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Squat and Deadlift Technique: Why the “Knees Out” Cue Might not be Enough

Written on November 27, 2012 at 10:34 am, by Eric Cressey

“Knees out” is a term I’ve heard yelled in gyms during squatting for as long as I can remember.  However, that cue alone might not help a lot of lifters train safely and productively.  Check out today’s video to learn more:

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  • Jason

    I was always taught to “spread the floor”..Your thoughts?

  • bill

    Eric,

    If you see a knee collapse medially on the conventional deadlift, but only when the weight gets heavy, what would you look at first? Ankle? Hip?

    Thanks!

  • Joshua Van Schaick

    Dude, you do a fantastic job! I learn something from you every time. Thanks for helping me evolve as a coach, trainer, and athlete. Thank you.

    All the Best,

  • Jenny

    Hi Eric,

    I have a injury in my hip, poss F.A.I. And so practice squats with my back against the wall so it is always straight rather than sticking my ass out.

    This goes against any squat practice I have ever done. What’s the consequences of this and any other exercises you can recommend which doesn’t involve too much hip flexion

    Thanks

  • Jenny

    Thanks

  • Nicholas St John Rheault

    Enjoy learning the more in depth of the explanation as to why you do what you do. Cues alone don’t always convey acute issues that can occur over and over. Your thoughts on having an athlete bit their shirt to help maintain neutral spine. I also see a lot of the following: necks go into lordosis; knees into valgus; feet go into extreme external rotation after starting in neutral. Any other suggestions? Appreciated as always. – Nicholas

  • http://www.fixyourrun.com John Goldthorp

    In my experience, there are many times when ‘knee cave’ can be traced back to core dysfunction or simply pattern dysfunction – especially regarding the squat. For example, when someone has lost that natural posterior weight shift and stabilization and we give them an adequate heel lift, the squat pattern cleans up beautifully and often there’s no cueing necessary. I guess what I’m trying to say is that sometimes knee cave is a symptom. What do you guys think?

  • Braden

    Great video Eric. I read the subject of your email and the first thought that came to my head was, why would someone cue the knees without focusing on the feet?

  • Amit Sardal

    Hello! So if someone has a problem with collapsing knees during a squat, the only solution for him would be a narrower stance?

  • http://www.jdiperformance.com/ Jesse Irizarry

    I love quick tips like this that are explained in an easy to understand way. Thanks for the post, Eric!

  • http://www.getbuiltchattanoogacrossfit.com Mike A.

    Eric,

    my squat stance set up is squared-off and narrow and my knees cave as I am driving out of the hole even though I am thinking “knees out”. Are x-band walks going to improve that? Have you got any other “secret weapon” assistance movements that might reduce the amount of caving that I experience when squatting heavy?

    thanks,

    Mike

  • Emily

    Great video. You mentioned foot placement, what are your thoughts on the angle of the toes? Angled out, and then cue knees out to the toes?

  • Sam

    That was was pretty awesome. I’ve never made those connections before. Especially about how the deadlift gives you immediate feedback. That seems so obvious now. Thank you for that

  • http://ericcressey.com Eric Cressey

    Thanks, Jesse!

  • http://ericcressey.com Eric Cressey

    Amit,

    No, that wouldn’t be the ONLY solution. Cueing of knees out, hip strengthening, mobility drills, a posterior weight shift, etc. could all help as well.

  • http://ericcressey.com Eric Cressey

    John,

    Agree 100%. Train the movements, not the muscles.

  • http://ericcressey.com Eric Cressey

    Nicholas,

    It’s often a case of simply taking the weight down and practicing technique at a lower percentage when people start to compensate as the loads get heavier.

    I’m not sure I love the bite the shirt approach. Still doesn’t guarantee neutral cervical spine.

  • http://ericcressey.com Eric Cressey

    Jenny,

    Giving yourself some posterior pelvic tilt and anterior core engagement (to reduce lordosis) should take some stress off the FAI. I’d still be ruling out all bilateral squatting, though. I find folks are fine in most cases with deadlift variations, barbell supine bridges, and single-leg work, assuming the labrum isn’t too chewed up.

  • http://ericcressey.com Eric Cressey

    Thanks, Joshua!

  • http://ericcressey.com Eric Cressey

    Bill,

    I’d look at technique. Chances are that they are up on the toes too much, or the feet are too wide.

  • http://ericcressey.com Eric Cressey

    Jason,

    It’s another good cue, but won’t fix things if the feet are already too wide.

  • http://ericcressey.com Eric Cressey

    Mike,

    X-band walks won’t hurt, but the problem is that they aren’t really training you in a position of hip flexion, where the issues really exist. The best correction is good squatting – and in many cases, a posterior weight shift (goblet squats, TRX overhead squats, etc) do a great job.

  • http://ericcressey.com Eric Cressey

    Emily,

    About 15-degrees of out-toeing is appropriate, in my opinion. Folks with retroverted hips may need a bit more, though.

  • Q

    Eric,

    Will you have a post for the opposite (less frequent) issue? i.e. narrow stance, varus knees way out, and resultant knee pain?

    Thanks!

  • Eric Vaughn

    Which New Balance shoe are you wearing? I am enjoying my Minimus for strength and speed work.

  • kedric

    Great tip Eric,I always cue those I teach to narrow their stance first then push their knees out and spread the floor.

    Also here is something good from you boy Tony G :)http://www.tonygentilcore.com/blog/deadlifts-and-foot-placement/

    thanks,
    -kedric

  • http://ericcressey.com Eric Cressey

    Eric,

    These are the new Minimus (version 3.0). They come out December 1. I love them!

  • http://ericcressey.com Eric Cressey
  • http://www.lacrossestrength.com Pete

    Great Video, Eric. Cueing is an art just like anything else in performance training. Thanks.

  • Hollister

    I understand this explanation and as always Eric, solid job of explaining this!
    Thank you.

  • http://superbootcamps.co.uk George Super BootCamps

    Great set of instructions, and good conversation in the comments, as always.

    As an instructor I very rarely use the same set of commands for my clients, I vary what I say depending on the information they’re sending me, I guess that’s always seemed the most natural and flexible way of getting them to do what I want them to do…

    Keep up the good work,
    George

  • Thomas Adams

    Regarding the questions dealing with “knee cave” with heavier loads. You may want to consider seeing a manual therapist, adhesion in the quadriceps can limit force production and you may rely more on adductor magnus which will produce hip extension (from a flexed to neutral hip position) but also hip adduction.

  • T obi

    I don’t have this issue with dead lifts but I do with squats and for the life of me can’t seem to correct it. When I do tear the knees out my feet start to rotate out too. Someone suggested working on core strength. Any thoughts?

  • Nathan Bell

    Interesting video, I am familiar with these methods already and find them useful, however my key question is whether plates under the heel can provide a long-term solution? I have real bad ankle mobility and have been putting a lot of work in as of late to try and improve.

    By using this method and gradually reducing the height of the heel platform do you think this would eventually lead to increase ankle mobility and enough dorsiflexion to squat deep without any intervention?

  • http://anthonydexmier.com Anthony

    Excellent video Eric. A lot of cues are thrown in thoughtlessly, unfortunately. It’s good that you set the record straight.

  • http://ericcressey.com Eric Cressey

    Nathan,

    I see it as a short-term fix that only creates more long-term problems. Better to address the issue – unless, of course, it’s a true structural foot issue.

    Most folks can gain enough dorsiflexion with proper pre-training warm-ups before attempting these exercises.

  • Barron

    Eric,
    I have focused on weight placement on the feet. I encourage atheletes to put their weight on the outside of the foot and heel. It gets the same results you get. What am I missing? Am I solving one issue to create another?

  • Sebastian

    Nice video,

    I was just going over this exact subject on the deadlift with a client yesterday. The use of arms as feedback always seems to drive this concept home.

    Thanks for all the shared knowledge and love many of the products you offer!

  • http://ericcressey.com Eric Cressey

    Thanks, Sebastian!


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