Movement Myths Part 1 – Knees Over Toes – Friend or Foe?

Credit: Knees Over Toes Guy

It’s more than likely that if you’ve ever stepped into a gym or watched a youtube squat tutorial that you’ve heard the typical advice: not past 90, shins vertical, don’t let your knees go past your toes. This belief stems from the idea that letting your knees drift forwards will place undue stress onto the joint and cause pain, injury, and long term problems for you. 

But if you should watch an Olympic lifter, NBA basketballer or anyone walking up/down stairs, then you will see that being able to move well with knees over toes is not only very normal, but extremely important also. The myth that going knees over toes is bad for you, has been well and truly busted. Here we will explore this further.

Credit: James Harden – Houston Rockets

Why go knees over toes?

In order to maximise athletic ability and help injury proof ourselves, we want to be as strong as possible through a full range of motion at each joint. Joints that are more comfortable moving through full range and are strong at each point of their motion are less prone to injury too. A 2013 study1 looked at quarter, half and full squats and found that full range of motion did not place added stress on the knee joint and posed no added risk of injury. So with this in mind, a squat performed to full depth (and allowing the knees to move freely) helps to develop strength and mobility through full range at the knees, hips and ankles which is key in boosting our sporting performance, helping us run further and reducing the risk of any lower body niggles.

Using full range at the knee also helps to further strengthen the quadriceps muscles, helping to not only improve our function but also protect knee health in the long term. Research demonstrates that better quadriceps strength plays a potentially important role in preventing and managing osteoarthritis in the knees, which can make a significant difference to health later in life. Full range exercise for the knee also helps to improve resilience of the tendons, ligaments and cartilage surfaces.

Is Knees Over Toes Ever A Problem?

Like any activity, there may be times when loading into a knees over toes position may need to be avoided temporarily to help manage other injuries. Due to the increased work demanded of the knee, people suffering from patellofemoral syndrome or patella tendinopathy may benefit from reducing load into knee over toe positions temporarily to allow symptoms to settle.

The end goal of rehab however should be to maximise the resilience of our knees after injury, and so we should be encouraged to slowly strengthen through a full range of motion until we are comfortable in every portion of a squat, lunge or jump. So in summary, NO, knees over toes is not inherently bad, and should in fact be worked into progressively in order to build strong, healthy and happy knees for life!

1. Hartmann H, Wirth K, Klusemann M. Analysis of the load on the knee joint and vertebral column with changes in squatting depth and weight load. Sports Med. 2013 Oct;43(10):993-1008. doi: 10.1007/s40279-013-0073-6. PMID: 23821469.