I just got asked this question a couple of times recently which prompted me to bring this up in the form of a post. Moreover, I have been silent recently writing something else of another manner so here's to the faithful followers of the Training Geek. So when we squat, is it good to squat with our knees tracking over our toes?
Most trainers will tell you when you do a squat, you want to initiate the movement as though you are sitting back into it. This is to ensure that the knees are kept within the position of the toes if a vertical reference line is drawn from the top of the toes. But how safe is that?
Recently, a study from the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research put out this paper regarding this squatting myth. In their paper, they compared restricted (knees not passing toes) and unrestricted (knees going over toes) squats. To put it in brief, it was found that by keeping your knees within that vertical reference line of your toes (restricted squats), you load up the lower back even more which is not ideal as the training effect you would like to have is adaptation to your muscles in the legs and hips. On the other hand, with the knees going past the toes, the load gets transferred from the lower back to the leg muscles (particularly the quadriceps).
So the bottom line is, there is totally nothing wrong with your knees tracking over your toes when you squat. It might be argued that in powerlifting, the squat is performed more like a restricted squat but to adjust for that, the squat is performed with a wider stance which firstly allows for movement of the body to be kept within a narrower sagittal plane of movement and that also allows for more of the hip extensors to be used in the movement which reduces the loading of the lower back.
Like I mentioned earlier in another squat article about how low you go in a squat, if you progressively train your knees up to adapt to the acute angle when squatting with your knees going over your toes, you are not going to experience any form of knee pain. Plus, you get to save your lower back. Why not right?
Stay Strong and Keep Your Knees Over Your Toes,
The Training Geek.