One of the most common and widely discussed fixes for a person who shows knee valgus (knees coming in) in the squat, is for the person to “push their knees out.” The opposite of knee valgus is known as knee varus which means knees going outwards. However, just like knees going inwards, knees outwards can be undesirable as well.
Knees being out is far less of a problem and far less common than knees coming in.
So when does “knees out” become TOO far out?
The most likely optimal technique during squats is for the knees to track in line with the feet. This means that the knees should remain somewhere within the big toe and small toe of the foot. This is actually what is meant when people talk about “knees being out.”
When knees are too far out, they are beyond the small toes.
(Often when the knees are too far out, the inside of the feet might rise as well, creating an unstable platform.)
It seems to me that the thinking behind “knees being out” is more helpful therefore when the knees are coming in – coming inside the big toes – and therefore they ought to be pushed out so that they go back within the big toe and the small toe boundary of each foot.
If a person squats and already has inline knee-foot tracking then perhaps the knees do not need to be pushed out because pushing them out in this instance would cause them to go outside of the small toes.
So “knees out” is sometimes not necessary and if a person uses this cue it may actually cause them to overdo/overexaggerate this action.
What are the good reasons for knees tracking toes (knees being ‘out’ but not too far out)?
- It stops the knees from twisting
- It places the legs in a position where the adductors can be used most effectively (adductors are hip extensors, i.e. they help you ascend from the squat)
- It places the legs in a position where the glutes can be used most effectively (glutes are also hip extensors)
What happens when knees are too far out?
- It limits squat depth
- The knees are twisting in a non-optimal way
- The glutes and adductors are not in the best position to make the ascent!
- The feet can become unstable (the insides of the feet might rise from the floor)
The optimal squat technique is a proper stance width and toe angle and the knees track with the toes (which is normally as wide as most people can push their knees out to anyway). Most people are not able to push them beyond their toes hence they just need to push them out as far as they can and this ends up with feet and knees nicely inline.
To me, the equation is simple:
- If knees are caving in, pushing knees out leads to the knees being inline
- If a person’s knees are already inline then pushing their knees out will lead to their knees being too far out and no longer inline
“Knees out” may therefore probably be most helpful for people who demonstrate unstable knees shown because their knees are caving in. Pushing knees out will therefore help get the knees back to the neutral position. One tip to stop the knees going too far out is to always keep the big toe and inside foot jammed down to the floor.
I’ve noticed that most people who I’ve seen push their knees out too far actually do so on the descent rather than the ascent. If you think you might be pushing your knees out too far, observe yourself to see what you are doing on the way down. Pushing knees too far out on the way down can definitely hinder your squat potential and form!
My own thinking is that the “knees out” idea is most helpful as the knees are coming in (which normally happens on the ascent of the squat), as it helps the person get their knees back to neutral/being inline with their toes. I am the perfect example of how this is helpful:
As always, this article is just my own thoughts. You can do your own reading and learning and make your mind up on how your knees ought to be!!