View Poll Results: How do you teach the squat?

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  • The knees should not pass over the toes.

    35 23.18%
  • The knees can pass over the toes if the hip are used as well. Heels should remain on the ground.

    75 49.67%
  • Some people can squat minimizing the knees going over the toes, while others cannot.

    29 19.21%
  • I'm not sure what I should do with clients.

    12 7.95%
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  1. #1
    Registered User SFT's Avatar
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    Knees over the toes in the squat - fact or fiction?

    I would like to see the general consensus around here for squat form. I have my own opinion on the matter.

    There seems to still be quite a bit of debate over this.
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  2. #2
    Registered User ericmackcarter's Avatar
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    Vote the second option. Who is debating this (srs, not sarcastic)? There are obviously various factors per individual.
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  3. #3
    Registered User SFT's Avatar
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    Originally Posted by ericmackcarter View Post
    Vote the second option. Who is debating this (srs, not sarcastic)? There are obviously various factors per individual.
    I know quite a few people who teach athletes that the knees should not pass over the toes. Quite a few of them are sports coaches that seem to be getting their information from websites. Others are strength coaches with powerlifting influences. Looking forward to hearing from others.
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    Registered User TrimLines's Avatar
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    There is no debate over this its simply ignorance
    Some broscientist came up with the idea of knees and toes and the bros listened and so it shall be written so it shall be done. Its almost as bad a myth as high reps to get ripped but lets not even go there.
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  5. #5
    Registered User TAK000's Avatar
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    Originally Posted by SFT View Post
    I know quite a few people who teach athletes that the knees should not pass over the toes. Quite a few of them are sports coaches that seem to be getting their information from websites. Others are strength coaches with powerlifting influences. Looking forward to hearing from others.
    from a strength coaches point of view they have to look at the entire team as a whole. What exercise is going to give the best bang for buck while avoiding injury from muscle imbalances (these muscle imbalances could usually be treated but!.. thinking about the team as a whole, providing individual time on preventative care is very tough for 100+ athletes in a school) knees in line with toes and butt back (powerlifting style) uses less ROM thus avoiding The body from going through compensation of wanting to find the path of least resistance= and a stronger healthier athlete.


    Individualized if the client exhibits no postural distortion pattern and their natural form is knees over toes with the use of triple flexion (large part coming from hips) then I'm all for it!
    Last edited by TAK000; 01-06-2012 at 12:18 PM.
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  6. #6
    Barbell Babe ShortDave's Avatar
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    You didn't specify what type of squatting you are talking about. With close stance squats the knees will travel over the toes, in a wide stance squat they should not.
    It'd be like staying fat while running marathons because it's more impressive to finish a marathon when you're overweight. It might be impressive in the short run, but in the long run it just doesn't make any sense. ~breathinglife

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  7. #7
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    Originally Posted by ShortDave View Post
    You didn't specify what type of squatting you are talking about. With close stance squats the knees will travel over the toes, in a wide stance squat they should not.
    This ^^

    OP: If you were to ask the question in the Oly section, all of us will say knees over the toes, both back and front squats, and provided lifter has flexibility and overall form is good.
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  8. #8
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    What the heck does "if the hip is used as well" mean? If your knees don't go past your toes you still have to have hip flexion and extension for a proper squat.

    And #3 should read: Some people SHOULD squat minimizing the knees going over the toes, while some SHOULD not.
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  9. #9
    husband, father, trainer KyleAaron's Avatar
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    Those who feel the knees passing over the toes is dangerous, I wonder how they walk up stairs.
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    Barbell Babe ShortDave's Avatar
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    Originally Posted by KyleAaron View Post
    Those who feel the knees passing over the toes is dangerous, I wonder how they walk up stairs.
    Walking up stairs is rarely done with 700lbs on your back. Adding large amounts of weight changes the dynamic and safety of a movement.

    The person in this video probably doesn't have joint problems from dancing this way

    I imagine that with even 300lbs on her back that would be a very different story.
    It'd be like staying fat while running marathons because it's more impressive to finish a marathon when you're overweight. It might be impressive in the short run, but in the long run it just doesn't make any sense. ~breathinglife

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  11. #11
    Rehab Assistant VitaminJT's Avatar
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    An athlete should avoid the knees going over their toes as they become more reliant on their anterior muscles. Staying slightly back will use more of the posterior kinetic chain which will help avoid muscle imbalances i.e tight hip flexors, rectus femoris. However an everyday person should be able to go over their toes as it will mean they have greater ROM in day to day activities.
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  12. #12
    husband, father, trainer KyleAaron's Avatar
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    Originally Posted by ShortDave View Post
    Walking up stairs is rarely done with 700lbs on your back.
    Nor is most squatting.

    Seriously, you have to think of the context of this advice about where the knees go - given to beginner lifters, people who have not squatted since they were toddlers, and whose initial attempts to "squat" involve going onto their toes, their knees collapsing inwards, their back hunched over, and them saying, "see? squats hurt my knees." 99% of the people I teach to squat in gyms will never have even 60kg on their backs for reps. I'll be happy if they do a goblet squat with a 15kg dumbbell. This is not because they're physically incapable of it, but simply because very very few people value strength and mobility and push themselves hard in the gym.

    I'm not really fussed what happens to people's knees when they're squatting 320kg, by that stage they'll be practiced enough to judge for themselves. We're personal trainers, not powerlifting or olympic weightlifting coaches. What is good for someone squatting 7 plates a side may or may not be good for someone who's yet to squat a single plate a side.

    Do you know of any cases where someone squatting 700lbs asked a personal trainer for advice?

    Context, mate, context.
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  13. #13
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    Originally Posted by VitaminJT View Post
    An athlete should avoid the knees going over their toes as they become more reliant on their anterior muscles. Staying slightly back will use more of the posterior kinetic chain which will help avoid muscle imbalances i.e tight hip flexors, rectus femoris. However an everyday person should be able to go over their toes as it will mean they have greater ROM in day to day activities.
    I don't know of a sport that exists where an athlete would want to think about having less ROM than an everyday person. Well, maybe darts.
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    Originally Posted by WoofieNugget View Post
    I don't know of a sport that exists where an athlete would want to think about having less ROM than an everyday person. Well, maybe darts.
    I don't know of a sport where an athlete would want muscle imbalances that can not only lead to injury but reduced performance. I didn't say they shouldn't have good range, I said they need to be able to make use of both the anterior and posterior kinetic chain to be more efficient in their particular sport.
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  15. #15
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    Originally Posted by VitaminJT View Post
    I don't know of a sport where an athlete would want muscle imbalances that can not only lead to injury but reduced performance. I didn't say they shouldn't have good range, I said they need to be able to make use of both the anterior and posterior kinetic chain to be more efficient in their particular sport.
    How does emphasizing posterior muscles help to avoid tight hip flexors?
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  16. #16
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    The relative position of knees and toes depends on two things: squat depth, and individual anthropometry.

    A deep squat requires three joints to move. Knee flexion/extension, hip flexion/extension, and dorsi/plantarflexion. If the ankle does not flex at all and the shin remains entirely vertical, then as the person flexes knee and hip, they'll fall on their arse. If dorsiflexion is restricted but the person goes onto their toes, they'll end up into lumbar flexion and have to do a good morning out of the hole. Thus the person must keep their bodyweight plus any loading more or less over the middle of the foot.

    So dorsiflexion and the movement of tibia from vertical towards the horizontal is inevitable, the only question is how much.

    Some examples of how different a "squat' can look,

    a front squat will lead to a more vertical torso than a back squat, a high bar more vertical torso than a low bar squat.





    a wider stance usually means more hip flexion can be accomplished, thus less knee and dorsiflexion are required; the shin ends up more vertical.


    length of tibia relative to femur, and legs to torso, will also affect the angles.


    When coaching the squat, I am in all cases coaching beginners, those without huge lifts and years of squatting behind them. My consideration is their health, redressing gross muscle imbalances, improving joint mobility and so on. Even if they have looks or performance goals, health is the base of these. The typical gym-goer leads a Western seated lifestyle. Their glutes, hip adductors and abductors are unused and weak, their hamstrings tight and weak. The best way to give them an arse again and get their hips mobile is to get them squatting deep, where "deep" is defined as the acetabulum passing below the patella. This wakes and loosens everything up.

    Widening the stance allows them to achieve depth more easily, but stance width is often limited by adductor and hamstring weakness, so that if you give them a sumo squat you'll get knees collapsing in during the ascent. So in practice I find the narrowest stance which allows them to achieve depth. As time goes on we may find that improved mobility allows them to go narrower, or improved strength to go wider, and changing stances may tie in with their other capabilities and goals. But in the beginning I choose the narrowest stance they can have and still achieve depth. This width obviously varies from person to person.

    In some individuals, this may cause their knees to pass their toes. I don't worry about this, I have yet to see a knee injury due to doing this, and have never heard of one. On the contrary, for everyone not straight out of a knee injury, deep squats, regardless of knees going forward past the toes or not, help them immensely. For example, chrondomalacia due to patellar maltracking is greatly helped by deep squats, in my personal and coaching experience; obviously we don't do it when it's flared up, but once it's dormant, deep squats help prevent its recurrence.

    If anyone can tell me the exact mechanism by which the knee is injured by passing beyond the toes in a squat, or give examples of injuries sustained while doing so, I should be most interested. I've been asking this question since I started in the gym in 1989, people have yet to give me an answer. The assertion usually comes from people who also tell me things like "but the hamstrings aren't used in a squat!" and cannot answer exactly how the hip is extended without using the hip extensors.
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    Originally Posted by WoofieNugget View Post
    How does emphasizing posterior muscles help to avoid tight hip flexors?
    Tight hip flexors come from sitting for extended periods of time. Another result is lengthened /weak hamstrings and glutes. The human musculature system is not intended to be in a seated position for any amount of time. Strengthening your glutes and hamstrings pulls everything back the way its supposed to be.

    ^exactly. Most people need help in the flexibility department in squats, fixing muscle imbalances =good squat form and less/no injuries.
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    Your hamstrings become "long and weak" from sitting? I think you mean tight and weak.

    Making one muscle group strong does not automatically make the antagonist muscle group looser. You can have strong glutes and tight hip flexors. See for example most basketballers.
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    Some good posts ITT. However, I think the phrase "muscle imbalance" is being used too loosely by a few posters.

    The video about the irish dancer: I've worked with plenty of them and joint issues are relatively common. More from the constant pounding/jumping at a young age than the turned out feet IMO.
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    Originally Posted by KyleAaron View Post
    This is beautiful!!!

    I don't mind if my clients knees go past their toes as long as they can keep their heels on the ground. Most people will not have their knees go past their toes if they can keep their heels on the ground anyway. And if their knees go past their toes with the heels still down--then awesome! Great dorsiflexion! And the knees going past the toes is minimal anyway.

    I think weight distribution on the feet is more important than knees going over toes...
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    Originally Posted by ericmackcarter View Post
    Some good posts ITT. However, I think the phrase "muscle imbalance" is being used too loosely by a few posters.
    Exactly my point. A lot of people like to throw around cool sounding phrases to make themselves sound smart. Most people in this thread keep talking about muscles, when the main point is that if the person in question doesn't have adequate range of motion within their JOINTS (ankle, knee, hip and spine) then they are at higher risk of not using the things that actually controls movement within those joints - their muscles. If your muscles are tight and don't allow your joint to move within a range, then there is a reason for that and if you want to be able to squat really low (like you should) then it needs to be addressed. It completely depends on the individual in question and what they are trying to do.

    It also depends on where the force is placed. A front squat with 300 lbs. is going to have a very different effect on the body than a back squat with 300 lbs because of the way that the load in question is pressing on the joints in question. A person who is 6'10" doing a back squat with a heavy load is going to have a very different time lifting than a person who is 5'6", even if the load is proportionally different. DUCY?

    There is no "it has to be this way for everyone". Base your movements on the person, not the person on the movements.
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    I'm surprised no one has said anything about pushing the knees out. It's ok for some travel but the knees shouldn't be going straight forward. What you see all too often with someone just starting is to have all the weight all their toes with their heels coming up and their knees shooting straight forward.
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    Originally Posted by StankyDrawz View Post
    I'm surprised no one has said anything about pushing the knees out. It's ok for some travel but the knees shouldn't be going straight forward. What you see all too often with someone just starting is to have all the weight all their toes with their heels coming up and their knees shooting straight forward.
    In my experience, "knees out" is the most effective cue for a good squat. If I had to pick one, it would probably be that.
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    Originally Posted by WoofieNugget View Post
    How does emphasizing posterior muscles help to avoid tight hip flexors?
    Reduce hip flexion? If you're an athlete and your hip flexors becoming tight due to excessive hip flexion then it is probably going to pull the pelvis into anterior tilt leading to lumbar lordosis, which can cause a tight latissimus dorsi and erector spinae. If erector spinae is tight is can also be used in upper body rotation in running/walking as can lat's if the arm's are swinging which can cause problems. If there is a lumbar lordosis then hamstring's are going to be weak which is not what we want. Semimembranosus and semitendinosus do medial rotation of the tibia while biceps femoris do lateral rotation of the tibia which is important in movement's of the talo-crural joint. Hamstring's are also important for knee joint stability as they stop the anterior cruciate ligament shifting forward in excessive knee flexion and become more crucial when the ACL has been reconstructed, as it offer's more knee stability.

    If someone has tight hip flexor's I wouldn't be giving them a squat anyway until they can pass a Thomas Test without the knee going into extension from a tight rectus femoris or the thigh lifting up off the bed from tight hip flexors. If I did a modified Thomas Test and their ITB was tight I wouldn't give it to them either as that would probably cause genu valgus of the knee's and put more pressure on the medial collateral ligament.

    In my opinion if someone is anterior muscle dominant they shouldn't be doing a squat, regardless of how good their technique is, until their posterior muscle's have the same activation and control as the latter.
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    You like your knees? Then keepem behind your toes.
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    Originally Posted by SamJorgensen91 View Post
    You like your knees? Then keepem behind your toes.
    Why?

    Originally Posted by KyleAaron
    If anyone can tell me the exact mechanism by which the knee is injured by passing beyond the toes in a squat, or give examples of injuries sustained while doing so, I should be most interested.
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    Originally Posted by VitaminJT View Post
    [snip abstruse latinisms]

    If someone has tight hip flexor's I wouldn't be giving them a squat [...] If [...] their ITB was tight I wouldn't give it to them either
    If you refuse squats to people with tight hip flexors and ITBs, there are probably only 4 or 5 people in the Western world you'll be able to give squats to.

    Alternately, you could just let them squat, and stretch their hip flexors and ITB. Just a thought.

    If you're prohibiting squats, please explain how the person is to accomplish sitting down and standing up in their day-to-day lives. If they're allowed to do a squatting movement day-to-day in a sloppy way without the trainer there watching them, why aren't they allowed to do a squatting movement with the trainer watching them?

    In my opinion if someone is anterior muscle dominant they shouldn't be doing a squat, regardless of how good their technique is, until their posterior muscle's have the same activation and control as the latter.
    Which anterior muscles? Have you ever encountered someone who has tight hip flexors and tight abs and quads and tibialis anterior?

    What is "activation"? You mean when their muscle contracts? In a deep squat, a person is in hip flexion. Please explain how they will rise out of the bottom of the squat without using glutes and hamstrings. That is, explain how they will accomplish hip extension without the use of hip extensors.

    Correctly-performed squats work "posterior muscle's" [sic] quite well indeed. Deadlifts and other hip-hinging muscles work them even better, of course. But that's another story, and it's not like we have to choose just one exercise.

    I see from your sig you are well-educated. I suspect you have not actually trained many or perhaps even any people. That's okay, nothing to be ashamed of. But just as some things look good in the gym but are not so good once you know the theory, so too theory is often trumped by practice. You need both education and experience. That way you learn things like almost everyone having tight hip flexors and ITBs.
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    Originally Posted by ericmackcarter View Post
    Why?
    Getting your knee past your toes while squatting puts a much greater stress on your ACL and can result in a stretching and weakening of the ligament. This can lead to tearing which can put you out of training for weeks or months depending on the severity, and how much stress the ligament had been placed under. Keeping your knees behind your toes is the safest method, at least from what Ive been taught by the trainers and physical therapists Ive encountered in my time as an athlete and trainer. I can honestly say that in keeping my knees behind my toes, I have never experienced any type of joint soreness in my knees while some of my friends and acquaintances who do not employ the same thought I do, have great pain in the knees and have taken significant amounts of time off of lifting because of the pain.
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    Originally Posted by SamJorgensen91 View Post
    Getting your knee past your toes while squatting puts a much greater stress on your ACL and can result in a stretching and weakening of the ligament.
    Studies say you're wrong, wrong, wrong. And also wrong. Or more precisely, studies make no mention of the knees passing the toes, instead focusing on things like foot placement and squat depth, and forces on this bit relative to that bit. Why do they make no mention of it? Because it doesn't matter. The ACL is fine during a properly-performed squat, the forces on it are minimal.

    Effects of technique variations on knee biomechanics during the squat and leg press

    "No ACL forces were produced for any exercise variation."

    Cruciate ligament force during the wall squat and the one-leg squat
    For a one-legged squat, peak PCL forces were around 400N, and ACL forces around 60N. "All exercises appear to load the ACL and the PCL within a safe range in healthy individuals."

    Knee biomechanics of the dynamic squat exercise.
    "Furthermore, it was demonstrated that the parallel squat was not injurious to the healthy knee."

    An analytical model of the knee for estimation of internal forces during exercise.
    "No significant anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tension was found during leg press and squat."

    Comparison of intersegmental tibiofemoral joint forces and muscle activity during various closed kinetic chain exercises
    "The purpose of this study was to analyze intersegmental forces at the tibiofemoral joint and muscle activity during three commonly prescribed closed kinetic chain exercises: the power squat, the front squat, and the lunge. [...] A posterior tibiofemoral shear force throughout the entire cycle of all three exercises in these subjects with anterior cruciate ligament-intact knees indicates that the potential loading on the injured or reconstructed anterior cruciate ligament is not significant."

    In other words: you're wrong.

    "Squats hurt my knees, so they must be bad for me."
    "Show me your squat?.... Okay, squatting doesn't hurt your knees, what you're doing hurts your knees."

    ITT: several "trainers" who don't know how to coach a squat.
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    When your knees dramatically overlap your toes it stresses the ACL its an anatomical fact. Thats why catchers in professional baseball end up have their knees replaced by age 40 because their fundamental position requires them to be in the position with the knees over the toes for significant amounts of time. The time spent in the squat makes up for the lack of heavy weight that people endure when lifting. When your knees pass your toes they acquire more of the lifting burden than they would had they not passed the toes. Go read more "studies".
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