- It’s a myth that letting your knees pass over your toes in a squat is dangerous, according to fitness experts.
- A deep squat can help improve mobility and reduce injury risk for better fitness, trainers say.
- To work up to more range of motion in squats, start with light weight and elevated heels.
If you’re only squatting to 90 degrees, you’re missing out on some benefits — and a decades-old fitness myth may be to blame.
Deep squats that allow your knees to go over your toes are not only safe, but help improve your form, mobility, and joint health, according to personal trainer Ben Patrick.
“Avoiding knees over toes is how you have knee problems,” he told Insider.
Patrick, known online as “Knees Over Toes Guy,” was sidelined for years by debilitating injuries and knee pain that multiple surgeries couldn’t solve. He said training mobility fixed his pain issues and improved his performance so much, he earned a college basketball scholarship.
“Knees over toes literally saved my knees,” Patrick said.
Now, he’s built a career fighting mobility misinformation. The myth dates back to 1978, when a Duke University study suggested that a deeper squat created more pressure on the knees. Initially interpreted as a potential injury risk, more recent research has found the opposite: deep squats are safe and possibly protective of the joints.
Incorporating exercises with a greater range of motion can help reduce your injury risk and improve your fitness, according to Patrick and other experts.
Good mobility and healthy joints can help you build muscle and avoid injury
Squatting below 90 degrees can help your body develop mobility, or strength and stability through a greater range of motion.
One of the main benefits of mobility is better resilience to withstand stress on your body in real-world situations like carrying groceries, walking up stairs, or playing with your kids, according to Ben Foster, head coach and founder of the People’s Athletic Club.
“The consensus is that you should be exposing yourself to that range of motion,” he previously told Insider. “It happens in life, and if you never expose yourself in training, you don’t have the experience in a controlled environment.”
Better mobility has benefits not only for performance and healthy joints, but for aesthetic goals, too.
“If you’re naturally trying to build your body and you’re sidelined with injuries or pain, you can’t have the same physique,” Patrick said.
Heel-elevated squats are a good starter exercise for mobility
You may not want to jump right into deep squats, however. Maintaining excellent form is a priority, with your chest up and core engaged, which requires mobility in your knees, hips, and ankles first.
If you can’t squat very low, elevating your heels can help you practice a deeper range of motion while working on your mobility, and adjusting exercises to your needs and experience level helps you progress at your own pace to fix imbalances, he said.
It may be helpful to start with lighter weight at first, or even your own body weight, to keep your form pristine.
Get more out of your exercise by incorporating mobility as part of the workout
One of the reasons people often struggle with mobility is that it’s underrated compared to more stereotypical muscle-building exercises.
Most gym bros can tell you how much they curl or bench, but few people pay attention to mobility exercises, creating imbalances and risking injury, according to Patrick.
But you don’t have to choose between building muscle and mobility. Exercises like deep split squats incorporate both, without a big time commitment, he said.
“Many people are doing knees over toes training without thinking about it,” he said. “It takes very little time when you have the right methods.”