This is still one of the biggest myths there is about strength training.
And the worst part is not that you haven’t been given the correct information about it.
The worst part about it is that a lot of trainers and educators still promote this idea.
The idea that your knees should not pass your toes when you squat.
Not only is this ok to let your knees travel forward over your toes, but it is also actually a good thing to help strengthen and stabilize the very joint people want to protect: the knee.
But first, let’s do a quick experiment:
If you are sitting right now, try to get up without letting your knees move over your toes.
Or better yet, the next time you sit on the toilet, get up and prevent your knees to move forward.
Observe what happens. Isn’t it funny?
The way you have to move to do this.
Funny, right? Funky, even.
Ok, you might think, “yeah, but when I’m moving heavy weights it’s different”.
Is it though?
Don’t you try to use a full range of motion when you do your RDLs?
Don’t you go all the way when you do your pull-ups?
If you answered ‘yes’ to these questions, why is it any different for the knees?
Well, it’s not.
But suddenly, because we do “sport”, we have to change the way we move even though it doesn’t make any sense. The same trainer or educator doesn’t try to limit your movement in any other joint, but then, your knees over your toes during a squat?
Well, well, well, this is sacrilege, the sun is going down, the earth will explode, and we will all burn in hell because your knee freakin’ got over your poor little toes.
Let’s do a quick recap here:
The goal of strength training is to grow muscles & get stronger.
You do this by bringing a muscle from its lengthened position to its shortened position – this is full range of movement – with resistance in between – this is resistance training aka strength training.
Then you increase that resistance gradually over time – this is progressive overload.
Aside from the contradictory recommendation of the trainers that still preach to keep your knees from moving forward, it also doesn’t make sense from a physics perspective (and strength training is all about physics).
We grow muscles by generating mechanical tension. This is why we use weights in the first place: to create tension. The greatest tension happens when the horizontal distance between the joint you want to train and the weight going down towards the floor (because of gravity) is the biggest.
In our case, this is the horizontal distance between your knee and the bar on your back. This is what is needed to create tension in your quads.
But if you keep your knees from moving forward, then you decrease the tension on your quads. And since you still go down, your bum has to go back, and you increase the tension on your lower back and your glutes (which is absolutely fine if this is your intention).
Let’s bring it home here.
If you want shape in your legs, you need to grow your quads.
To grow your quads, you have to create mechanical tension in them.
You do this by moving in a way to bring your quads from a lengthened to a shortened position, using a resistance between those two points to create that tension.
To fully lengthen your quads, you need full knee flexion.
To have full knee flexion in your squats, you need to let your knees travel forward over your toes.
End of story.
… and if your knees are unstable during your squats, you have most likely difficulties creating intra-abdominal pressure. But this is a story for another time.
Now, go grow those quads!
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I'm a Health & Fitness Coach and Personal Trainer based in Berlin who loves to dance to Queen B tunes in her kitchen and eat salted caramel ice cream (or chocolate).
Back in 2016, I went from a full-time party girl to a sports enthusiast.
I was so sick of hangovers, feeling much older than I was, and not being able to wear my favorite clothes, that I took an U-turn.
I felt so in love with training & nutrition that in 2017, I quit my deadly boring office job.
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