Dare I Discuss It? Knees that go places...

The hub-bub hasn't ended. People are still talking, blogging, facebook-ing, and meme-ing about what should be done with the knees during squats.

I hesitated to even write this because someone some where won't like it. Then I thought, but I'm basically a nobody. Therefore, let the rant begin!

I pretty much only hear this discussion come from my foot in the weightlifting world. And let me just say this. As a whole, weightlifters are pretty whiny. Really. We are. Whiny and self righteous. We're like a bunch of orthodox Christian something-or-anothers, and our way is right and we're going to shout you down because science, credentials, and whatnot.

In fact, I'm whining here because I'm a weightlifter. It comes with the territory, like menses and uteruses.

Guess what cue I heard last Sunday during my strongman training session? Grab the handles and push your knees out really hard before you pick it up. Oh, interesting.

Guess what cue I heard a lot of when I was focusing on powerlifting training? Push your knees out, spread the floor and get your hips through. That's funny.

On a recent episode of "Offline", a CrossFit HQ discussion panel series, the issue of "knees out" was the main topic. It was basically Kelly Starrett arguing his point against Jacob Tsypkin and Quinn Henoch. You can find the episode HERE.

I don't feel like reiterating everything about the debate here. Other than to say you might want to watch if only to look at Ariel Stephen's quads. They are a thing of beauty. (Creepy enough?)

Also on the panel was Lon Kilgore. He seemed to basically throw in his two censt with Kelly and then sit back and watch the debate unfold. That's because he's a powerlifter, not a weightlifter. See above note about weightlifters.

Moving on.

In my experience, I've had to tell every single one of my new athletes coming into CrossFit, powerlifting, or weightlifting to either (1) push their knees out, (2) spread the floor with their feet, (3) screw their feet and hips in. All of these cues elicit the same effect: stabilize tracking of the knee, raise the arch of the foot, and greater activation of the glute meds.

In my experience, I've told maybe 5 athletes to not be a fucking ballerina and push their knees back in. These were athletes that took the "knees out" cue too far and had increased their range of motion enough they could be a high class stripper. It's really not what we're looking for either, but generally if you're going to see this it's going to be a more intermediate athlete who has the motor control and range of motion to do such.

I still want these athlete to screw their feet in and/or spread the floor. Don't get slack and let your knees gimbal everywhere. But "knees out" may no longer be the right cue for them.

This is where self directed athletes and less experienced coaches can run into problems. The "Becoming a Supple Leopard" book is meant to address the needs of the majority, and the majority can use the knee out cue to get the right squatting motion down.

I don't doubt that PT's like Quinn have seen people hurt themselves by overdoing the knee out movement. I've seen athletes that have pushed it so far as to atrophy their VMO and end up with knee pain. Atrophied muscles are never a good thing. Time for sissy squats and hack squats to build that back up. But again, this is rare. Between San Francisco CrossFit and United Barbell, I'm working with hundreds of people a week, and I've seen this only a handful of times (<10).
I just really want more people to squat heavy.
Where do I tell people to track their knees when they squat? I generally ask they have their knees push over their pinky toe. Most beginners can't do that, but trying to will keep the pressure on the glute meds. And those that can won't try to turn their squat into a plié.