One of the most controversial topics in fitness is whether you should allow your knees to go over your toes during the squat. Some say that allowing your knees to extend beyond your toes will cause knee pain and injury, while others say preventing your knees from traveling forward is the real problem. Who’s right and what does science say about this topic?
Listen to this podcast to learn the answer, along with my tips on how to squat safely and keep your knees healthy and pain-free!
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3:16 – Why is knees over toes when squatting highly debated?
8:17 – What are some tips to avoid knee pain when squatting?
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Hello, and welcome to Muscle For Life. I’m Mike Matthews. Thank you for joining me today to learn about one of the still most Fu overtops in fitness knees over toes. When you squat, should you never allow that to occur? Some people say that, should you always allow that to occur? Should you make sure that it occurs?
Some people say that, or should you do neither of. Things and do something else while I am going to answer those questions in this episode and give you a detailed science based breakdown of what you should do with your knees in relation to your toes when you squat. But first. One of the easiest ways to increase muscle and strength gain is to eat enough protein and to eat enough high quality protein.
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I remember the debate raging 10 plus years ago when I got into the fitness industry. It continues today. And while the origin of this argument is uncertain, many people believe that the idea that your knees should always stay behind your toes. When you squat stems from a 1974 study published in the international series on sports sciences book series.
Now in that study, the researchers found that the participant whose knees traveled the furthest forward during the. Also experienced the greatest sheer force. So this is force that acts on one part of the body in one direction and another in the opposite direction, on the knee joint. And since sheer forces increased the amount of stress on a joint and can cause painer injury, the researchers concluded that conscientious squatters should prevent their knees from traveling over their toes or maybe one day.
Pay the Piper. Now, of course, that was just one study and it only had 12 participants and there was only data on three of the participants and it did not control how deep the participants squatted. And it did not go into detail about the squat technique, the participants. Used all of the weightlifters in this study were also men.
So we don’t know how including women might have changed the results. And finally, another knock on this study is it only looked at the knee, but the squat involves several joints that have to work together. So if you’re going to give squat recommendations, you’re gonna have to look at how knee travel affects the biomechanics of the squat as a whole, including the other joints, rather.
Only look at the knee. And so my point here is this study is not exactly high quality evidence and most scientists give it the hairy eyeball and rightfully so, and to help make up for some of these deficiencies. I wanna talk about research that was conducted by scientists at the university of Memphis.
So in this study, the participants performed two versions of the back squat. One where their knees could move forward freely. So just unrestricted and then one where a. Board prevented their knees from traveling past their toes. So that was restricted squatting. And the results showed that when participants allowed their knees to move beyond their toes.
So unrestricted squatting, knee torque, which is force acting on the knee joint increased, it went from 117 or about 117 Newton meters on average in the. Did squat to about 150 Newton meters on average in the unrestricted squat. And so that’s a 28 ish percent increase in knee torque when the knees were allowed to move over the toes.
And that might sound bad, but it’s well within the limits of what our knees. Can handle what’s more the people who did not let their knees move beyond their toes, also experienced significantly more stress on the hips, specifically keeping their knees from moving over their toes. Increased stress on their hips from about 28 Newton meters.
In the unrestricted knees over toes squat two about 302 Newton meters in the restricted squat. That is an increase of 979%. And so then what that tells us is by keeping our knees from moving over our toes, we can slightly decrease the amount of stress on our knees, but greatly increase the amount of stress on.
Hips. And this isn’t the only study that has shown that restricting the knees can slightly reduce the amount of stress on the knees, but greatly increase the amount of stress in another joint, in an experiment that was conducted by scientists at the Institute for biomechanics, they found that preventing the knees from moving over the toes, reduced stress on the.
But significantly increased stress on the lower back. So now we have the lower back in addition to the hips. Now I should mention though that the amount of stress on the knees hips and lower back in those studies was still within a healthy, acceptable range and unlikely to cause any problems in and of itself.
But it’s also smart to not. Exercises more difficult than they need to be to not put more stress on your joints than you have to do the exercise with an appropriate amount of weight and with proper form. And so what that means is when you are squatting, it’s best to not think too much about what your knees are doing, how far forward they are coming or not coming.
It’s. To focus on other aspects of your form, get your technique down and let your knees do what they need to do. And so let’s talk a little bit about that. Let’s talk about a few points of squat technique that are particularly relevant. To the knees and avoiding knee pain when we’re squatting. So the first is to keep your entire soul on the floor, because although it is safe for your knees to reach your toes, or maybe even pass your toes when you’re squatting, if you allow them to pitch too far forward, or if you force them forward.
That can lead to injury. Now that’s unlikely to happen though, when you’re squatting, unless you allow your center of gravity to shift forward towards your toes, and that would then cause your heels to feel light or even lift off the floor. So to avoid that you want to establish a stable base when you squat and you want your entire soul of both of your feet to stay planted on the floor and you want your weight to always.
Centered over your midfoot and a good cue that you can use that helps you create this stable base is to think about clawing the floor. So get under the bar and the rack, adjust your feet. So they’re a little bit wider than shoulder width apart. Have your toes pointing out to maybe 30 degrees or so, you know, two o’clock, 10 o’clock, something like that.
And then imagine. Grabbing the floor clawing the floor with your big toes, your pinky toes, your heels, moving them toward the center of your feet. And what that does is it tenses the muscles in your feet and your legs, your lower body that creates that stable, efficient base that will allow you to squat.
Effectively another important tip for knee friendly squatting is to push your knees in the same direction as your toes. There is a term called knee valgus, and this refers to a movement pattern where your knees cave in toward each other when you squat and that can increase your risk of injury and it can impair your performance, even though people tend to do it when the.
Is most difficult when they’re getting out of the hole, because they think that it actually improves performance. They think that it increases their chances of not getting stuck. Well, Negus does not improve performance, even if it feels like that’s what our needs want to do. If we are not paying attention, if we are.
Consciously keeping them in line with our toes. And if we have not done enough reps with proper form to ingrain that position and to avoid the cave in. And if you are currently struggling with this, if your knees currently tend to cave in, or if they do cave in, when you get deeper into a set of squats, that’s always when it happens, when it starts to get real hard.
And if this happens, despite trying to keep your knees in line with your toes, keeping them immobile, what you probably need to do is exaggerate the correction. So instead of just trying to keep them in place, try to spread your legs, try to move your knees outside of your toes. Now don’t actually do that, but use that feeling to just keep them in place.
And that, by the way, is a tip for learning any sort of. Physical movement pattern, any sort of athletic movement pattern when there is something wrong in the technique of say a golf swing or a baseball swing or whatever, it often takes a very exaggerated correction to make any difference at all. At least that’s how it feels.
It often feels like you have to try to do the exact opposite of what you are used. To doing, just to make a difference that is barely noticeable. Maybe you’d even have to be on camera to see it. Anyway, coming back to squatting and avoiding this ne valgus a good cue for preventing that is to think about spreading the floor with your feet.
So as you squat, imagine you are. Spreading the floor apart, you are driving your feet into the ground and away from each other. Your feet are not going to move of course, but it does help you keep your knees where they need to be. Okay. My next tip for knee friendly squatting is to squat as deep as you comfortably.
Can many people say that you have to always go to parallel or below parallel because that’s safer than a shallower squat, because then your hamstrings can contribute more to the exercise. And that takes off some of the stress on the ligaments in your knees. And it also prevents you from using weights that are too heavy for your joints to safely handle.
Not all of those things are wrong. And I am generally an advocate of squatting two parallel, but if we’re talking about the knees research shows that squatting below or above, or two parallel places about the same amount of stress on your knees. And so then the real reason to squat with a larger range of motion is it’s just generally better.
Muscle growth. Your muscles have to work harder when they move through a larger range of motion and they’re loaded more in a stretched position, which is likely better for muscle hypertrophy as well. But if deep squatting, if squatting a parallel or slightly below parallel is uncomfortable or. Painful.
And if squatting slightly shallower than that is not uncomfortable and not painful, don’t feel too bad about cutting your depth short. You are not doing it to make the squat easier or to avoid the hard work of deep squatting. You are doing it because it is not uncomfortable and not. Painful. Now, this is where you probably expect me to say, you should be working on your mobility and your flexibility as well.
So you can squat deeper and that can help some people. If, for example, you don’t have enough mobility in your ankles, or if your hamstrings are too tight, those things can get in the way of squat. However you should know that the anatomy of your hips does affect how deeply you can comfortably and effectively squat.
Now, most people, the vast majority of people should be able to get to a point where they can comfortably do a parallel. Squat. However, some people will never be able to comfortably and effectively perform a deep ASTO grass, squat, simply because of their hips. It doesn’t matter how much stretching they do.
It doesn’t matter how much mobility work they do. It’s simply not in the cards for them. And that’s totally fine. You don’t have to do full squats for any reason, really research shows that they might be a little bit more. For training the glutes. And that’s not surprising because of the additional range of motion, but you can get the same effect.
If we’re talking about bottom line results, you can get the same effect in not just your glutes, but your entire lower body by. Training with the parallel squat. If you can work toward the parallel squat, you don’t have to go deeper than that. I mean, obviously in a parallel squat, you are getting maybe an inch or two below parallel.
If we’re talking about thighs thigh bones and the floor, but that is the parallel squat, right? So if you can work into a parallel squat and most people can, even if they can’t do it comfort, Right now, and you get really strong on that parallel squat you are going to do just fine in growing your glutes and all of your lower body.
Because when you full squat, you can’t lift as much weight. You are not as strong in the full squat as you are in the parallel squat. So what you lose in the range of motion you can make up for in the load. And the parallel squat has plenty of range of motion to make it effective. By the way, if you are wondering what specifically about the hip anatomy impacts squat depth?
Well, it is the depth of the hip sockets people with deeper hip sockets generally are going to have trouble squatting very deeply. Whereas people with shallower, hip sockets generally are gonna find it easier to get really. Well, I hope you liked this episode. I hope you found it helpful. And if you did subscribe to the show, because it makes sure that you don’t miss new episodes.
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