, which can give you similar results without the heel raise.
If you’re squatting wider than your shoulder width, using a flat shoe is better for your technique. It’ll improve your feet support and anchorage while your hips are already open and your back is naturally stronger in that stance.
On the flip side, narrow squats close your hips, which drives you to lean forward. Wearing heeled shoes, in that case, will be better for your technique.
The Benefits of Having Proper Squat Shoes With Knee Pain?
Investing in good squat shoes is essential in general, but it becomes more critical if you have knee pain.
Get You in a Power Position
As you know, a proper squat shoe is designed to get you in the right position easily. When you’re suffering from knee pain, you’ll want to compensate for your power loss by mustering all the power you have while squatting to ease the load on your knees.
A good squat shoe will help you get in that position much easier and maintain the right technique while squatting with weights as well.
Also, since dedicated squat shoes have raised heels, getting the ideal heel height for you will help you shift the painful load off your knees
Solid Reliable Base for Stability
If you’re wearing regular shoes or general workout shoes for squats, it might not have the sole and ankle support quality needed for squats.
On the other hand, squad shoes give you a solid base for both stance stability as well as ankle support.
Specifically Designed for This Role
To put it in the simplest way possible, squat shoes are designed with the squat position in mind.
For example, some shoes are designed with cushioning and support in the area where you shouldn’t have padding. Comfort is essential but it’s not everything when you’re squatting with weights.
Prevent Further Injuries
In addition to having more power, a squat shoe will lock you in position while giving you the freedom to do the right moves. This will help you avoid worsening your injuries.
Related article: How to Avoid a Powerlifting Injury (Complete Guide)
What To Look For In a Squat Shoe When You Have Knee Pain
While shopping for a squat shoe, there are some aspects that you need to consider, especially when you have knee pain.
Let’s have a quick look at these points, so you can pinpoint the one that appeals to your needs the most.
Squat shoes come in a variety of heel heights, ranging from as low as flat weightlifting shoes level all the way to 1-inch heels.
For knee pain, consider a balanced range of 0.5 to 0.75 inches if you want a heel raise for stability, especially for wider stances. This gives you more hip contribution while reducing dorsiflexion.
The soles on weightlifting and squatting shoes, in general, should be solid and stiff. Non-compressible soles give you a stable platform to stand on for stability and support.
Avoid heavily padded shoes with cushions like running shoes for squatting.
Toe Box Width
If you have wide feet, squatting shoes with wide toe boxes are your way to go. Not only will they be more comfortable for you, but they’ll also improve your squatting mechanics.
This happens because they give your feet the maximum space for gripping on the floor while squatting.
Check out my comparison of the Adidas Adipower 2 vs Powerlift 4.
With that said, if you’re suffering from knee pain, you should typically give the hip extensors a bigger share of the load than the knee extensors while squatting.
Squatting shoes have higher heels to reduce dorsiflexion while squatting. By opting for ones with a smaller rise in heels, you’ll be able to do deeper squats while reducing that load on the knee.
If you’re looking for the best squat shoes for knee pain, I recommend that you go for Adidas Men’s Powerlift 4.
However, if you’re looking for a completely flat shoe for squatting on a low bar position or a wider stance, consider the Converse Chuck Taylor High Top Sneakers.