Genu valgum is not necessarily bad during bending/squatting movements. I might be the first person you know who has made this statement, and it may go against everything that you have been told about this movement, so allow me to expound (before picking up the pitchforks and coming after me 🙂 ).
Genu valgum (the process of the knees coming closer to each other, commonly known as ‘knock knees’), is a common finding in people who are beginning a new workout program including squats, cleans, wall balls, etc. Most of the time, this movement is a result of faulty movement patterns and/or weak pelvic stabilizers. But I have seen where some folks in the world of human movement notice the knees moving toward one another during a squat and automatically train it away. While most of the time this approach is probably appropriate, there are times where the knees moving toward one another is a very appropriate movement. In fact, I believe most people should incorporate a bit of the movement in their squat form. If genu valgum is present, here’s what I look for when assessing this movement:
1) How severe is the valgus motion? If the knees touch, it is a faulty pattern. The knees should never touch each other during a squatting movement. However, if the knees move inward (up to the width of the knee bilaterally, so approximately 4″ at most), this is not automatically faulty.
2) At what phase of the squat do the knees move inward? If you notice it on the downward phase, it is faulty. That is called genu collapse and it is typically the result of poor training technique, insufficient pelvic stabilizers, or excessive load. In any case, this should be addressed accordingly because it can be a predictor of injury. If the genu valgum occurs in the upward phase or finished position, it could point to an anatomical condition of the knees, hips, and/or pelvis, excessive load, or over-pronation of the feet. This should also be addressed accordingly. But if the valgum occurs momentarily during transition (as a way to get out of the deep squat position) and the knees move evenly within the allowable range described above, it is not faulty.
Here’s why: When lifters are taught to ‘push the knees out’ on the way out of a deep squat position, activation of the lateral and posterior muscles in the legs and pelvis is accomplished. However, that also leaves out major muscle groups – the adductors and muscles of the medial thigh. These muscles can be recruited to add a great deal of strength and stability to the squat movement. Bringing the knees toward each other momentarily in the transition also offers a bit of protection to the spine. Low back injuries suffered during a squatting motion occur most commonly during the early-mid upward phase due to ’rounding’ the spine and placing large forces on the discs of the lumbar spine. It is easier to round the lumbar spine while driving the knees away from each other than it is when the knees are driving toward each other.
In summary, there are many considerations to proper squatting technique and this quick post is only scratching the surface of all of the minute pieces. My main objective is to have you reconsider a movement that has been treated unfairly, so to speak. Maybe I’ll be genu valgum’s Robin Hood. 🙂
If you have any questions and comments on this topic, feel free to join the discussion. I’d love to hear from you!
Nathan Williams, DC, MS