Myths Wrecking Your Squat Technique

Squatting is both an exercise and a basic human movement. Whether you like squats or not, you probably do it multiple times every day.

Odds are nobody has told you that your knees can’t go past your toes as you sit down on the toilet, but try that in the gym in front of certain people and you may find yourself on the receiving end of a lecture on biomechanics. (Granted you probably don’t have room for an audience in your bathroom!)

Have you also heard that squats are bad for your knees? Doesn’t that seem odd, considering it’s a movement we do many times every day?

You’ll find a more complete explanation about why it’s time to reconsider these and a couple of other  bits of “wisdom” about squats.

In the gym, it’s not unusual to run into someone who doesn’t squat. Sometimes it’s for legitimate reasons in which squatting is contraindicated for them, but quite often you meet someone who avoids squatting simply because they’ve been deterred by one of several pervasive myths about squats that make them believe squats are not for them, or that squats are simply bad.

Do any of the following myths sound familiar?

Myth #1: Your knees should never go past your toes.

For some reason this myth makes me start humming, “head, shoulders, knees, and toes…” Anyone else? What about now? Either way, “Never let your knees go past your toes” is a common instruction when squatting that is not entirely accurate. It is true that, in some cases, the knees jutting forward past the toes is a sign of poor squat form. However, sometimes it is simply a result of the unique structure of an individual’s body. Relative limb lengths can result in the knee either being behind or in front of the toes in a good squat.

Tip for coaches and trainers: Good or bad squat, though, I don’t actually don’t like this “knees and toes” language because the knees going past the toes is an outcome. Often when someone says, “Don’t let your knees go past your toes,” the person doesn’t know exactly what to do to fix that. Odds are that they aren’t going to quickly spring to the conclusion that if they keep more of their weight in the heels and/or lower their hips straight down instead of shifting them forward as they lower down that it would cause the knees to stay farther away from the toes. It would be more helpful if they were actually told what to do rather than making them try to figure it out on their own, mid-rep. As far as I’m concerned, “Push through the heels and toes during your squat” is a more helpful correction than “don’t let your knees pass your toes.”

To work on mastering this cue, start your squat with your heels up against a low box and holding a weight against your chest. Squat down until your glutes just touch the box, and then stand back up. It’s nearly impossible to do this squat variation in a manner that will let the knees slide too far forward. If you’re new to squatting, hold the weight away from you as you squat down, since that will provide a counterbalance that will help you achieve better form. As you get comfortable with the movement, start keeping the weight closer to your chest. Eventually, you won’t need the weight or box at all.