Myth: "When squatting, don't let your knees move over your toes!"

In this blog, we're going to break down why this popular phrase and cue is totally false and potentially harmful to many athletes out there.

How many times have you heard the phrase: "don't let your knees pass your toes when squatting"?

Since I've been in the field of human movement for the past 11 years as a trainer, coach, and physical therapist, I have heard this A LOT! And it drives me nuts every time. Although I have to say, I've been hearing it and reading it less. So maybe people are catching on.

So how did this cue come about?? Well someone somewhere was probably squatting poorly and had knee pain every time they'd start to bend the knees and approach parallel. So they assumed the deeper they squat meant the greater the pain... Incredibly flawed view but I guess it's simple to comprehend.

So someone was clearly squatting and had knee pain.

They also realized that they could prevent their knee pain by not squatting as deep and not letting the knees go forward (toward the toes)....

No kidding....

By not squatting, you won't feel anything in the knees!! You also won't be able to pick up anything off the floor nor sit on the toilet without knee pain... incredibly unrealistic....

Then combine that personal experience with actual studies that show deep squatting and knees going forward places more force on the knee joint and we have a recipe for disaster.

Yes, there are higher forces in the knees when squatting deep and letting the knees translate forward over the toes... however, this only becomes a problem when you perform a crap ton of repetitions with poor movement.

Remember this:

Knee issues arise because repetitions and load are frequently placed upon a movement that is not optimal... This continues to occur until the cartilage is worn down, the knees become "creaky", and every movement hurts.

If you practice a squat pattern with proper hip, low back, knee, and ankle positioning regularly and get strong in that position, there won't be a problem with the knees going forward. In fact, if you have no history of knee pain, letting the knees go forward in a squat with a heel that stays in contact with the ground, is not only going to help you grow amazing glutes and quads, but you'll also minimize any further hip and back pain. This is because the back and hips are in a better alignment. There's less low back "arching" to compensate.

So the knees moving forward in the squat is necessary if you want to move better, minimize pain, and get bada$$ strong.

And keep in mind, if you have knee pain and proceed to clean up your pattern, things may get better! But I can only promise they get better up to a point since some knee issues may have been there for years and they need different interventions than just "squatting better."

All of the above information is based on mechanical, movement-based knee pain. If you have any knee pain right now, I don't recommend "squatting correctly" to fix that. I recommend seeking a health care professional to help you out since you are not my patient and I have not evaluated you. This is simply information and a trend I have seen in all my experiences.

At the same time, not allowing the knees to go forward during a squat may be necessary for someone who has a history of knee pain, is rehabilitating an injury, and/or is learning the pattern and tends to overly-round (flex) their lower back. But for everyone else who is healthy, moves fairly well, and has no knee pain, PLEASE let those knees go forward. It's just proper movement!

Here are the 4 things I want you to remember from this blog:

1) Knees going forward in squats is a good thing.

2) There is less chance for knee, hip, and back pain in healthy individuals with knee forward movement.

3) More quad and glute growth occurs with deep, knees forward squatting with a proper hip-pelvis position at the bottom.

4) *If you have knee pain right now, contact your Doctor before trying to "squat better"

What you can do now is check your squat form.

How is your mobility?

Can you squat fully with just your own body weight?

Is your torso fairly upright, heels on the ground, butt back, and knees forward?

Shoot me an email to and let me know how your squat is!


Phil Gauthier
Doctor of Physical Therapy
Strength Coach
Element 26 Co-Founder
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