Blog / April 9, 2014 / 2 comments
By Head Coach Jan Dayleg
Ever hear a coach cue you to “shove your knees out”? Other similar cues include “Spread the floor!” or “Screw your feet into the ground!” Likely this coach’s thought was to create more torque through your hip and to more evenly distribute the force across your leg musculature. Harnessing this torque will create a more stable, stronger squat, which will have major carryover into every other movement involving your lower body. (Which is like… EVERY other movement in CrossFit.) You should always try to “grab” the floor with your feet and corkscrew them into the floor.
Not to geek out too much, but in essence, shoving your knees out properly is the act of screwing your leg into your hip socket, to create a rotational force. This creates even force along your hip and leg musculature, allowing you to squat more effectively and more efficiently. You will use your glutes, hamstrings, quads, and all the other smaller muscles more effectively, and in sync. From a safety standpoint, without torque at the hip, there is much less stability, because essentially the rotational force removes any “slack” from the system. Without actively creating torque, your body will rely on the quads and hamstrings primarily, which are only good at forward and backward movement, as opposed to rotational movement. This will likely lead to some inward knees and ugly squats. Inward knees or “knock” knees are NEVER a good thing. (Think collapsed knees, torn ACL, damaged meniscus, all those bad things nobody wants.) Put simply, you are much “tighter” with torque, and we should all know, the tighter you can get your WHOLE body, the better and SAFER you will ultimately be. To illustrate this, think of what would happen if you didn’t brace your ENTIRE body while performing a max effort strict press. Surely there would be some back pains and bruised egos. Think of your body as a chain. You do not want a single weak link during ANY movement.
Okay, we know now that torque is a good thing. How can we all improve upon this whole concept? Initially, every single athlete in our box will learn the foundational “air squat”. My first cue in the setup is “feet shoulder width, SLIGHTLY toed out”. Many coaches will preach a fairly wide toe angle, about 25-30 degrees out, sometimes more. While this is not wrong by any means, it certainly will be less effective at creating that torque through the hip, and while slightly safer in the air squat, when you start putting a loaded barbell on your back, you will definitely feel the difference. Try this out:
-Stand with your feet shoulder width and forcefully corkscrew your feet into the ground. (Hopefully you aren’t wearing only socks, you need to be able to grip the ground.)
-Try the same thing with your feet at 10, 20, 30, 40 degrees turned out from completely straight.
-Likely you will notice a difference in “tightness” through the entire hip girdle, with the smaller toe angles being tighter. That’s the difference in torque with the different toe angles!
To keep it short, if you aren’t already around the 5-15 degree toe angle, bring your toe angle in! There is no universal angle for everyone, just bring your toes as narrow as possible into an angle that will allow you to maintain proper body mechanics and reach full squat depth. This will be different across the spectrum of athletes, because of mobility, previous instruction, and anatomy.
If you already put up big weights on the various squats with a wide toe angle, all you are doing is leaving pounds and kilos on the table, and you are likely too lazy to work on the mobility or technique to further improve your squat. Neglecting mobility or further mastery of any movement because you THINK you’re already successful is blatant ignorance and laziness. Always strive to make yourself “prettier” each day. (In your movements, at least.) Shove your knees out, fix your toe angle, and mobilize the heck out of your hips, legs, ankles, etcetera etcetera! Always strive for virtuosity in every movement, whether that’s improving mobility to get a better position, or making technical tweaks to your movement patterns. What have you done lately to bring yourself closer to virtuosity in the squat?