Squats and Knee Bend Exercises

Squats and Knee Bend Exercises


Knee Bends vs Squats

One of the simple exercises I suggested you could do in the shower are knee bends or squats.  When I was growing up, those terms were used interchangeably, but these days they have come to mean two different exercises.  Both offer essentially the same benefits to your body and health.  I’ll start with squats and follow up with knee bends.


Body builders do squats with heavy weights on their shoulders, but for baby boomers and seniors, that can be difficult, dangerous and unnecessary.  We’ll discuss doing squats without weights then explain how to intensify the exercise with small barbells.

Why do Squats

Squats will help you:

  • sit and stand easily and comfortably
  • improve flexibility in the hips, lower back and legs
  • pick things up from the floor
  • build muscle in your quadriceps

Proper Form for Squats

Typically squats are done with hands at the sides.  The illustration shows another arm position that you can, and should, use if you are prone to falling.  You may also hold on to a horizontal bar or put your hands near a wall until your balance improves.

Illustration of a SquatProper form for squats requires you to start by standing up straight with knees slightly bent and your arms at your side.  Your feet should be a bit more than shoulder width apart with toes pointed slightly outward.  Then, you simply squat.  Notice five critical things demonstrated in the diagram:

  1. the back is straight, not rounded. A rounded back messes with your spinal column and can be dangerous.
  2. the chest is out
  3. the shoulders are up, not hunched
  4. the head is up
  5. there is a bend at the hips that pushes the butt behind the knees as you squat

When done correctly, your weight will be on your heels.

Some further tips for getting the most from squats:

  • breathe in as you go down and out as you come up,  Exercise requires air and proper breathing will help you get better results.
  • don’t squat too deeply.  The diagram shows squatting to a depth most people can do.  You can start there and see how it goes.  Never go deeper than the point that your thighs are parallel to the ground.  Deeper squats require more flexibility, but if you go beyond parallel with your thighs, you are putting a lot of unnecessary pressure on your knees.

The distance between your feet can change the way this exercise affects your body.  If they are wide apart your hamstrings (back of your thigh) and gluteus maximus (butt) are worked more and if they are closer together, your quadriceps (front of your thigh) are worked more.  Start slightly more than shoulder width apart to balance these effects.  If you have pain and adjusting your foot position relieves that pain, go ahead and adjust.

How Many Squats?

Generally you want to do as many as you can without being unable to stand back up.  It may not be immediately obvious that the next squat is one too many, so don’t push it.  Pay attention to your quadriceps, hamstrings and knees.  A slight burning feeling indicates you are getting good exercise, but if anything hurts, or you feel exhausted,  it’s time to quit and try again tomorrow.

Adding Weights

Most of us have plenty of body weight to gain great benefits from this exercise.  If you can do lots of repetitions to the deepest, safe, point, you may want to add weights.  Start with barbells held in your hands at your sides.  Choose the weight you need to get that slight burn mentioned above. If you don’t already have some barbells to use, I recommend a kit as shown in the photo (click the photo for details). This kit comes with two bars and a variety of weight plates that you can attach to get different weights on the bars. Be sure to start with the lowest weight (5 pounds in each hand with this set) and work up.  There is no need to lift the barbells during this exercise, so just let then hang at your sides.



Knee Bend Exercises

Knee bend exercises have essentially the same benefits as squats with a few advantages for baby boomers and seniors.  This exercise is performed while laying on your back and requires a resistance band.

Why Do Knee Bends

For the same reasons as listed above for squats plus:

  • gain the benefits of squats without the danger of falling
  • gain the benefits of squats with much less pressure on your knees, hips and back
  • Use whatever weight works for you instead of starting with your body weight and adding weights

Proper Form for Knee Bends

This exercise starts with you laying on your back on the floor.  Use a firm exercise mat for comfort.  You will keep your back flat and your head touching the floor during your knee bends.

Knee BendBring your knees up and place the resistance band under your feet so the band goes from one hand under both feet and to the other hand. Start with your knees up with your thighs at almost a 90° angle to the ground.  You should have a handle in each hand.  Your elbows should be on the ground and bent at about 90°.

  • Put your feet shoulder width apart
  • Push your feet out against the resistance of the band.
  • When your legs are fully extended, your heels should be on or a bit off the ground.
  • Keep your toes pulled toward you and pointed upward.
  • Bring your knees slowly back up toward your chest, but don’t let your thighs move beyond perpendicular to the floor.
  • Repeat.

Once you are comfortable doing knee bends with both legs at once and the exercise seems too easy for you, try doing the exercise with one leg at a time.  Keep your free leg still and extended with your heel on the ground.  Use good form with your extensions.

More Tips for Proper Form

  • When done correctly, your feet will move from the starting position above the floor outward and angled toward the floor so you end the extension with your feet a couple of inches above the floor.
  • Do not move your feet up and out – it should be more like out and down.
  • Do not let your feet move laterally, keep them going out and in much like if you were doing a squat.

How Many Knee Bends?

Pay attention to your quadriceps, hamstrings and knees.  A slight burning feeling indicates you are getting good exercise, but if anything hurts, or you feel exhausted,  it’s time to quit and try again tomorrow.  You’ve maxed out the exercise if you feel like you just can’t do another repetition.

Intensifying the Knee Bend Exercise

I recommend resistance band kits like the one show here.  This kit has 5 bands and a pair of handles.  Each band offers a different amount of resistance, so you can start with low resistance and work up.  Once the strongest band becomes too easy for you, you can combine multiple bands on the same handles to get whatever level of resistance you need. Click the photo for more details.


And the Winner Is

Well, there is no winner.  You can do either squats or knee bends.  Obviously knee bends like these wouldn’t work too well in the shower.  They do have some benefits if you have trouble doing squats and have someone to help getting on and off the floor.

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1 Comment

  1. I have never heard of knee bends before. It looks like I would benefit from doing them over squats because there is less pressure on my knees. I will try them today when I get home after work because I have a set of bands at home. Thanks for the tips!

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