Squatting...What Do I Do with My Knees?

There has been a lot of recent discussion about how we squat; feet wide, feet narrow, toes in or toes out, knees in or out..... I am relieved to see this dialogue has switched form the old "you shouldn't squat argument".

In my coaching each person's squat stance and setup is as unique to the lifter as their fingerprint and in the early stages of training life very dynamic as well meaning that as mobility/flexibility/stability change so may their stance. I do have some basic rules that I live by when figuring out someone's squat. One of my Golden Rules that I always preach is "KNEES OUT!!!" You can hear me yell this at my lifters from across the gym even if they are keeping their knees out.

So why am I such a stickler for this one coaching cue, especially if you watch Youtube clips of some of the greats; Pyrros Dimmas, Pocket Hercules, Klokov and in the bottom of a squat when they start out of the hole their knees whip in? My answer is very simple these guys are strong you are not and I want to save your knee. In the squat if the knee travels inward out of the hole it can put unneeded stress on the meniscus (the shock absorbing cartilage of the knee). I usually imagine the knee joint just chewing off pieces of this cartilage. Now the degree to which someone's knee can travel in before damage occurs will be different for each lifter.

Usually for a newbie or even your average gym goer knees traveling in on the squat is a symptom of weak and tight hips and gluteus. If we can activate and strengthen the gluteus while opening the hips it will allow the lifter to make the squat a more hip dominant lift. When a lifter's knees cave in it usually starts a cascade of disaster. The knees go in, the hips shoot out, the cervical spine becomes hyperextended from arching back so the weight doesn't roll off the head.

When we keep the knees out in the squat the gluteus and hips are "loaded" which in turn helps maintain a solid arched or braced (for my neutral spine friends) back. This allows us to load the spine more effectively creating a more stable environment and moving more weight. Some of the biggest squatters in the world start the descent by pushing knees out. By doing so it allows the lifter to keep their hips underneath them so the can drive out of the hole. Think about it if you have over a 1000 #'s on your back the last thing you want to do is let your hips shoot out from under you.

I know there are probably "experts" out there that will argue a different perspective. I have real world experience with almost two decades of competitive weightlifting that include a world championship, and a training squat of 1005 #, in addition to 11 years of competitive olympic weightlifting.