Jesse Lewis, PT, DPT, OCS
One of the most common pieces of advice in the gym is: don’t let your knee move past your toes in a lunge, squat, other leg exercises. This is often said with the best of intentions, and meant to try and “save” your knees. Unfortunately, what ends up happening is, people become terrified of their knees moving the slightest bit past their toes. They’re afraid their knee will fall apart! Relax, and stress less about your knee and your toes! Here’s why.
When Doesn’t it Matter?
The next time you walk down stairs, try to do so without your knee moving in front of your toes. Spoiler alert: it’s not possible. Every time you walk down stairs, sit into or get out of a chair, or get in and out of your car your knees move past your toes. It’s a part of our daily life – and how our bodies are designed to move. If it really was bad for your knees, everyone would be getting knee replacements by age 50. So, if your knee moves a few centimeters in front of your toe when you lunge or squat, you don’t need to stress. Completely avoiding it is probably doing more harm than good because you are working so hard to avoid it and going against how your body naturally moves.
Where Did it Come From?
This advice is rooted in good intentions. The farther forward your knee goes the more stress that goes through the knee. But stress through the knee isn’t a bad thing. If it was, then we shouldn’t lift weights, run, or really do anything except sit and walk. Stress through your body is how it builds strength. Too much stress at one time can lead to injury, but slow and gradual buildup of stress through a body part actually makes it less likely to be injured.
What Does This Mean For You?
Most importantly, stress less when exercising. You’ll enjoy your workout a lot more if you’re not worried about every movement causing an injury. If you’ve been completely avoiding your knee going too far forward, you shouldn’t all of a sudden try to see how far forward you can go the next time you do a lunge. Like with any new movement or exercise tweak, gradually introduce a new movement pattern to an exercise before you start to add a lot of weight to a lunge, squat or step up.