Offline, Episode 4: The “Knees Out” Cue

By Russell Berger and Noor Greene

In Coaching, ExPhysiology, HD Videos

February 22, 2014

Video Article

The topic is the “knees out” cue in this episode of Offline, an unscripted presentation of guests debating controversial subjects in the CrossFit world.

Host Russell Berger welcomes four guests:

  • Kelly Starrett, leader of CrossFit Mobility seminars, owner of San Francisco CrossFit, doctor of physical therapy and author of Becoming a Supple Leopard.
  • Lon Kilgore, professor at the University of West Scotland, CrossFit Journal contributor, co-author of Starting Strength and author of Anatomy Without a Scalpel.
  • Quinn Henoch, another doctor of physical therapy and a competitive Olympic weightlifter.

The discussion focuses on an October blog post written by USA Weightlifting Hall of Fame Coach Bob Takano: The Knees Out Discussion.

In a comment responding to a reader, Takano said, “In this case knees out refers to pointing the knees outside of the angle of the feet. If you have a copy of Kelly Starrett’s Supple Leopard book, Diane Fu is demonstrating this in the photos of her performing squat snatches and squat cleans.”

“‘Knees out’ is not a style of squatting, and we have never represented it that way. In fact, that’s even ridiculous,” Starrett says on the show.

Starrett says the cue is about maintaining torque in the hip, as well as stability in the hip and back.

“What we’re looking at here is how to teach the squat, that’s what we’re actually talking about,” Kilgore says, adding that a method is outlined in Starting Strength.

“We cue ‘knees out,’ but we’re not using that as a criteria of where we have a very specific of concept of where the knees are. What we’re doing is lining up the line of identity of the foot and the femur—those should be in line,” he says.

He adds: “But to get that in most beginners, you have to cue knees out because they’ve never squatted before.”

Post your own views to comments.

Video by Russell Berger and Noor Greene.

29min 30sec

HD file size: 543 MB
SD mov file size: 205 MB

Please note: For smoother viewing of HD videos, please download the entire file to your hard drive before watching it (right-click and choose Save Link As...).

Additional reading: Foundations by Greg Glassman, published April 1, 2002.

Free Download

Comment

21 Comments on “Offline, Episode 4: The “Knees Out” Cue”

1

Chris Sinagoga wrote …

Kelly, I have one question,

You mentioned before that whatever joint bends first is loaded the most. If that is the case (which makes perfect sense), then I've always wondered why it is okay to bend the knees first on a push press/jerk (even if it is knees out.) Is it a technique that might fit lifting as a sport best but may be not the most ideal?

Great discussion to everyone on the panel by the way.

2

wrote …

I've got my L1, also attended Kelly's mobility seminar back in 2011. Long time supporter of MWOD and Starretts coaching cues. Since then, I've pushed my knees out in the squat for a couple years. Now, just over the last year I've developed some severely tight IT/TFL which have caused me some chronic back/knee pain. I've read numerous articles, seen numerous videos (including one of Kelly/Dianne explaining "knees out" is more of "not knees in") covering this debate. And it led me to do what everyone should, experiment with yourself and keep the best method. In the last 4 months I've completely stopped thinking of the knees out cue. I HAVE noticed that not letting my knees cave in VS. pushing my knees out has made a great deal of difference in the daily level of pain and tightness in my IT/TFL and as far as I can tell, subsequently my knees and lower back. In fact, I rarely wake up with excruciating pain anymore. Some days I can tell when I've gone a little high on the volume in my training the day before, and those are the days I work mobility longer and/or take it easier on myself in the gym for the next day or two. I don't use the term "knees out" when cueing my athletes anymore, unless I see their arch collapse in their foot. Even then, I explain why I cue that after their lift is complete, and share with them my personal experience with the cue and how it shouldn't be exaggerated. Granted, I am just a recreational weightlifting athlete and coach, not a medical professional who knows exactly one way or another what was the root of the cause of my pain/discomfort as well as what was the actual solution. I'm merely sharing my personal experience on the topic, as well as my personal decision to use the cue sparingly.

Thanks for the video!

3

replied to comment from Kyle Bulava

Kyle, I had the same issue, I believe it was from using the IT band to stabilize the femur vice the glute. Something to play with.

As for the larger topic:
I see almost every client benefitting from the knee out cue. I see almost no clients that can "over-out" their knees. Until I put a lot of work into getting my knees "to the limit of their range", I struggled to get the correct depth in the squat (I have ankle mob issues).

My answer is "get in the arena" and try things that the smartest people you can find are recommending. But what the heck do I know.

4

replied to comment from Chris Sinagoga

because its a press. Your joints are sharing the load up. it's an unloading

5

replied to comment from Chris Sinagoga

Kinetic energy

6

wrote …

Kelly's knees out cue helped me learn how to squat properly about 4 years ago. As I got more flexible, though, my constant emphasis on knees out began to undermine my stability. By pressing so hard outwardly, I actually began to lose tension.. My back flared up and I lost max strength. Recently, I decided I was going to listen to my body to find a stabile position. I settled on feet at 30 degrees, just outside shoulder width. Knees track just outside feet. Chest up. Within two months I'm back to my back squat PR, this time feeling great.

7

That doesn't make any sense. Can you explain more?

And this video should have way more comments...

8

wrote …

Why is this not an issue of foot position? I would never have one of my athletes excessively push their knees out without first positioning their feed with a slight external rotation. Is tension and load on the ankle not an issue here?

9

wrote …

As long have you have torsion in the hip and your ankle hasn't collapsed it doesn't matter how far your knees are out.

Dianne Fu needs to shove her knees out dramatically because her mobility in her hip is unreal she needs her knees further out to produce the torsion?

Surely thats not to hard to understand

I found that the more mobile I have become the more i can shove my knees out, and this in turn has improved my squatting performance and and decreased pain in my entire system

10

wrote …

As a military physical therapy doc, I use the squat to evaluate lower extremity injuries 70+ times a week. Most patients with back/hip/knee/ankle pain are poor movers (ie. increased anterior translation of the knee, valgus knee, heels up, etc). With the cue "knees out" I can correct anterior translation, valgus knee, weight on the toes, loss of lordotic curve, forward chest and so on. It takes less than a minute. Nearly all patients report it feels better. In my three years of evaluating Soldiers (over 10,000 squat evaluations), no patient has reported that it increases their pain compared to their dysfunctional squat, including those we would consider hypermobile.

The Level 1 manual quotes "knees out" to correct valgus deficiencies, and goes as far as to cue the athlete to "push against my hand" with the trainer placing their hand on the lateral knee.

11

Hey Dylan,

From my understanding, "slight" turnout of the toes means between 5 and 10 degrees. Anything outside of that and you lose a lot of ability to create torque through the whole lower body. Test this out:

Toes perfectly straight forward - plant the big toe and squeeze the butt
Toes out "slightly" - plant the big toe and squeeze the butt
Toes out at about 30-45 degrees - plant the big toe and squeeze the butt

You should feel a great decrease in tension and torque on the last one.

I don't think load on the ankle is an issue because if you squat correctly, your hips get loaded first, not your ankle. And tension in the ankle, I would imagine, is a good thing if it keeps it in a good position.

12

replied to comment from Chris Sinagoga

Speaking of times when people skip an entire part of a book, these people clearly forgot to read Kelly's rationale in Supple Leopard and just flipped to the exercises. Obtaining lower body torque force is a game changer, it rocks your world through simplification offering an excellent method to stabilize and align joints and it ties together the entire kinetic chain. Its tiring listening to people continually view movements in two dimensions, the practice of torque force ads a third element to the most obviously and often solely observed directions in movement, side-side and front back aka the saggittal and frontal planes. The third and often overlooked plane is transverse plane and torque force is the activation and integration of muscles working synergistically along the transverse plane. This unified theory can and should be integrated limitlessly throughout ones life.

13

wrote …

If foot is aligned with femur through outward rotation(knees out) by piriformis, superior gamellus, inferior gamellus, and quadratus femoris,
there are benefits in
1. stabilizing the foot and reduceing anterior tibiofibular ligament injuries.
2. introducing inward rotation in lower leg to cancel torque at knee. This
reduces anterior cruciate ligament injuries.

Similar principle of outward rotation applies to shoulder also. Following matching between
hip and shoulder is helpful:
ilium, acetabulum, femur in hip match to scapula, rotator cuff, humerus.
Shoulder is stabilized by outward rotation of humerus in rotator cuff.

14

I agree bro but don't view it as "tiring." We were all there at some point.

15

replied to comment from Daniel Raggatt

Yes it does matter. There is an unnatural rotation at the knee joint between the tibia and femur when the toes are completely straight and the knees are pushed outside the plane of the foot, as demonstrated in the book, and as demonstrated to me by people who are screwing it up in my clinic. The tibia has a limited rotational capacity at the ankle and the knee. It isn't long before you are forcing the knee to track in an unnatural way with relationship to the tibia and femur. This is a point I tried to make in the video, but Kelly dismissed it and went on to discuss torque (which is also misused in this context over and over and over).

Torque is a term in biomechanics that is objective and quantifiable with the use of force vectors and levers. The use of torque in the context of shoving the knee out in a squat is subjective, qualitative, and immeasurable. There is no evidence that excessive external rotation of the hip assists in driving UP out of a squat. Forces should be directed DOWN into the ground in order to extend the hip. Hip extension is the torque of note when squatting. The axis of rotation is a line through both hip joints. External rotation is a conjunct motion. If the knee tracks in the same path throughout the movement, the hip is stable.

Diane Fu does not need to shove her knees out excessively. The images in the book are contrived. Here is a different picture of Fu in her bottom position.

http://www.functhat.com/2013/10/diane-fus-three-requirements-top-tier-snatchfubarbell/

Slightly wider stance. Toes out. Knees tracking in line with feet. Nice position. I don't understand why they didn't print this type of squat instead.

If this style of squatting works for you, that's great. Kelly has helped countless people, and has brought body maintenance to the masses, and has influenced me greatly as a therapist. That doesn't mean the system is perfect. Revisions are part of the game. It's ok for people to disagree with him.

16

replied to comment from Travis Feldheger

Travis,

I have read Kelly's book cover to cover. I can assure you I understand movement in three dimensions. Again, the use of torque in this context is arbitrary. Refer to my comment above. There's no evidence that ACTIVE motion in the transverse plane while ascending from a squat increases the force that's directed into the ground. The external rotation force is a conjunct movement to hip extension, and should be utilized as an ANTI-motion force, rather than active motion. This will keep the knees tracking in the same plane, directly over the ankle, the way they are designed to do.

17

Thanks for the input Quinn. I think it's great how people in the videos reply to comments. Shows a lot of connection in the community.

Two things to note about Diane's picture:

1)It was taken from their old location - which they moved from over a year ago. Many of us have seen first-hand how much someone's mobility can improve in a year's time (or more).

2)Snatch and overhead squat are completely different.OHS has connection from pose 1 to pose 2. Snatch there is no connection, and therefore it is harder to arrive in the same quality position (knees out, stable shoulder)

...actually three points...

3)It's an overhead squat. Not back squat or air squat. More upright the torso gets, the more ankle and hip range or motion you need.

I still don't see the confusion though. Being as flexible as Diane is, she probably needs her knees out that far to keep her hips from dumping out at the bottom. And as long as the big toe is planted/ankle is stable, it's cool.

18

replied to comment from Chris Sinagoga

Thanks for the comment Chris and I respect your position.

However, I want to be clear on something, because I think there is some confusion about my experience with the sport of weightlifting. As well as being a physical therapist, I have also been a competitive weightlifter for the past 5 years. I have competed at the national collegiate level, and look to post American Open qualifying totals this weekend at the Arnold Classic. I am fully aware of the dynamics of both the snatch and clean and jerk. During my time in the sport, I have trained with, been coached by, and treated many great people in the sport. Never have I seen an athlete or coach advocate such a bottom position as the ones in the book. Diane Fu is not the one exception.

To your first point, it has nothing to do with Diane improving her range of motion, losing stability because it's a snatch, etc. It has everything to do with the picture I posted above being a true bottom position. A natural position. Real life. And the pictures in the book being contrived. Simple as that. If you think that is anyone's true bottom position, than I'm sorry, you haven't spent enough time in the sport.

I'll just repeat the fact that I'm fully aware of the dynamics of the lifts for your 2nd and 3rd point. Again, I appreciate your willingness for healthy discussion.

19

Good stuff Q.

What about people that have to get their knees out that far in order to keep their low back from dumping out? Aka hyper-mobile. Diane may be one of those people (I personally don't know, but it's possible)

Also, you are correct in assuming my time spent in the sport. In fact, I have spent literally ZERO time in the SPORT of Olympic lifting. So I don't know a lot of little things that I'm sure people at the top level do to improve their lifts. However, I have spent a lot of time involved Olympic lifting FOR sports (including life). Correct me if I'm wrong, but there are things that would be ok for the sport of Olympic lifting, but maybe not ideal for athletes doing Olympic lifts to help them with their sports (and that also goes for Powerlifting or CrossFit as a sport). The knees out cue helps the general population to reduce the occurrences of the knee-in fault in every day movement and sports movement.

I know you disagree, but I really don't think you can discount the difference in pictures of Overhead squat and Snatch, or improved mobility over time.

20

replied to comment from Chris Sinagoga

Hey Chris, thanks for the reply.

I don't know the extent of your coaching experience, and I will only comment on what I have personally seen and who I have personally worked with. But it's curious to me when you refer to people who "have" to shove their knees out excessively in order to maintain a neutral spine.

The biomechanics is such that the hips flex about a braced neutral trunk and pelvis. Rotation is a conjunct movement. If an athlete has sufficient mobility to perform a beautiful air squat with a neutral spine/pelvis and knees hinging and tracking naturally, but does not possess the subsequent stability to maintain this position under load, it is my opinion that telling them to shove his or her knees out excessively is not the answer. Why would you change his or her movement pattern to an unnatural position? The answer is to regress the movement (I use the developmental positions and variations of the goblet squat) in order to build strength and stability to the athletes squat. I rarely cue the knees, because if proper breathing and bracing mechanics are established, the knees will go where they naturally go. I will refer back to the countless weightlifters in the world who have ridiculous mobility, yet still are able to squat with the knees tracking naturally over the toes. Specific fibers of the glutes and other muscles that assist in rotation at the hip are RESISTING motion, not creating it. Let the motion come from hip and knee extension - i.e. pushing down, not out.. The correct amount of rotation in order to maintain position should occur without conscious thought.

You are correct, the use of the snatch and clean n jerk differs when training weightlifters vs strength and conditioning athletes. The difference comes in the form of programming, not positions. I coach my strength and conditioning athletes (anybody other than weightlifters), to attain the same bottom position as a weightlifter. Upright torso, neutral trunk/pelvis, knees tracking over ankles and hinging naturally. The hip rotators are resisting motion as the athlete squats up and down. If this is unattainable, the pattern is regressed. The difference in programming depends on the sport and attributes of the athlete, but may include: more pulling from blocks, power variations, pulls instead of receiving the weight, etc.

If the knee out cue works for you as a coach, use it. I have a different philosophy and approach. Doesn't make me right or wrong, or you right or wrong. I do not have an issue with the cue as a stand alone tool, when appropriate. I have an issue with it when it is overused and exaggerated, because that is not a true representation of human movement that occurs in sport or daily life.

I still really don't understand what you mean regarding the differences in pictures. Yes, dynamics of the overhead squat is different than the snatch. However, in the book, the bottom position of the overhead squat looks the same as the bottom position of the snatch. Also, the bottom position of the front squat looks the same as the bottom position of the clean. All contrived. All exaggerated. You can look up videos and pictures of actual training if you'd like. The positions won't look like that of the book, whether it's Fu or any other weightlifter who is lifting actual weight. It doesn't mean they are unstable, it means that's the way the body was designed to move.

I'm not discounting mobility improvements over time. Fu had the mobility then, and she has it now. Once again, it's real vs. contrived. You're reaching when you say maybe her mobility improved just in time to make the book.

It doesn't discount the content of the book, if that is your concern. It's an amazing resource for coaches and trainers. It's just not the bible, and people (especially crossfitters) should also be seeking information from others in the field, that are not associated with Crossfit. I think a major issue, in general, is that the community takes the words of the SMEs as law, without acknowledging the fact that their are many others in the same field who are just as qualified, with different views and approaches. Sorry, that may have been an unnecessary rant.

21

Nah man, nothing to be sorry about. The CrossFit Journal, it seems, has lost some of the steam it used to have because less people like you and others are "ranting" all the time in the comments on the videos. Used to be a lot more of that. That's how we learn!


Anyways, the people who "have" to shove their knees out (again, from what I have seen) are the people who are extremely flexible. On the way up from a squat or deadlift, for instance, they tend to over-extend because I think they are looking for some kind of tension. Even if they get organized first and pre-load the hamstrings and what-have-you, it still happens. But if they think "knees out" (not too far obviously), it has stopped them from overextending.


I don't think it's changing anything about the natural movement pattern. You still work at the limits of your flexibility. I agree that the correct rotation should occur, but I'm sure we both know it doesn't always happen. Which is why a cue is used (which I think you and I are on the same page with).


The sport thing I was referring to was I think I heard from Kelly's videos on the matter was some coaches will cue a "knees in" to help bounce out of the hole, if you will. Obviously, that would not be a great pattern to teach kids, but it may help a high-level lifter place better in a meet. But again, I have no real experience or interest in Oly lifting/Powerlifting as a sport, so I should probably stop speaking on that haha.


Agreed. I also kinda think this whole matter is being over-coached and over analyzed. In the end, we all want stable everything when we move. Use whatever cues help that.


I noticed that looked the same also. And I'm assuming it's because Diane Fu is probably strong enough where 65 lbs feels the same as a PVC pipe. I think it's good that they exaggerated the positions. Gives us a better idea of what a flexible person can move like and the options they have. I'm sure it would've been critiqued any way she did it.


I was never concerned about discrediting the book - it's like a 5th of a page of the entire thing. And I'm definitely guilty of what you're talking about with the SME people. Mainly, I study the stuff of Carl Paoli, Kelly, and Dr. Romanov. I don't take what they say quite as law, but more "innocent until proven guilty" I guess - if that makes sense. I'd imagine it's frustrating for people like you - which kind of brings me back the the points about commenting on the Journal like this. Gives you a chance to share what you know with people like myself that grew up in this bubble and were never exposed to a lot of "outside" stuff.


Again, good conversation and thanks for taking the time to reply.

Leave a comment

Comments (You may use HTML tags for style)