There is an endemic that has spread through the fitness industry. It grew out of the functional fitness boom that occurred, then was furthered by the growth of Crossfit.
It’s a big problem and we need to put an end to it and set things straight.
The endemic: the explosion of aggressive “knees out” squatting.
You heard me right, it’s a serious problem.
See, the thing is, I was on the wagon. It seemed to make sense. If we don’t want people’s knees to go in, then we should have them push the knees out. Only logical right?
And, we thought the idea of valgus knees (knees caving in) was a big problem. You saw it all the time with many lifters of varying abilities. Plus, there was this growing population of serious knee injuries with young athletes.
So pushing the knees out and strengthening the outer hip muscles: piriformis, glute medius, glute minimus etc. was going to take us to a world we as strength coaches thought only existed in fairy tales: The Land of No Knee Pain.
When we heard the words, “knee pain” mentioned, push your knees out. Coming back from a serious knee injury, push your knees out. Rehabbing a surgically repaired knee, push your knees out.
However, when you watch some of the most athletic and powerful individuals in the world, you didn’t see a squat pattern that looked like that. In fact, often when you watched someone squat really heavy, the knees seemed to cave in and then push back out, but rarely to an extreme. And these athletes were rarely experiencing significant knee injuries. What gives?
Well it turns out the answer lies in a principle recently developed and explained by Julien Pineau of Strongfit. As we descend properly into a squat, or land from a jump, we want to develop internal torque or tension towards the midline. The tension creates normal rotation at the hips and allows for an explosive reaction out of the hole of a squat or upward in the case of a vertical jump.
We need to pull ourselves down into a squat to drive out as explosively as possible. Additionally, if you are an athlete that intends on jumping and landing repeatedly, a squat is best for building athleticism if you are actively working on pulling yourself down mimicking a solid landing built to move explosively again.
Now, pulling down does NOT necessarily mean your knees will shoot out to the sides. There are some people that have unique anthropometrics that create a naturally occurring bowing out of the knees as they squat. But it is not common.
The idea here is to place minimal focus on the position of the knees and instead direct our focus to the tension being created. If we can do a squat pattern effectively pulling down with the internal torque muscles (inner hamstrings and adductors most specifically), the knees will go where they should for you.
And that’s the beauty of focusing on tension over position. We don’t need to understand the specifics of everyone’s hip socket/femoral head relationship or the specific anatomy of their knee. If we can teach and you can learn how to create proper tension, all the positions right for you will happen!
Now, I can’t say that by teaching you how to properly do a goblet squat and pull yourself down into the squat will lead us as strength coaches to The Land of No Knee Pain, but we can start changing the world one athlete at a time!