Should knees go over toes?

Most of us have heard the phrase, don’t let your knees go past your toes. And if they do, make sure they track over the big toe, second toe, perhaps even the pinky depending on which school of movement you come from.

This cue has become so insidious that there are now huge threads of online debates fighting over which toe to track over, and why certain people should adhere to the laws of stacking and correct alignment, as if safety could be attained through avoidance.

I don’t really think this is even about the knees. The knees over toes arguments are just a symptom of the bigger issue which is our mechanical ideologies of the body.

We have mechanized the human body so drastically, internalizing beliefs of design over adaptation. Cars were designed, humans have evolved.

We are always adaptive, at every age and size. Adapting and responding to our environments is our nature, but will depend on how we nurture our tissues.

In the mechanical model we must be well aligned to prevent injury, and changes to our cartilage means replacing a part, like you would in your car.

But physical safety isn’t attained through perfect alignment, cognitive muscle engagements or avoidance of certain positions and ranges. It’s built through gradual, meaningful, and manageable exposure. In fact, the way to get better at managing resistance is by applying progressively increasing levels of resistance.

Gardeners know that you can only shelter plants for so long before exposing them to the crescendo of wind, light, and inevitable weather changes. We don’t only prepare our plants for the sunny, mild days, we strength train them to build resilience for the harshness of the growing season.

To me this isn’t really a discussion about whether or not it’s ok for the knees to go over the toes, because that depends on the actual person and their capacity. To me the root cause of why we ask this question is the models through which we have come to understand ourselves as humans.

Some of your knees might not be ready for full range loading. If you are new to the path your tissues might need the early-stage nurturing. Hamstring curls, calf raises, weighted partial squats. The best part about strength building is there is a starting place for everyone, and as long as you are human, you are capable of adaptation.

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