There are still a lot of folks out there who believe that it is dangerous for our knees to move over our toes, particularly when we squat. But the truth is that we do it all the time, in fact it’s an essential part of everyday life for us, walking down steps, picking things up from the ground, jumping, kneeling on the floor. Look at Olympic weightlifters, impossible without ‘knees over toes’.
Where did this come from and is there any truth in this?
It is true that the deeper you squat the more pressure you put on your knees, kind of. Shear (sliding) forces in the knee actually peak at around 90 degrees and decrease with deeper squats. Compressive forces do increase below 90 degrees which sounds scary but in uninjured populations this is not harmful and just refers to the contact of the knee cap on the femur. Now, like with most things this is complex and there is more to it, different structures are under more pressure at different points in the squat. But if you are free from injury or pain then there is no reason why this should cause harm.
But my back bends when I squat down that low….
That’s ok, a bend in your back when you squat down shouldn’t be a problem if you aren’t loading the movement, for example if you are bending down to pick something up of the floor this is normally perfectly safe and natural. If it’s something you do every day and have always done then it’s probably fine. Problems only really arise when people try to do this with an external load (weight) or for lots of repetitions.
So how come my knees hurt when I squat deep?
Good question, this can be for a lot of reasons. As with almost all things the humble squat is a lot more complex than we give it credit for, there are so many variables to take into account that can affect now we squat and what it feels like. Movement patterns, injury history, medical history, training background, joint mobility, load and environment all have an effect on the way we squat. If you have pain when you squat and you don’t know why then it is a good idea to get someone to assess your movement and your squat and help you.
So what if I can’t squat below parallel?
Does it matter? No! squatting low and allowing your knees to come over your toes is good for your knee health and leg strength IF your body and mechanics allow it. BUT if you are not one of those people then fear not, there are huge benefits to any kind of squat no matter how big or small, so do what you can and
At the end of the day our bodies adapt to the stimulus we place upon it.
If you have never squatted below parallel and suddenly change to full dept ‘knees over toes’ squats then you may experience pain or discomfort, with all these things you need to build up slowly and gradually expose your body to changes.