If you've been training for some time, you've heard a coach or fellow athlete cue you to "drive your knees out" while squatting. This critique has spread through the fitness circles like wildfire, and I am one of those that promoted and preached this until the cows came home. But now, we must revisit this topic and reflect on when to use this cue and when to avoid it.
As I was watching a fellow TCS coach perform 5 x 5 Back Squats this morning, it dawned on me that, like most things, too much of a good thing can turn bad. In this case --- driving knees waaaaay out to "create an active squat and produce more stability and power."
Here's the problem as I see it. Coaches have been jamming the idea of "knees out" down their athletes throats so consistently that the athletes have begun to overdo it....even to a point of weakening their squat and/or causing injury to occur.
By driving the knees out too far, you are putting yourself in a compromised and weakened position. This won't become evident until you hit the bottom of your squat and begin the initiation of the concentric (up) phase. Here is where you will notice your knees collapsing inwards...no matter how hard you try to "drive them out". Why is that?
THIS IS WHERE WE DECIDE WHAT THE TRUE CAUSE IS.
The athlete is truly weak and has not developed the hip stability and strength to perform a proper loaded squat. -- In this case, auxiliary exercises should be utilized in order to build strength and stability in the hip, low back and legs.
The athlete is well-developed and plenty strong enough to move the weight efficiently. -- This is the OTHER side of the story, as we've been discussing it. If this athlete is in fact strong enough, then why are his or her knees collapsing inward? The answer is a lack of stability due to excessive external rotation at the hip (read: Knee outage. Ha!)
Think about it. Going too far will only stretch the adductors and hamstrings more and more until this tension overwhelms the stability at the hip and knee. The body then makes the necessary adjustment to correct the excessive ext. rot. by allowing the knees to come back to a strong, stable position so that the load may be successfully moved.
So, you see, not every person that steps under the bar needs to hear you yelling and screaming "KNEES OUT!" Some of your athletes simply need to understand that they are to drive the knees out to a point of stability, and not one inch further. Staying in this active groove will create some big squats and keep your athlete off of the injured list.
This concept may be flying right over your head because 1. This biomechanics lesson is too deep for you, which is perfectly OK. Or, 2. I have done a shitty job explaining my observations, which is also very likely. In either case, I will provide a video detailing both Scenario A and B from above tomorrow so as to hopefully clear this up and get you moving better! Until tomorrow.