I decided to write this article when I read one of my subscriber's question (chanel Heavy Metal Gym) Her coach advises her to move her knees outwards (while they should be just fixed) when she stands up while lifting weight up during a squat. So she asks me whether is it dangerous or not?! What do you think about it, my friends?! Today we are going to talk about squats, lunges and other exercises which pump your leg muscles, glutes and we will discuss knee injuries. Don't be lazy and read this information carefully so you can understand what is dangerous for your joints or vice versa. Due to the fact that there are so much untrue and incorrect information in modern fitness industry nowadays so you have to know your way around. As you'll see further there isn't anything difficult, just use your grey matter.
Recently, I uploaded a new video on my channel about the importance of understanding of what we do, for what purpose and how https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1qdOp6Xw1T8
Today you'll understand the significance of it and I’ll give you an example.
What do usually coaches and gym rats say to you about squats? Right! Squats will “kill” your knees. But when we ask why, they don’t know what to say and even can’t explain what we can damage in our knee.
What about you?
People who consider themselves advanced talk about ligaments or about meniscus but they can’t still explain what and why you can injure. Today we will get it right and break this topic down.
To begin with, it’s necessary to understand what and how can cause us an injury like ligament tear, dislocation or something else. Admit that to be aware of what knee joint looks like is relevant. It is the biggest and the most elaborated joint in our body.
Knee joint is formed between three bones: the femur, tibia, and patella (kneecap). Also it consists of 2 menisci. It is said a lot about different knee injuries but forgotten about the kneecap which is more exposed to injuries, especially when you are young. The kneecap is unique because as it’s inserted into lower tendon of quadriceps femoris and also becomes a part of this tendon. Abnormal softening of the cartilage of the underside the kneecap can cause serious problems, especially to young girls. The main reason is tight posterior surface of a thigh (hamstring). Weak muscles of anterior surface (the front of the thigh, including the femoral triangle) only will make it worse. To straighten those muscles and to prevent such problems, you have to work on your vastus medialis muscle which is on the medial side of the femur (i.e. on the inner part thigh).
If you remember well my earliest videos and articles, then you’ll pay attention to the importance of training all the muscles in order to save your joints. Particularly
it refers to girls more due to the front muscles of a thigh are stronger and better developed than the muscles of the anterior side. Of course, remember to do stretching every evening in order to prevent injuries such as shortening of a muscle because of physical training. Menisci are made of fibrocartilaginous tissue. The medial meniscus is nearly semicircular, being wider behind than in front. The lateral meniscus is nearly circular. Both meniscus attach by their ends to the bones that provides mobility and gives the joint plasticity.The peripheral margin of medial meniscus is adherent to the deep part of the tibial collateral ligament.
The meniscus shifts forward when you extend your knee. While flexing the knee, it goes backwards, (posteriorly) taking the entire load and evenly distributes it. The menisci also act as shock absorbers. They stabilize the joint during intense flexions and extensions, playing the role of “brakes”. The medial meniscus in particular is more prone to injuries as it has less mobility than the lateral meniscus. The injuries of meniscus never come out of blue. Meniscus tears happens because of regular wearing out, gradually deteriorating and then tear.
How the meniscus can be damaged? When the knee of supporting leg turns outwards while the leg is straightened.
Think about the advice you can hear from coaches or read in articles how to do leg extensions or hamstring curls, leg press or Standing Calf Raises and Seated Calf Raises. Performing such exercises you should keep your toes pointed in or out; so now you understand that it is much worse for meniscus than squats.
Imagine that you are doing one of those exercises and moving your toes outwards too much. While doing so the muscles of your hips and lower leg muscles twisting your meniscus (working in different directions).
That’s why I always talk about the importance of technique of each exercise and especially if we do LUNGES, Dumbbell Walking Lunge in particular. If you look at how people perform this exercise by themselves or even with professional coaches, pay attention to those nuances that are very important in terms of your health.
Let’s talk about LUNGES in detail. Place your feet together so it will be your starting position. (It doesn’t matter how you will perform the exercise with dumbbells, barbell or without weights.) Start with your right leg and step forward and a little bit to the right in order to keep the balance. The first mistake is losing the balance that will lead you to an injury. The second mistake and the most common is lowering your upper body downwards and simultaneously touching the floor with your foot. Some people even do this move earlier than it’s needed to be done. In the end it looks not like a step but like a stop-turn while squatting. You must separate a step from lowering into a squat without your rear knee touching the floor. Then raise yourself back up and place your feet as they were in the starting position.
Firstly, it is about how to make the movement right in order to engage (recruit) your muscles to the utmost. Secondly, it’s about keeping your knee joint healthy because when you step forward simultaneously falling into a squat, your momentum will carry you forward and your front knee go past your toes and you will place the weight on the toes of your front leg. Meanwhile the entire load should be distributed equally or it may shift a little bit to your heel. If you do everything right and divide the movement into segments then after having made a step forward you can accurately go down, keeping an angle of 90 degrees (front leg). Moreover you’ll exclude high pressure on your joint which appears with wrong technique. Only in such way you can properly pump your legs’ muscles as well as the glutes and save health of the joint: step forward-go down-raise back up-place your rear foot to the front foot…begin the movement with the other leg.
Also you have to leave your knee a little bit flexed at the point when you extend your knees while performing such exercises like squats, leg press and lunges.
Let’s take a look at the most common example – ligament tear.
Unlike pelvis joint (hip joint) where stability is provided by bones (aka osseous structures) and shoulder joint stability virtually reside in muscles, knee joint is mainly stable due to the ligaments:
1- medial collateral ligament (on the inside)
2- lateral collateral ligament (on the outside)
3- anterior cruciate ligament (in front)
4- posterior cruciate ligament ( in back)
Remember my friends: when the knee is extended, collateral ligaments are taut (связки натянуты), when it is flexed - they are relaxed. According to the name of the ligaments, it is clear that they control the sideways motion of your knee and brace it against unusual movement. When your leg is more flexed, the more collateral ligaments are relaxed.
The anterior cruciate ligament and the posterior cruciate ligament are inside of the knee joint and these ligaments don’t allow your bones move back and forth towards each other.
The anterior cruciate ligament stabilizes the knee joint when it bends. It has 3 fiber bundles:
- the anteromedial (stabilize when the knee joint is extended)
- the medial
- the posterolateral (stabilize when the knee joint is flexed)
The posterior cruciate ligament is stronger than the anterior cruciate ligament and it’s the main stabilizer when the knee is flexed. The cruciate ligaments don’t allow the lower leg to turn inwards and also don’t allow the lower leg turn outwards.
The injury of cruciate ligaments (the anteriorligament as well as posterior) occur when the knee is flexed while the lower leg is turning about an axis under the pressure of external force. Plus, not only will those ligaments be injured but the meniscus and sometimes even collateral ligament too. There is no need to say that is a very serious injury and what consequences it has.
The best way to prevent that is developing muscles of the hips. What is more, the anterior ligament is stabilized by the posterior muscle group of the hip and the posterior ligament is stabilized by the anterior muscle group of the hip.
What you should know first is that for girls and boys (beginners) is better to perform Powerlifting squats and Olimpic squats because such squats will engage more the posterior group muscle of the hip and the glutes whereas bodybuilding squat is aimed to pump up your quadriceps more. Many people believe that Powerlifting squats are the deepest. Only someone who has never seen the Olimpic squat before can think that way. By the way, there is less injuries in weightlifting than in powerlifting and bodybuilding if we talk about knee joint. Those of you who has finished reading this I guess know why!
Don’t be sad if you didn’t know something or did not do it right, it’s better late than never. I also had misapprehensions but the most important is your pursuit of perfection for constant perfection of your technical and practical knowledge and skills. For example, I thought that the lower you place a bar during a squat, you can keep the back straight easier but it happened to be exactly the opposite.
So, my friends, KNOWLEDGE doesn’t always mean UNDERSTANDING.
There are 3 types of squats:
- Bodybulilding squat
- Powerlifting squat
- Olimpic squat
Each type has its own features that we will discuss further.
Powerlifting squat is a quite deep squat (bend the knees and lower the body until the top surface of the legs at the hip joint is lower than the top of the knees) but not as deep as the Olimpic squat. Plus in the Powerlifting squat your knees shouldn’t go past your toes. At the championships, judges check the top surface of the leg (quadriceps) to be in parallel to the floor (while lowering during squats) so the pelvis will be lower than the top of your knees and such an attempt counts. The movement is done by the pelvis, leaving the lower legs in vertical position. According to such style of performance the extension of the lower legs aren’t so considerable, so it helps to unload the quadriceps shifting the load to the glutes and the hamstrings. That’s why I try to instill such style of the squats in my female students. Of course it correlates with girls’ anthropometrical characteristics. This style is also called “pelvic style” as the pelvic moves towards the knee. The weight should be evenly distributed throughout the whole foot with a sense of pressure in the heels; only like that you can perform the squat properly.
Olimpic squat is really the deepest squat and it requires different technique like your knee should go past your toes in order not to create a sharp angle in the knee joint. The beginning of the movement is the same like in powerlifting squat but it requires the knee to go forward at the end of the movement. Basically it is the squat where the top surface of the hip is in parallel to the floor because thanks to the right technique when the knee goes past the toes, the top of the hip will be in parallel with the floor at the bottom.
Bodybuilding squat isn’t the deepest squat. Moreover, performing this squat, your knee can slightly pass your toes according to the individual anthropometrical characteristics. The movement starts from the knees, the pelvis doesn’t go as backwards as in powerlifting. The lower legs aren’t in an upright position because they extend and engage quadriceps to its maximum, leaving less work for glutes and hamstrings. As it was said earlier, it is acceptable to allow the knee slightly to go past the toes if there are certain anthropometrical characteristics. The weight should be evenly distributed throughout the whole foot without a sense of pressure in the heels or in the toes.
Pretty often, the reason of “butt wink” at the bottom position means that you have a problem with hip mobility (stiff pelvic joint) and tightened glutes but the most common is the hamstring.
“Butt wink” always happens because of bad flexibility of the hamstrings. While lowering down the body during a squat, the distance between the attachments of the hamstring shortens (if they are very tight), the pelvic moves forward and your back rounds.
Deeps squat can only do you harm if you perform it wrong and don’t understand which rules you should follow according to those 3 types of SQUATS that I described.
If somebody wants to squat really deep and will listen to people who does Power lifting squat or Bodybuilding squat; they will advise you to keep your knee in line with your toes then you can injure yourself performing the Olimpic squat. As you already know to perform such a deep squat is impossible without keeping your knee at a sharp angle.
Here are the basic rules for a deep squat:
The movement starts from your pelvic but the knees should go past the toes in order to leave the pelvic in one line with the knee, the quadriceps is almost in parallel with the floor. The weight should be distributed throughout the whole foot without a sense of pressure in the heels or in the toes.
There are special shoes for such squats - weightlifting shoes. If you want to do Olimpic squats you better do it in the weightlifting shoes but to perform Bodybuilding squats in those shoes is detrimental and dangerous.
Pay special attention to the tempo in negative phase in any type of the squats you do or it can become a cause of a serious injury. If you look at experienced bodybuilders or powerlifters, you will notice that they lower the weight slowly, moreover it’s not just slow but it’s slowed down deliberately so that allows them to work with serious weights.
Beginners and fools ignore the negative phase almost in every exercise they do. They not only make exercises 50 % less effective but expose themselves to risk of getting an injury.
After having read this information you should UNDERSTAND that no matter how deep you lower yourself down you won’t be able to injure your knee unless you start moving your knees inwards or outwards while you’re lifting the weight up. Now you understand who works in GYMs. Furthermore, they get their diplomas in quite respectable institutions. But we understand that when the knee is flexed in a squat or other exercise, the knee joint will be stabilized only by leg muscles; all the ligaments are relaxed, so it’s very easy to injure them by moving the knees in different directions. What’s more you can injure not only the ligaments but meniscus too. Knowing that the meniscus is like a cushion which distribute the pressure between two bones and during rotation or flexion of the leg it goes to the other side of flexion or rotation. If this movement or another one -when your leg is extending will be performed under no control and quickly, the meniscus can be jammed between two bones and be injured. As well as ligaments menisci are injured not because of the depth of a squat or sharp angle in your knee but because of side movements of the knees under the load.
That’s why technique and the right choice of an exercise are so important. Now you know why to perform lunges properly will be safer and more effective.
Knowing all those facts we have to come to REALISE that the deeper a squat the safer our knee joints. Working in full range of motion we work with smaller weights than in half squats as it is common in bodybuilding or in powerlifting because the knee joint is more likely to be injured as it is stabilized only by the anterior and posterior muscles of the hip. If leg muscles are not strong enough to lift the weight from such position under control, you’ll be at risk to move the knees outwards or inwards that will lead you to injury. Don’t forget that any effort that you put in to perform a half squat with big weight will lead to the displacement to the medial or lateral side of the knee if the leg muscles aren’t developed enough.
In conclusion, I’d like to remind you, my friends that KNOWLEGDE without UNDERSTANDING is equal to THEORY without PRACTICE. It is useless. As
we could see while talking about the depth of a squat and about the common premise of how it is dangerous to put the toes past the knees.
Author: Yegor Rubanovich
Translated by Karina Alexandrovna
Editor: Phoenix Sosa