Squats & Knee Position: A Deeper Appreciation Part 1

Squats & Knee Position: A Deeper Appreciation  Part 1

Everyone has heard the phrase repeatedly, over the past 5 years or so, while squatting, “drive your knees out.” This can be a great cue when used appropriately, however, it has almost become obnoxious with everyone and their mothers yelling this phrase. Don’t get me wrong, I apply the cue myself, but it is highly overused. The cue should NOT be said every single time someone squats, if so, find a new gym.

When watching more experienced, along with world-record breaking, Olympic lifters, such as Ilya Ilyin and his 2014 - 242kg clean and jerk world record, you often see their knees cave inward in the bottom position, or while driving out of the bottom position. Now, I don’t think this justifies allowing a new lifter to do the same, but I do believe there is a deeper, more neurological justification for why this occurs in moderate to elite lifters.

A Squatting Neurological Plateau

Ideally, we want to see stabilization at the hips and feet to maintain a good lower extremity position with “neutral” alignment between the hips, knees, and feet. Preferably these three areas should line up during any squat variation. There should be little to no movement of the knee outward or inward of this imaginary line.

When a person loads their body with weight to squat, they increase the challenge on their neuromuscular system, to maintain ideal body position throughout the motion. If someone challenges their neuromuscular awareness outside of their current level, decreased movement quality or complete failure will occur. As a result, the brain will digress to a more primitive, stabilizing pattern in order to achieve the task at hand.

There is a valid argument of bone-on-bone, alignment issues (i.e. loss of ankle dorsiflexion). However, you will see individuals perfectly in “neutral” lower extremity alignment, in the bottom position, but as they drive their bodies’ force downward, you can briefly see their knees migrate inward. If there is a problem with boney alignment, it would present during the extreme angle (ass to grass), not during mid-range angles. Another issue with the lack of bone-on-bone range of motion (ROM) dilemma is when unloaded (i.e. body weight squat or ankle ROM testing) there should also be a lack of ankle ROM. However, when tested, passive or low-grade active ROM is not always a limiting factor to the quality of movement. This brings into the equation a more complex understanding, or viewpoint, of motion throughout the squat.

Neurological Alterations

An extreme example of a neurological plateau is seen in stroke victims. Certain areas of the brain become damaged, allowing more primitive, stabilizing patterns to present. Arm, hand, and wrist positions often become altered; you will see this pattern of stabilization in newborns as well (first 28 days of life). The uncompensated parts of the Central Nervous System (CNS) reappear as the best authority to stabilize the body¹; this produces visually altered body positions.

The knees caving inward is the digressed, stabilizing pattern for upward movement. This is why, I believe, the knees will ultimately cave inward while driving out of the bottom of the squat, or through midrange, when a person has hit their neurological plateau.

Video Evidence of a Neurological Plateau

If you watch Ilya Ilyin’s video again, presented by Hook Grip, you will see exactly what I am referring to. Slow motion allows you to witness the movement quality. In the bottom position, Ilya will allow his knees to cave inward, then reset by aligning the knee back into a position between the foot and the hip. As he drives his body downward, you will see his knees start to drift inward. There is no way someone can say this is occurring due to a lack of joint mobility. It is happening throughout his midrange joint mobility, not end range. Therefore he has hit his neurological, squatting plateau.

Here is a video of Lydia Valentin from Spain, demonstrating the same movement. She receives and stays slightly more in a genu valgus (knees inward) position; she adducts her knees inward more until she can get her torso to a higher position, to then shift her knees outward. It is at this point, shifting the knees outward, that she is no longer at her neurological plateau.

Beyond Load

Advancement in videography allows us to watch these videos in slow-mo, enabling us to better identify movement patterns and quality. Part 2 highlights why and where the drifting of the knees come from.


Kobesova, A., Kolar, P., Developmental kinesiology: Three levels of motor control in the assessment and treatment of the motor system, Journal of Bodywork & Movement Therapies (2013), http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jbmt.2013.04.002


Have a Question?

Do you have a question about chiropractic care, fitness or nutrition?  We would love to hear from you, and we might even turn your question into our next blog post!

Blog Topics

bodyawareness Rehabilitation conditioning Grand Opening #localfarmers movement screen Elbow Pain performance healthcare foot complaint #Wichita 1MillionCups Orthotics disc herniation Sprinting #hipstrength Foam Rolling #KneePain elbow pain pregnancy Limitation development #growingwichita FoamRollingFriday Mobility Drill rehabilitation knee function community ChiropracticPhysician DNS #bellybreathing Payment Pectoralis Muscles Exercise Strain Crossfit SportsChiropractor postpartum weekend crossfit wichita Breathing orthotics lifting Myofascial Release #races #wholefoods Treatment Options Chiropractic Accupuncture ICT Running Insurance Dry Needling squat Cost squats Toe Hip Flexors Glute Muscles Healthcare sports Tension ShoeShopping #freemuscletherapy WSU FAQ Rolling Patterns Low Back Pain Taping Inflammation Soft Tissue Therapy Plateau Headaches esports #deepsquat Information RunningShoes dairy free 5K PlantarFasciitis health #FootPain knee joint sara skiles entrepreneur Mechanics parenting tag2 Adductors seminar BeginningExercise chiropractor foot pain Education Wichita culture myths Recovery Pain doula running Latissimus Dorsi Myths Shoulder Squats Wet Needling Self Help treatment options patriotic bodyweight adjustment muscletherapy physical therapy Squat Home Stretches mechanics mental health tummytime Body Awareness plantar fasciitis FootExercise Adjustment Company Announcements Fitness kansas Shoes Movement #1millioncupsict Inner Thigh Functional Core awareness Physical Therapy Feet #RunningPain Pain Management Core Strength knee health Health home stretches sport injuries ICTrunning Acupuncture Foot Pain Nerve Pain Lifting guest blog Rhomboid Muscles Disc Herniation functional chiropractor rhomboid muscles rollingpatterns Healing test Compression Sleeves #somethingsbrewingict 2018 Shoulder Pain Membership Plan Performance #Running MRI Conditioning Heel Pain inflammation GoTime Handout motorpatterns #localbusiness race stability allergies Equipment Yoga chiropractic chiropractors toe functionality membership plan Mid-Back Pain #HipPain Top 5 crawling Neurology gaming pain management Massage childbearing knee pain Conservative Care

Subscribe to Our Blog

Move HEALTHY.               Feel HEALTHY.              Live HEALTHY.