Knees can go past your toes while squatting

A very common recommendation while doing squats is, “your knees should not go past your toes” and yet we see all these Olympic weight lifters whose knees are way ahead of their toes, what is going on?

It disheartens me to see a lot of people who are not utilizing the full benefits of squats due to this knee to toes recommendation. Squat is a classic compound exercise, which engages your quadriceps, hamstrings, glutes and lower back. This exercise has been an integral part of strength training for many generations and it is really annoying to see the recent bad press on them being knee breaker.

Everybody realizes that to really reap the benefits of squats one needs to go low, below thighs parallel to ground. This is when squats begin to engage more and more muscles. The problem arises when our friendly neighborhood trainer says, “Your knees should never get past your toes while squatting”. Many of us then realize that while going deep our knees get slightly ahead of toes. The trainer then suggests, “You need to develop mobility to be able to do deep squats” and we are stuck, as that mobility never comes.

What these “trainers” don’t realize is that all bodies are not made equal. This recommendation of knees not going ahead of your toes is valid for someone with short legs. For them knee getting past toes means they are lifting their heels. This places them in an unstable situation where if they are loaded heavy they may hurt themselves. But for a person who has long legs knees will move ahead of the toes even when the heels are planted on the ground, as shown in the image below. Assuming that the core is kept tight, this is still a very stable situation. This person is being unnecessarily forced to not use the full range of motion just because their body structure is different.

So the next time somebody tells you that your knees should not go past your toes while squatting, realize that they have no idea what they are talking about. If they are trainers then understand that they are just playing it safe, saving their ass at your expense. To really understand the truth just look at the Olympic lifters; they squat with their knees way ahead of their toes and do perfectly fine with loads much higher than our average Joe in the gym.

Bottom-line: To reap the benefits of squats you need to go deep. While squatting deep, depending on your body structure, your knees may move ahead of your toes. Disregard the recommendation “your knees should not go ahead of toes” while squatting, just make sure that your heels are well planted on the ground and your core is tight with a neutral spine.

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