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Your knees CAN go over your toes (and other valuable truths)

You have likely heard the myth that “your knees should not go over your toes.” Yet, it seems counterintuitive as many of our daily movements require the knees to travel over the toes. Try standing up out of a chair or walking down the stairs with your knees behind your toes. It likely feels awkward! This age old myth of not allowing knees over toes was born from unreliable research and a fear provoking mindset, contrary to the Made 2 Move Mantra that movement is medicine! Below we will breakdown this knees over toes myth and uncover other valuable truths we learned alongside the research we performed.

Where did this idea come from?

The idea that the knees should not travel over the toes in any movement developed from a series of research articles by Dr. Klein in 1959 and 1961. His idea was that in a deep squat, one where the knees track over the toes, the ligaments are overstretched and this leads which leads to instability. His research lacked double blindness and other critical validity measures.

Yet, a year after Dr. Klein’s research, his findings were published in Sports Illustrated and this is where the “no knees over toes” craze took off. The military eliminated jump squats from their fitness tests, trainers were taught not to program deep squats, and the squat was even eliminated from PE curriculums in NY.

For years, many people in gym class, the military, and fitness spaces were taught not to let their knees go over their toes or below parallel for fear of knee insability. Sure, minimizing squat depth can offset the compressive load on the knees but at what cost? It likely puts excess torque on the low back and hips and obviously does not encourage movement through full ranges of motion- which is what our joints crave for optimal mobility!

Research today:

So what do we know today? An NSCA article noted that recent research on the squat “has refuted Klein’s findings, showing no correlation between deep squatting and injury risk (13,15,18). In fact, there is some evidence that those who perform deep squats have increased stability of the knee joint.”

This evidence includes studies on elite weightlifters, who regularly perform full depth squats in their training and found that these athletes actually have stronger ligaments and joint capsules, as shown by 9 knee stability tests. If you want to take a deep dive on the squat and biomechanics of the knee, take a look at this video by Schoenfeld.

What can we learn from this?

Today we know that, “The knee is naturally adapted to move to a full squat” (Schlegl 2021). Watch any baby or young child and you will notice they sit and move through a deep squat quite often. We are all fully capable of squatting to full depth and have been since we were babies; we just may need some guidance on technique as we have gotten older and not utilized this skill.

An interesting blog noted on this concept integrating new or unfamiliar exercises into our movement repertoire: “By understanding that the brain is pliable and adjusts to what we do in our lives, we can reintegrate forgotten movement back at any age. It’s true, children learn things at a much quicker rate than adults, but that doesn’t mean we can’t challenge ourselves…If we choose to move into spaces that feel unfamiliar we challenge our system to react to being in that space and if we don’t use it there’s a good chance we’ll lose it” (Movementum).

In addition to dispelling the concept that the knees can’t travel over the toes, this myth also teaches us 2 other valuable truths:

  1. There is no movement to be feared

    1. “We can choose to remain vulnerable or explore unchartered territories by moving into them, giving our body and nervous system the information it needs to feel comfortable in these new spaces and to respond appropriately when we’re in them” (Movementum).

  2. Do your own research + vetting and don’t believe everything you hear

    1. Dr. Klein was a medical professional- with published research- so his findings got taken as fact and the information spread like wildfire, to the point that the military even eliminated the jump squat from their fitness tests for fear of ligament damage. YOU are the owner of your health and knowledge, and you have countless resources at your fingertips to double check any information you hear. Use them.

In Closing…

Does this mean everyone should be squatting ATG (ass to grass) and that parallel or quarter squats should be eliminated from athletic programs? No! As we always say here at Made 2 Move Summerville, programming should always be individualized.

For a track or football athlete, quarter to parallel squats are useful for developing the motor coordination and power they need, seeing as the quarter position of knee flexion is the most dominant position in their sport. This quarter to parallel squat is also sufficient for developing quadriceps and hamstring strength in these athletes. In contrast, an olympic weightlifter or crossfitter likely needs to include deep squats in their program to be able to perform the snatch or clean and jerk required for competition.

Are you looking for rehab or fitness professionals in the Summerville or Nexton area? Reach out to today and a Made 2 Move team member will reach out to set up an initial evaluation with one of our PTs Summerville and Charleston area locations.


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