Knee Positioning During Squats: What’s the Difference?
The knee position during squats differs from one person to another. There are many factors involved in determining the proper knee position for squatting. For example, some people have long legs and short torsos; others have short legs and tall torsos; still others have long legs and small waists. Some people have big quads and little hamstrings; others have big quads but not much hamstring muscle mass. And so forth. All these differences affect the way our bodies naturally move and develop their muscles when they perform squats.
It is very difficult to determine what is the best knee position for any particular individual. However, there are certain things that everyone can do to ensure that their knees will stay in proper alignment during squats. These include:
1) Keeping Your Knees Behind Ties (KITs): This means keeping your knees behind your ankles instead of your heels or toes.
The simplest way to achieve this is to place your thumb against your shin right below the knee and then try to touch your elbow to that same spot on the back of your leg. If you can reach, then your knees are behind your feet and you have a good starting position.
2) Imagine You’re Sitting on an Egg: This old-school bodybuilding tip also works quite well for squatting.
While you’re in the bottom position of your squat, try to imagine that you’re trying to crack an egg that’s sitting between your butt and heels.
3) Drive Your Knees Outward from the Center of Your Feet: In addition to keeping your knees behind your toes, it’s also important to keep them pushed out so that they’re positioned in a vector that is perpendicular to the line of force going through your feet.
This helps to create a stable tripod with your feet, hips and shoulders that can better support heavy loads.
4) Spread the Floor with Your Heels: This is closely related to keeping your knees pushed out.
Basically, you’re trying to use the muscles of your calves and ankles to establish a solid base by spreading your feet and pushing out with your heels. You’ll know that you’re doing this right if your heels rise off the floor during the course of the exercise.
5) Don’t Let Your Knees Crossover: As you descend into the bottom position of the squat, your knees will have a tendency to cross over and fall inward.
You want to avoid this by maintaining tension in the muscles on the outside of your hips and keeping your thighs pushed out through the course of the movement.
These tips should help you keep your knees in proper alignment while you’re squatting. However, in order for them to be effective you need to have strong and properly activated muscles on the outside of your hips and along the bottom of your feet.
Maintaining this alignment is important for safety reasons as well as performance reasons. If you let your knees fall inward during squats they’re going to take the brunt of the force that would normally go into straightening your legs. This can result in torn knee ligaments and other overuse type injuries.
In addition to helping you stay safe, keeping your knees behind your toes will also make you more effective. You’ll be able to push more weight and achieve longer stretches, as your knees won’t be slamming into the bottom of the squat and knocking you off balance.
Some people experience a lot of pain when they first begin to keep their knees behind their toes. If you’ve been squatting the wrong way for a long time, your muscles on the outside of your hips and along the bottom of your feet may be weak and atrophied. Over time, as you continue to keep your knees behind your toes and drive them outward from the center of your feet, these muscles will develop and the pain will go away.
Don’t get discouraged if you can’t do this right away. Just do your best and keep at it. You’ll get there if you dedicate yourself to the cause.
If you’re a runner, cyclist or do any other exercise that requires a lot of “toe-pointing,” then you’re going to have trouble with this concept at first. That’s OK, just do the best you can and your body will adapt over time. Just remember, if it hurts, you’re probably doing it wrong.
Related: Master the Squat
Related: The 6 Most Common Squat Mistakes
Sources & references used in this article:
Squat, stoop, or something in between? by R Burgess-Limerick – International Journal of Industrial Ergonomics, 2003 – Elsevier
Knee osteoarthritis: influence of work involving heavy lifting, kneeling, climbing stairs or ladders, or kneeling/squatting combined with heavy lifting by LK Jensen – Occupational and environmental medicine, 2008 – oem.bmj.com
A randomised clinical trial of the efficacy of drop squats or leg extension/leg curl exercises to treat clinically diagnosed jumper’s knee in athletes: pilot study by LJ Cannell, JE Taunton, DB Clement… – British journal of sports …, 2001 – bjsm.bmj.com
Human Knee Joint Inverse Dynamics Model for Walking and Moderate Squat Exercise by DI Caruntu, R Gomez Jr – ASME …, 2015 – asmedigitalcollection.asme.org
Low-load resistance muscular training with moderate restriction of blood flow after anterior cruciate ligament reconstruction by H Ohta, H Kurosawa, H Ikeda, Y Iwase… – Acta Orthopaedica …, 2003 – Taylor & Francis
Risk factors for onset of osteoarthritis of the knee in older adults: a systematic review and meta-analysis by M Blagojevic, C Jinks, A Jeffery, KP Jordan – Osteoarthritis and cartilage, 2010 – Elsevier