Whether you’re a seasoned marathoner or a novice weightlifter, you’ve likely heard concern that your workout will damage your knees. But these complex joints aren’t as fragile as you (or your mother or coworkers) may believe, and the truth is, to build strong knees, you have to use them.

Here, we asked the experts to break down some of the common myths when it comes to the health of your knees—and suggest what to focus on instead.

Stop Overthinking the Squat

As a child, you likely moved through the world without stressing about your form. You simply popped into a squat. But as an adult, you may sink into that same position cautiously, afraid of letting your knees go past your toes. That’s not necessarily the way to build stronger knees.

While you shouldn’t force your body into a squat, if it’s comfortable to let your knees extend beyond your toes, that’s perfectly OK, says Kate Forman, a certified personal trainer and yoga instructor. Still skeptical? Forman says to think about what a yoga squat looks like. In this position, your knees go beyond your ankles. Without letting them do this, you wouldn’t be able to sit low. The same idea applies for gaining depth while strength training.

Howard Luks, MD, an orthopedic sports medicine surgeon, agrees. “You can squat your knees over your toes all you want,” he says. Rather than focusing on the position of your knees, he suggests thinking about the basic mechanics of the exercise, such as keeping your core engaged and back neutral. (Nailing this motion will help you perform everyday tasks, such as picking things up off the ground or going from a seated to a standing position, even as you age.)

Why You Should (Sometimes) Push Through the Pain

If you’ve ever experienced a serious sports injury, you can likely recall the moment in vivid detail. The noise of the rip or tear (and your subsequent reaction) may even continue to haunt you. But most sports-related aches and pain aren’t those dramatic falling-to-the-ground moments, and shouldn’t be treated as such. Skipping your run in the name of preserving your long-term joint health isn’t always the answer.

For example, you may notice some swelling or pain in your knee after running, lifting, or cycling. Dr. Luks says this type of pain isn’t the beginning of the end, as many tend to assume. Sure, something annoyed your knee, but that’s the natural response of the joint. “Pain is not always a protection mechanism,” he says. “It’s not always meant to imply that you’re going to harm yourself if you push past it.”

The majority of these types of swelling issues aren’t because of a mechanical issue in your joints, he says, but rather mild arthritis. So, instead of telling you to hit the couch, Dr. Luks prefers to work through any potential discomfort by managing your exercise dose. For example, if you’re clocking five-mile runs at a 8-minute pace, consider scaling back to three-mile jogs at a 10-minute pace. On the other hand, stopping the workout regimen entirely can make the problem worse.

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