Squats are a popular exercise for leg strengthening and building a nice booty. However, squats aren't without their risks. Groin injury, such as sports hernia, muscle strain and hip impingement, can be caused or be exacerbated by strain put on the lower abdominal muscles and inner thigh muscles during heavy squats. It can also occur with improper form or overtraining.
Consider Athletic Pubalgia
One type of injury that can cause groin pain with squats is athletic pubalgia — also known as a "sports hernia." According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, this injury most often affects lower abdominal muscles as well as tendons of the adductor muscles on the inside of your thighs.
Although a sports hernia most commonly occurs with sports that include "plant and twist" movements (think soccer, football, ice hockey), the lower abs and adductor muscles are actively stabilizing your trunk and pelvis when you squat. Squats put these vulnerable muscles under a significant amount of tension as they contract to help keep your back in a safe position.
In addition to squats, groin pain from athletic pubalgia often occurs with situps, coughing or sneezing and typically does not cause pain at rest.
Adductor Pain With Squats
Although squats primarily target your quads, hamstrings and gluteus muscles, one of the adductor muscles, called the adductor magnus, assists with hip extension — the movement that occurs as you stand up from the bottom of a squat. As a group, the adductor muscles also stabilize your legs and pelvis in a standing position.
Groin pain can occur from a pulled adductor — one of a group of large muscles on the inner thigh that attach to your pubic bone and upper thigh. According to a study published in 2017 by Saudi Journal of Sports Medicine, risk factors for a pulled adductor muscle include core muscle weakness and adductor muscle tightness, which can both be problematic with squats. Weakness in the adductor muscles can also contribute to groin pain, according to a 2018 study published by Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy.
Hip Flexor Pathology
Groin pain can occur from injury to the hip flexors — muscles that bend your hips — or tightness in these structures. According to a 2015 study published by the Journal of Human Kinetics, the rectus femoris muscle, which both flexes the hip and extends the knee joint, is an important stabilizing muscle during deep squats. In addition to tightness, weakness of this muscle can also lead to squat injuries.
Pain From Impingement
Femoroacetabular impingement (FAI) can cause groin pain from squats. The hip is a ball and socket joint, and FAI develops when either the ball or socket — or sometimes both — are misshapen. As the University of Orthopaedic Surgeons put it, it's like trying to fit a "square peg into a round hole."
Continuing to squat with pain from FAI causes more joint damage. Cartilage and other structures begin to wear down, ultimately leading to bone rubbing against bone. Oral or injectable steroid medications might temporarily reduce your pain, but the only real "fix" once this occurs is a hip joint replacement.
Use Proper Form
The best way to help prevent groin pain from squats is to use proper form. Master the air squat, or unweighted squat, before adding weight from a barbell or kettlebell.
HOW TO DO IT: Stand with your feet slightly wider than hip-width apart. Turn your toes out slightly. Keeping your weight in your heels, push your booty back and hinge forward at your hips as if you are getting ready to sit down on a chair.
Keeping your chest up, squat down as far as you can, or until your hips are lower than your knees. Push your knees apart as you lower down, pause for one or two seconds at the bottom, then push through your heels and stand back up.
Only squat as low as you can while maintaining good form — otherwise you risk additional injury to your legs or back.
Squats to Avoid
Certain types of squats can put you at higher risk of groin pain. Sumo squats are performed in a wide stance, placing a significant amount of stretch on your adductor muscles along your inner thighs.
Split squats can also increase groin pain. Performed in a lunge position, these squats increase the amount of stretch and strain on your hip muscles near your groin.
Avoid turning your feet further outward, such as during a plie squat, until your pain has resolved. This position recruits the inner thigh muscles to help you squat which can lead to increased groin pain.
Stretch Your Groin
Stretching tight groin muscles can help improve squat technique and help prevent pain. The wide-legged forward fold stretches the adductors on your inner thighs.
HOW TO DO IT: Sit on a firm surface with your legs straight. Spread your legs apart as far as possible. Slowly hinge forward at your hips, keeping your lower back flat. Stop when you feel a strong pull along your inner thighs, but no pain.
Hold for 20 to 30 seconds, then relax. Repeat three times.
Improve Hip Flexibility
Stretch your hip flexors to help reduce groin pain from squats.
HOW TO DO IT: Stand with your feet staggered approximately 2 feet apart. Bend both knees until your back knee is resting on the ground. Shift your weight forward over your front leg until you feel a stretch in the front of your back thigh and hip.
Keep your chest up throughout this stretch. Hold for 20 to 30 seconds, then relax. Repeat three times on each leg.
Seek Outside Input
If you continue to have groin pain from squats, consider consulting a personal trainer to check your form. Additionally, you might need advice on a proper workout routine to avoid overtraining.
To help prevent further injury, consult a physical therapist to help determine the underlying cause of your groin pain from squats.
- Saudi Journal of Sports Medicine: Assessment and Management of Adductor Strain
- Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy: Clinical Examination, Diagnostic Imaging, and Testing of Athletes With Groin Pain: An Evidence-Based Approach to Effective Management
- Strength & Conditioning Journal: The Back Squat: A Proposed Assessment of Functional Deficits and Technical Factors That Limit Performance
- American Physical Therapy Association: Physical Therapist's Guide to Core Muscle Injury (Sports Hernia)
- StatPearls: Adductor Strain
- Journal of Human Kinetics: Lower Extremity Strength and the Range of Motion in Relation to Squat Depth
- University of Orthopaedic Surgeons: Femoroacetabluar Impingement (FAI)