Never let your knees go over your toes… or should you?

I remember when I started Tai Chi in the 90s, one of the things that was talked about a lot was that you should never let your knees go beyond the line of your toes in a forward stance.

YCF: Knees not extending past the line of the toes.

Letting this happen was always seen as unequivocally bad. Not only was knees beyond toes seen as structurally unsound (your weight is too far forward making you easy to pull off balance), but this was seen as the primary cause of the epidemic of so many Tai Chi people having bad knees.

The Snake Creeps Down posture in particular was quite often used as an example of a badly done posture by Western dilettantes.

But it always struck me as a bit odd that it was seen as being such a dangerous thing to do. If you were training the martial side of Tai Chi then you were being punched, thrown and armlocked on the regular. Worrying about your knees going over the line of your toes seemed a minor danger in comparrison.

Fast forward to 2021 and today I found out that a lot of BJJ people (an art that specialises in slowly destroying your body over time) were raving about the benefits of the method espoused by the Knees Over Toes Guy on YouTube, who had achieved great results reparing people’s knees using a traning methods that empahsises, yes, you guessed it, putting your knees beyond the line of your toes as much as possible.

Interesting. Here’s what he says:

A year went by with no results. In fact, I was certain I needed another surgery when a spark of truth finally presented itself…

“The athlete whose knees can go farthest and strongest over his or her toes is the most protected.”

Everything I had been taught up to this point by dozens of trainers and physical therapists was very clear: NO KNEES OVER TOES — but when I read this statement, I immediately knew it was true.

Knees Over Toes Guy

The write up of his method is here. And here’s a video of his basic method is here:

The logic seems sound to me, so if you’ve got knee trouble, you might want to give it a try.

It makes me think – is the epidemic of Tai Chi people with bad knees (if it really exists) caused by the knees going over the toes? Or is it more likely because that group self-selects for other unhealthy behviours?

7 thoughts on “Never let your knees go over your toes… or should you?

  1. Richard, I hope you are not on drugs and oxygen because of a knee opp! Thanks for your excellent comment.

  2. Pingback: Never let your knees go over your toes… or should you? - Abhishek Blog

  3. Nice article. I am a Tang Soo Do instructor and have preached the “don’t go past the toes” line numerous times. I have never seen this counter idea. Interesting. I think it is more important to bend knees in the direction of the toes (not inward or outward causing torque on the knees) rather than the depth of the bend.

  4. A knee pain article in T’ai Chi magazine actually got me interested in Anatomy and Biomechanics many decades ago.

    The problem with knees going beyond the toes is that most people start to raise their heels, which loosens the gastrocnemius, which in turn destabilizes the femur on the tibia. This allows the femur to slide anteriorly (forward) on the tibia and put pressure on the ACL and PCL.

    As the thigh approaches horizontal, the anterior forces diminish and become globally vertical then posterior backward on the knee as the femur drops below parallel with the ground. This is why we can squat on our heels with heels up or grounded without affecting our knees, and our knees may be well beyond our toes. So, there is a range of knee angles that endanger the knee stability.

    The second problem is that the knee is not a true hinge like the elbow. The knee can rotate while in a bent position, but it cannot rotate when it is straight and partially bent. Problems arise when one tries to straighten a rotated knee. This puts a lot of strain on knee ligaments, so over time, a lot of damage can be done with repetitive use.

    The Western and T’ai Chi approach has been avoidance. That is to teach to the safest standard rather than to teach correct principles to strengthen, condition, and make the knees more functional. Unfortunately, wushu also adopted many Western and unsafe practices with the result being many damaged knees. But, knee strengthening practices have been in traditional martial arts if one cared to seek them and did not become dogmatic with beginner’s guidelines.

    Two helpful hints are that the heel must always stay engaged backward (posteriorly) and downward (inferiorly) even when the heel comes up off the ground. Second, always align the knee to its straightened position before applying force to straighten the leg.

    Good luck and happy knees!

  5. Excuse me, I am literally of drugs and oxygen, I obviously meant the femur on the Tibia. Unfortunately, one cannot edit once pressing post.

  6. A knee pain article in T’ai Chi magazine actually got me interested in Anatomy and Biomechanics many decades ago.

    The problem with knees going beyond the toes is that most people start to raise their heels, which loosens the gastrocnemius, which in turn destabilizes the humerus on the tibia. This allows the humerus to slide anteriorly (forward) on the tibia and put pressure on the ACL and PCL.

    As the thigh approaches horizontal, the anterior forces diminish and become globally vertical then posterior backward on the knee as the humerus drops below parallel with the ground. This is why we can squat on our heels with heels up or grounded without affecting our knees, and our knees may be well beyond our toes. So, there is a range of knee angles that endanger the knee stability.

    The second problem is that the knee is not a true hinge like the elbow. The knee can rotate while in a bent position, but it cannot rotate when it is straight and partially bent. Problems arise when one tries to straighten a rotated knee. This puts a lot of strain on knee ligaments, so over time, a lot of damage can be done with repetitive use.

    The Western and T’ai Chi approach has been avoidance. That is to teach to the safest standard rather than to teach correct principles to strengthen, condition, and make the knees more functional. Unfortunately, wushu also adopted many Western and unsafe practices with the result being many damaged knees. But, knee strengthening practices have been in traditional martial arts if one cared to seek them and did not become dogmatic with beginner’s guidelines.

    Two helpful hints are that the heel must always stay engaged backward (posteriorly) and downward (inferiorly) even when the heel comes up off the ground. Second, always align the knee to its straightened position before applying force to straighten the leg.

    Good luck and happy knees!

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