Squatting and Knee Positioning

Hey guys,

The knees are a very important part of our anatomy and especially for active people. We want to keep them healthy because they’re involved in almost every single movement we as Crossfitters do. There are lots of topics we could go into about body mechanics and keeping your knees injury free, as well as tools (re: knee sleeves), mobility, etc. but I’m strictly going to keep this post focused on our knee positioning in the squat.

When I first started Crossfit I was told to never let my knees go past my toes as if I did it would put too much sheering force on my knees and that would lead to injury. Well I’ve heard that repeated lots of times but there’s only one problem with it…. Once I got more into doing the Olympic lifts (Snatch, Clean and Jerk) or even just high bar back squats and front squats, I noticed that it’s pretty much impossible to not let your knees go past your toes when you’re at the bottom of any of those lifts. So I started doing some research and found that in the weightlifting circles, not only do they coach you to let your knees go past your toes, they even encourage it For Example(Tip number 7). Now this isn’t to say that there’s some magic in having your knees past your toes, this will differ from person to person based on your own individual proportions. Your own proportions will dictate how far forward your knees travel when getting into what’s described in the video above as a “weightlifters squat”.

From another perspective, in order to achieve depth in a high bar back squat with the bar and your body in the correct position (ie more upright torso, bar over the mid foot) you have to let your knees travel forward a little bit and have your butt a little closer to your heels. It seems a bit contradictory that most Crossfit coaches recommend the high bar back squat over the low bar but then tell their clients to not let their knees go past their toes. By recommending those two things in conjunction we’re recommending doing one thing but ultimately doing it improperly. Now, if your knees are traveling so far forward that your heels are coming up off the ground, especially in weightlifting shoes then that is not good and will lead to failed lifts and potential knee injuries. All of what I’ve mentioned above is assuming that your foot is flat on the ground with the weight in the mid foot and dare I say maybe even slightly back towards your heels. It’s not necessarily the fact that you have a loaded bar on your back with your knees forward that’s the issue, it’s where that weight is distributed. If you’re sitting on the balls of your feet with a loaded bar, then all that tension is in your knees. If you’re in the hole with your weight evenly distributed over your feet then there’s not nearly as much stress on the knee joint. If you care to read some other opinions here’s a thread on the pendlay forums where Sean Waxman himself chimes in at the bottom of the first page here.

I hope this helps clear up some confusion about the types of squats we do and that pesky cue that won’t go away about keeping your knees over but never farther forward than your toes. Feel free to discuss in comments.

– Nack

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