Knees over your toes?

Knees over your toes

Fitness professionals have been saying for years that a person’s knees should not go past their toes while squatting and lunging.  In the past it was thought that this was bad for the knees. However, those of us who have been enlightened know this to be an old fitness myth.  It makes sense that I don’t want movement initiated from the knees which could cause the knee to go forward, but I think it’s just a poor coaching cue.  I now just tell my clients and athletes “weight in the heels or lead leg, and move from the hips”.  In some cases that will allow the knee to drift over the toes.  The joint by joint approach to training teaches us that the ankles should be mobile to help keep the knees and feet stable.

The real issue occurs when the proper mobility isn’t an option.  That means it will come from somewhere else in the chain.  When I first had the idea to put my thoughts on paper/the screen, I was thinking only about using better coaching cues for squatting and lunging.  However, recently I have the chance to work with some high school basketball players.  Generally speaking basketball players are known for having a lack of ankle mobility.  Well, now I know it to be true.  Some of these kids are quite fast and can jump really high but when I ask them to squat there is a lot of forward bending after the initial movement from the hips and knees.   After checking their ability to dorsiflex the ankle, it becomes pretty obvious why the only way for them to squat deeper is to bend from the back instead of the knees moving forward.  If their heel is going to stay down there is no way the knee is getting over the toes.  The lifters in these two photos have ankle mobility that is aided by an elevated heel but you get the idea.

Similar to what I’ve seen from the basketball players

Ankle mobility is important on the field or court in most sports including basketball.  It can help improve speed and change of direction by not limiting the athlete in the same ways described above.  And for those who are already fast and explosive it is an injury risk.  The knees will only end up taking more of a beating if the ankles aren’t doing their job properly.

– Mike Baltren