Out with the Old and in with the New: LET THOSE KNEES GO BEYOND YOUR TOES!
By VIDA Master Trainer
Erik Strouse, MS
Hello VIDA members! The fitness industry is riddled with myths, lies, and bad advice. It is terrifying, at times, to see how bad advice can be when it comes to teaching people safe execution of a lift. It’s terrifying because fitness is more than just looking good. It’s about creating a life of longevity and physical ability to live to your last days with grace. But, some information is simply outdate, and has not yet been spread to the mass majority of people, even though the intent is good. I am here to help change the way you think about squatting with hard evidence that will not only keep the knee healthy, but will also prevent you from a catastrophic injury in the lower back!
The old belief about squatting was that you should never let your knees go beyond your toes in the down position. This is commonly coached because it is believed that it will reduce the stress on the knee joint. In the article, Effect of knee position on hip and knee torques during the barbell squat, published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning, researchers studied the relationship between knee positioning and the total torque forces placed on the hips and knees. Two forms were assessed. The first was the traditional “knees not passing the toes” while the other allowed the knees to go beyond the toes. The distinct difference between the two is that when the knees DO NOT pass over the toes, the angle at the hip joint is more severe than that at the knee, thus causing the shins to be more vertical and the spine to fall at a steeper angle toward the ground (see picture 1). When the knees go beyond the toes, it causes the angles at the hip and knee to be almost identical causing the shins and spine to be parallel to one another (see picture 2)
The general gist of the research found that when the knees DID NOT pass the toes, like traditionally taught, the hips and lower back took far more force than the knees. So, as the common belief goes, the knee joint is actually stressed less when it comes to torque (although this is misleading… but I will save why for the next article). The reason this is actually a bad thing is because the force is TRIPLED at the hips and lower back when compared to knee. When the knees go beyond the toes, the torque forces are identical at the hips and knees. So, if we think about efficiently loading a structure to not encounter catastrophic failure, we want weight to be evenly distributed amongst all of the joints. The most advanced bridges in the world do not overstress one joint to save another, but instead ensure even, efficient distribution of the loads throughout all of the joints. Not allowing your knees to go beyond your toes is a MAJOR problem for the lower lumbar because they take three quarters of the load distribution. When you allow the knees to go over the toes, the spine evenly shares the load with the knee making it more like a well-designed suspension bridge.
The moral of the story is that YOU NEED TO ALLOW YOUR KNEES TO GO BEYOND YOUR TOES so that your shins and spines are parallel! The one caveat to this, however, is that you must have proper range of motion throughout the entire lower and upper body. Otherwise, this will not work like you hope, and you will risk serious injury. Should you have any questions on how to navigate this, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org! I can help you learn the real method behind squatting with good form!!
Fry, A.C., J.C. Smith, and B.K. Schilling. Effect of knee position on hip and knee torques during the barbell squat. J. Strength Cond. Res. 2003. 17(4):629–633.