Should you let your knees go beyond your toes when squatting or not? Well, you heard it a million times: “Never let your knee go beyond your toes”, but actually it is a myth and it has been debunked. It comes from a misinterpreted study (see 2003 by Fry et. al. ) and quickly spread in the fitness world. So many people, including professionals still get this wrong. I want to show you what is the truth and how should you squat to avoid any injuries. Especially, if you have knee pains, you should keep reading.
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The truth is, you should almost always let your knees go beyond your toes. Firstly, when they tell you that your knee shouldn't travel forward, it’s likely what they really mean is that your knee shouldn't collapse inward or outward when you are squatting. Inward collapse of the knee is closely linked to ACL injuries, and you don't want to have that. I had ACL injuries. The recovery process is hard and long. You want to avoid it at all costs.
Second, it is true when you stop your knee to go forward, you reduce the knee torque, the twisting force, by 22%. While it is true that the anterior stress of your knee is reduced when you stop your knee from going forward, it is also shown that it's actually just putting more stress on your lower back and hips. While your knee can handle the stress, your lower back might not. So, it's potentially a more dangerous method of squatting.
When, how, and how much?
Here are some other factors what play a role when, how, and how much you should let your knee travel forward. So, one of them is the flexibility factor. For example, when you go down to do the squat, note that not everybody has the flexibility to move the Tibia forward because they have a tight calf or Achilles tendon and they cannot do the dorsiflexion.
Now, here's the second one. You have to do the knee forward movement at the lower part of the movement. So, first, you want to allow your glutes to participate. You engage the glutes by putting your hips back and then you squat down. Only in the middle-lower part of the movement when you have start moving your knees forward. You can see the wrong timing in my “what NOT to do” example of the "Sissy" squat - which is very dangerous and I will definitely avoid it. When you do the “Sissy” squat, you put your knees first forward, and then you're going down to squat. This is not good, forget about it.
Finally, it's very important that not all squats are made the same. For example, if you do lunges, yes, your knees shouldn't go past your toes. What is important is that you cannot expect someone to do the exact same amount of knee forward movement when they are doing different squats. For example, the front squat. When you have the barbell or dumbbells at the front, you can do more knee forward movement. When you do high bar squat, then you have to do less, and when you do box squat, then you have to do minimal forward movement.
Now, you know how to squat properly and what to watch out. So, yes, your knee CAN go and should most of the times go beyond your toes. There are very specific occasions when it shouldn't go (when you have specific injuries) but even in those cases, the restriction is for temporary period only. Go ahead, try it, and let me know how did it go.
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