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How to progress in your squats without pain


The squat is a common assessment tool that many coaches will use even before designing a training program for you. It is also one of the most popular exercises in your programming, whether it is for strength, weight loss or rehab from injuries.

Squatting is one of our primal movement patterns that makes up all the activities that we do everyday. If done correctly, squats can actually help to reduce knee pain, build lower body strength, and improve sporting performance. (Bonus – incorporating squats into your workouts also build those strong shapely glutes that nicely fill out a pair of fitted jeans.)

Despite having done it since we are toddlers and its many benefits, a lot of us still have difficulty performing it correctly, without causing knee pain or lower back discomfort. We often see people avoiding this exercise, claiming that it “causes knee pain”, but many times this is actually due to performing the exercise incorrectly.

Squats do not cause knee pain; squats performed incorrectly cause knee pain.

The key to a pain-free and effective squat is to load the hips first and not the knees, but this is sometimes easier said than done! Which is why we have come up with these squat progressions to help you build up to a strong and correctly executed squat. 

What gets loaded first gets loaded maximally.

*** Basic Squat Technique - Start with feet at shoulders-width apart, look ahead, maintain a neutral spine, and sit back into the squat. Keep you core braced and drive your knees out and maintain good toe, knee, and hip alignment.

Squat Progression – 5 Exercise Variations

To squat effectively, we need a good ankle and hip mobility, as well as the ability to keep our body stable through these joints as we progress to a loaded squat. Here are some simple ways to progress your squat effectively:

1. TRX Squat


This allows you to sit back in the squat as it maintains your upper body and is a great way to build your squat depth and confidence.

2. Banded Squat 


This is very similar to the TRX squat. But as the resistance band is stretchable, it is less stable and not as ‘fixed’ as the TRX, requiring you to control the movement and stability of your body slightly more than the TRX.

3. Box squat 


We now need to maintain our torso position, but the box reduces our range of movement and helps us to shift our weight backwards. This is a great way to help build correct knee position and a safe squat depth.

4. Box squat with medicine ball press


As your core gets stronger, you can switch to a lower box that allows you to squat deeper. We now introduce a counterbalance by pressing the ball in front as we shift the hips back. This a great way to maintain stability and an upright torso position as we squat through a greater range of motion.

5. Goblet Squat


This exercise is many coaches’ staple, as the position of the dumbbell or Kettlebell helps maintain core stability and a better center of gravity, which actually makes it feel easier than a bodyweight squat!

Once you are comfortable performing the goblet squat, you can increase the load or progress to a front rack Kettlebell squat, barbell front squat, or barbell back squat.


Our advice would always be to find a qualified coach to assess your movement, mobility, and squat technique so that they can correctly advise on the progressions that you need. But in the meantime, you can give the above 5 squat variations a try!

About the author

Leigh Withers is a Personal Training Manager at UFIT. Since making a career change from financial accounting 11 years ago, Leigh has lived his passion for the fitness industry in the UK, Middle East, Asia and Europe. He’s worked with some of UK’s leading fitness educators, such as Discovery Learning, Fitness Wales, Train Fitness, along with Cardiff Met University.

During his time in the Middle East,  Leigh was part of a ground-breaking project to deliver industry-accredited training qualifications to leading gyms in the UAE.  He played a key role with the Bahrain Military Defence Hospital to provide training and education to their physiotherapists who were leading the country's first Centre of Excellence Obesity Project. He also worked with Bapco and the country’s leading dietician to front Bahrain’s ‘Biggest Loser’ campaign, and presented to hundreds of employees.

Leigh has spent time training with some of the leading figures in the industry, and has recently completed his Certified Physical Preparation Specialist Certification (CPPS) with Joe De Franco and Jim Smith at the Onnit Academy in Austin, Texas.

Turning your passion into a career

How the UFIT Bootcamps Coaching course helped Sophie start a new life in France

 When Sophie Jouan left Singapore in June 2017 to return to Paris after a 20 year stint abroad she had a lot of adjusting to do. “I was so sad to leave my great life in Singapore, I cried when my husband told me about his new job in France and I begged for weeks for us to stay because I didn’t want to leave my great bootcamp life and my SHEFIT friends”. 

Just by looking at Sophie you can see she's right into her fitness and she wondered where she'd find something that would fulfill her as much. "Our house is in a provincial area 50km away from Paris and it gets really cold and there’s no way you could train outside the way we did in Singapore". 

UFIT Bali Chickfitreat 2016

UFIT Bali Chickfitreat 2016

CrossFit Wanderlust workout during UFIT Bali Chickfitreat 

CrossFit Wanderlust workout during UFIT Bali Chickfitreat 

After looking at the local fitness scene she couldn’t find anything she liked as much as UFIT so turned her basement into a gym and started training herself.

Six months before she knew she was leaving Singapore, she did a UFIT Education Bootcamps Coaching course which gave her ACE Accreditation and all she needed to know about session programming, great form, and effective exercises that target all parts of the body. This PhD graduate in political science who had been a trailing spouse and full-time mum was now pursuing the career that she really loved.


While she didn’t know it then, that was going to set her up for her fabulous new business back home and the great new life she didn't think was possible when she left Singapore. 

"I created my own bootcamp sessions based on what I'd learnt from SHEFIT and the UFIT course", and after inviting a neighbour to join her she now has 17 clients just four months later. 

"To be honest, it's changed my life, I’m not depressed anymore! Funnily enough I don’t have a single French client! All the ladies are from the UK, US, Germany, India, Italiy and Brazil.... and they love my English!!! 


Here's a snapshot of Bootcamp@lelys:

  • I started September 2017 doing 3 classes a week
  • I have 17 clients, half come twice a week
  • I do a mix of cardio and strength with a lot of partner work
  • I try to put same energy and creativity as the UFIT team!

"It's a bit different to UFIT as the classes are smaller and have been indoors the last three months, and it's really challenging to create 3 different classes every week but I love it!

The UFIT Bootcamp Coaching course gave me knowledge, confidence and motivation to open my own club! Like UFIT, we are not only Bootcamp partners, we are friends. We enjoy training and drinking! I’m proud to have built a nice group".


"I do the classes with my clients to push them. So I need to be on fire every day!!! And it’s challenging. I train with my clients 3 times a week and 3 times on my own. I really deserve a day off! But I really love it and am so much happier now".

Many of us will remember the ultra fit and fabulous Sophie with her charming French accent and great laugh was a frequent UFIT Bootcamper who trained with our SheFit community in the Botanic Gardens, Sentosa Cove and the Beach six times per week, and also did Spartan races and the Bali Chickfitreat with her UFIT friends.

If you've ever in the Chantilly region of France and need a friendly dose of UFIT whilst you're there - now you know that Bootcamps@Lelys is the place to go! 


 If you're a well-qualified, experienced fitness coach living UFIT's values and would like to set up a UFIT Bootcamps franchise overseas with us, send us an email to find out more.