Knees out has been a staple cue for CrossFit coaches over the years. It is a cue that is actively taught at the CrossFit L1 and it is a cue that – on the face of it – makes perfect sense.
Knees out is a cue that is promoted to ensure that athletes are not at risk of their knees caving in and leaving them open to serious injuries. You’ve seen the horror squats. Athletes pushing themselves to the limits, knees wobbling back and forth, almost touching in places. The cue to actively push the knees out over the toes when squatting is a sensible one. It aims to get you in the strongest and most stable position possible, helping us to achieve our two key goals in lifting – that is:
- Lifting more weight
- Not dying (staying safe)
… in that order
I used to use the “knees out” in near enough all classes. Back squat? Knees out. Front squat? Knees out. Wall balls? Knees out. Air squats? Knees out. It was a go to cue that athletes by and large understood, but it was not quite enough.
First of all, it does not really aid goal number one of lifting more weight, I’m sure you’ve felt it yourself. You can push your knees out as much as you want, but do you reaaaally feel stronger? To this end the cue can sometimes work if it gets you to bring your hips through, but why not cue hips through instead?
The cue somewhat helps with goal number two, preventing injury. Although if your knees are already caving it’s very hard to correct mid-lift. Once things start to go wrong in a lift it’s hard to pull it back around. If you can stop things going awry in the first place you will be in a much safer position.
Ultimately it is a cue that means well, works for a few rather than many and has been superseded…
Screw is Superior
“Screw your feet through the floor”
Think about it. Screw your feet. This cue leads to your knees reaching out over your toes, your glutes and hamstrings will “activate” considerably more, and it’ll stop your feet rolling in. Perhaps most importantly you will transfer more power to the floor – shooting up out of the bottom position. In fact, don’t think about it, try it now. Stand up and give it a go right now.
For this cue to work, there are a few basic positions you need to assume…
- Toes forward ( or as close as) – stand with your toes forward and screw your feet into the floor. Notice how your glutes tighten and knees rotate externally. Now try it with your toes pointing outwards. Glutes don’t fire so good now, huh?
- Tripod – not that… maintain contact with the floor at your big toe, little toe and heel. The whole of your foot needs to be in contact with the floor to transfer as much power as possible through your lift.Goldilocks width – feet not too wide, feet not too narrow, but set your feet
- Goldilocks width – feet not too wide, feet not too narrow, but set your feet juuuuuust right.
Nail these positions and implement the cue correctly and I can promise you that you will see a considerable difference in both your drive out of the bottom position and the weight you can lift. Screw on the eccentric and the concentric, the way down and the way up, the way in and the way out… woof.
The extra “torque” will provide you with more drive through your “sticking point” and a better connection with the ground. You will feel stronger, and when we’re lifting heavy we need to be strong mentally as well as physically.
Actively screwing vs passively dropping into the hole. You still have to work hard on the basic positions.
Bring it Together
In my opinion, the screw will give you far more bang for your buck than knees out. In fact, I think it could quite possibly have more impact than anything else I could say during your lifts (no comments on my coaching ability, please).
So when you’re next lifting and your coach tells you to drive your knees out, ask yourself the questions “am I using my glutes?” “Am I screwing through the floor?” If the answer to either of those questions is no, then you know what you need to do to.