The Myth of Knees Over Toes

It was way back when… during the early 1990’s when I was personal training in Houston, that an aerobics instructor friend told me that the way I was doing lunges was wrong.  And our knees-over-toes discussion ensued. After decades of continuing to hear trainers instruct their clients to not allow their knees to go past their toes while doing squats or lunges (as if they’d dislocate their knee immediately if they did so even once!), I had shaken my head in disbelief long enough… I decided to look for the research. I was happy to find the video below.  It shows a simple lunge.  While the movement isn’t the absolute BEST, it is correct in its simplest form. What I discovered is that the American Council on Exercise posted the video, and their own certified “experts” and others berated them because the woman demonstrating the lunge was doing so with her knees traveling past her toes a bit.  As you can read in the linked material below, they found a need to post a followup that explained the following (I am paraphrasing, by the way):

Hey people!  We used to teach it one way.  New research in the ensuing 20 years showed that we were wrong!  So now we teach it the new and improved way!  Stop moaning about it and learn something new!

The numbers: 1978 showed that a vertical lower leg reduced shearing forces on the knee during a squat. A 2003 study confirmed that knee stress increased by 28% when the knees moved past the toes, but hip stress increased nearly 1000% when forward movement of the knee was restricted! So by all means, keep your knees from moving out over your toes to where it feels most comfortable and correct… but allow your hips to be stressed 1000% more in the process!  Good choice! The impactful paragraph from the article…

It is a myth, however, that you should “never let your knees go past your toes while doing a squat or lunge.”This belief originated from a study that is more than 30 years old (1978 Duke University study that found maintaining a vertical lower leg as much as possible reduced shearing forces on the knee during a squat). The truth is that leaning forward too much is more likely what is truly causing the problem or injury. In 2003, University of Memphis research confirmed that knee stress increased by 28% when the knees were allowed to move past the toes while performing a squat. However, hip stress increased nearly 1,000% when forward movement of the knee was restricted.

Unfortunately, most people reciting the old method probably didn’t really understand what they were doing, nor why they were reciting that method.  They were just reciting something they were told.  So they probably wouldn’t be able to tell whether or not the “new” method was really better or not.  That’s why fundamental understanding is best, and essential if you’re going to try to teach someone else. Back to my friend in Houston, and the debate that we had… She was one of those who was reciting a technique based on what she read in a book (and was told in a class), not what she experienced and adapted based on what she “felt” in her own body-in-motion. Bottom line?  I was unable to convince her, but I was right.  I came to do lunges the correct way, intuitively, based on my own knowledge and experience, and upon my keen understanding of what correct muscle movement “feels” like.  I knew, without a doubt, that what I was doing was safe and effective, and that it was the movement that impacted the muscles in the best possible way. But that’s the way that I found was most effective for my clients’ success in their fitness strategy… teach them to correctly FEEL what the muscles are supposed to be doing first.  Then they’ll be able to assess a new exercise, movement, or machine on their own and know whether it’s safe, effective, good, or bad, and be confident about their assessment. The lunging video that received the negative comments… I only see a few of those comments now. and the ACE article followup… and a forum that referred to the ACE article along with some other links…

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