Squatting is a functional move – helping you do the activities of daily living, such as getting pots out of a bottom cabinet or picking up shoes off the floor. Squatting also helps build strength in the legs and hips, and stronger muscles mean more stable joints. But if you don’t squat correctly, it can be painful to sore knees. Too many people compensate for sore knees by bending over at the waist, which can lead to a sore back, says Cynthia Harrell, physical therapist and clinical coordinator of the arthritis and osteoporosis programs at the Duke Center for Living at Duke University in Durham, N.C. You need to know the right way to squat.

When you go to reach into a low cabinet, Harrell says, hold onto the countertop and “sit” down, using the muscles in your arms and buttocks for lowering and pulling yourself up. If squatting this way is still painful, place a chair in front of the cabinet. “Reaching to the floor from a seated position is much less stressful on the knees,” says Harrell.

Wall Squats Build Strength

The ability to squat correctly without pain can be improved by doing these “wall squat” exercises. Start with 10 of them three times per week, says Harrell.

Stop at the point where you feel muscle pain, but continue to perform the exercise regularly, so that the non-painful range will increase as thigh and core muscles become stronger. “If done correctly, squatting is well tolerated by people with osteoarthritis of the knees,” says Harrell.

1. Stand with back against a wall, feet shoulder-width apart, heels 18 inches away from wall. Keep knees in line with heels, not out in front of toes.

2. Breathe in and exhale as you squat by “sitting down” as far as you can go comfortably, without dropping buttocks lower than knees and keeping knees in line with heels.

3. Tighten abdominal muscles and flatten back against wall, or place a ball behind your back to keep you from moving too far forward. Inhale as you return to standing position, pushing up through heels (not off the balls of the feet) and working the muscles in the back of your legs and buttocks.

Go easy on your knees the next time you need to pick something up – remember the right way to squat.