For ages we were told never to squat with our knees going forward past our toes. It was largely considered a major mistake that put your knees in a dangerous position when handling heavy weight.
However, this is one of the most prevalent exercise form myths out there.
Matt Stevens, physical therapist at Pure Physio (Strongsville, Ohio), explains that it’s perfectly normal and safe for your knees to come forward a bit beyond your toes.
For some of you—especially if you’re tall and have long femurs—it’s difficult if not impossible to squat with proper form without your knees coming forward. In fact, strictly adhering to this rule might result in a Squat that looks more like a Good Morning or you will have a wonky bar path that’s far from vertical.
According to Stevens, the key to safely squatting with your knees past your toes all starts with your feet.
“I’m generally OK with my athletes if their knee passes over their toes as long as we have one key thing: Their foot is fully engaged with the ground,” he says.
Imagine that your foot is a tripod with a point of contact on your heel, ball of your foot and under your pinky toe. The three points of contact create a solid base that allows you to evenly distribute your weight across your foot. A stable foot increases the stability of your knees and reduces the stress on the joint.
Problems occur when your heels come off the ground and your knees come forward. Stevens explains that this position puts shearing forces on your knees and can lead to injury if you’re not careful.
Incorrect form with heels off the ground.
So keep your feet flat on the ground and feel free to allow your knees to come forward a bit if that’s what feels comfortable to you. And make sure that you keep these tips in mind for strong and pain-free squatting.
Avoid pushing your knees forward. It’s OK for your knees to go beyond your toes, but don’t push them forward to initiate the squat. The movement should start at your hips, and your knees will bend as you lower into the squat.
Keep your knees aligned with your feet. More important than keeping your knees behind your toes, you must keep them aligned with your feet laterally. The ideal position is over your second toe. It’s often helpful to imagine pushing your knees out as your squat down to maintain this alignment.
Always ensure the tripod position. If your heels have a tendency to lift up, you can fix this temporarily by placing a 5-pound plate under your heels. However, you will need a long-term plan to fix this by addressing your ankle mobility.