Whether you are new to the gym or a long term veteran, the squat should be a key part of your weights program. The squat is one of the best exercises you can perform to develop total body strength, power and overall athleticism. However, there are still some common myths, misconceptions and overall confusion amongst gym goers which can dispel some from performing this exercise and reaping the raft of benefits the squat provides. This blog post will drive away some of those myths and get you squatting in no time.
Should your toes be forward or angled out?
You may have been told that you should be able to squat with your toes facing forwards, whereas you may have also been told that you should turn your feet out slightly. So who should you believe?
…The answer is both!
Toes Forward Squat
There are pros and cons to each foot position. A pro of squatting with your toes facing forward is that is requires a greater amount of hip and ankle joint mobility, which is going to be great for your overall joint health long term.
However this can also be a con, in that a lot of people do not have the required mobility, so squatting with their toes facing forwards places undue load through areas such as the lower back and knees which try to compensate for this.
Toes Angle Out Squat
A pro for turning your toes out slightly (about a 30° angle) is that it opens up the hip and ankle joint and takes the emphasis off mobility slightly. It also gives us a slightly a wider base of support and places some muscles at a greater mechanical advantage, meaning we can lift more weight (who doesn’t want to lift more weight, right?).
A con is that because it takes out the greater need for mobility, those specific joint ranges aren’t getting trained so the mobility can deteriorate further over time.
- Try both! Squat with whatever foot position allows you to gain a suitable range of pain free motion.
- Which foot position suits best will differ greatly between everyone.
- If you are getting pain, something is not right!
Should knees go past your toes?
This is probably the most common myth between gym-goers. Someone somewhere along the way has probably told you that if your knees go past your toes, then you are risking hurting your knees.
So let’s break down the facts.
It is true that when your knees go past your toes there is an increase in load through them, but this was found to be roughly a 28% increase. Your knees are very robust and can handle this increased torque quite easily. The real problem actually comes when you DON’T let your knees travel past your toes! When research later looked into the effects on the rest of the body when you don’t let your knees go over your toes in the squat (Fry et al. 2003), they found that the shear load through your lower back actually increases by over 1000%!
So the real question is this: Would you rather increase knee stress slightly with a full squat, or would you rather increase lower back stress significantly by not allowing your knees to pass your toes? Probably best to let those knees travel past your toes…
- Your knees must go past your toes in the squat to make sure you are loading your entire body appropriately.
- A trade off of 28% increased knee torque seems reasonable to save a 1000% increase in lumbar spine forces
Shoulder we fear deep squatting?
Will Deep Squats Ruin My Knees?
Another common myth that goes around the gym is that deep squats will ruin your knees and cripple you with arthritis. This originated a long time ago, when a certain doctor linked deep squats with traumatic knee injuries in football. The doctor’s rationale was that deep squats stretched and loaded the important ligaments in the knee, making them at higher risk of injury. This has been shown time and time again with more modern research however to be completely false.
Another thought is that the deeper you go, the more compression is placed through the knee which wears away your cartilage and gives you arthritis. If this was the case, powerlifters and Olympic lifters who squat with weight sometimes close to 3 x bodyweight daily in training would be crippled with arthritis. Long term studies show that the rate of arthritis are no higher in powerlifters/oly lifters compared to the normal population, and sometimes are even lower!
Additionally, recent research not only shows that there is there nothing wrong with deep squatting and your knees passing toes, but this actually helps to protect us against injuries rather than cause any!
- Your knees are seriously robust joints that are made to be loaded through a full range of motion.
- Deep Squatting will not cause ligament damage or Arthritis!