Firefighter Fitness Myth- Never Let your knees go past your toes during a squat.

Every once in a while I will get a question about fitness that stirs up some great conversations.  One question I get asked often is about squat form and if we, as fire rescue athletes, should never let our knees go past or over the toes when squatting.   Here is a great answer to that question.

The claim: Allowing your knees to move too far forward during exercises such as the squat and lunge places dangerous shearing forces on your knee ligaments.

The origin: A 1978 study at Duke University found that keeping the lower leg as vertical as possible during the squat reduced shearing forces on the knee.

The truth: Leaning forward too much is more likely to cause injury. In 2003, University of Memphis researchers confirmed that knee stress was 28 percent higher when the knees were allowed to move past the toes during the squat. But the researchers also found a counter-effect: Hip stress increased nearly 1,000 percent when forward movement of the knee was restricted. The reason: The squatters had to lean their torsos farther forward. And that’s a problem, because forces that act on the hip are transferred to the lower back, a more frequent site of injury than the knees.

What does this mean for fire rescue athletes.   First of all, we are placed in very compromising positions where we may need to lift patients off the floor or drag heavy objects, so sometimes we are limited on our positioning.  Try to focus more on your upper body and less on knee position. By trying to keep your torso as upright as possible as you perform a squatting motion, you’ll reduce the stress on your hips and back.   Before squatting or lifting a heavy object, preplan your lift to make sure all hazards are out of the way, then squeeze your shoulder blades together and hold them that way,  brace you core (pretend you are about to get punched in the abs) and then lift.  Try to use this technique if you are at the gym or on the fire/ rescue ground.


I hope you understand the “knees over your toes” myth.  And, most importantly how to protect yourself and your joints on the fire/ rescue ground.

My mission is to transform, educate and motivate 100,000 Firefighters, EMTs and Medics to get more “fit for duty.”  Let me know how I can help you…

Stay safe,

Aaron Zamzow




For more information on the studies cited in this article and to expand your knowledge on functional fitness, we recommend the following resources to fitness professionals.

  • Chiu, L., and Schilling, B. (2005, February). A Primer on Weightlifting: From Sport to Sports Training. Strength and Conditioning Journal/National Strength and Conditioning Association, 27(1), 42-48.
  • Fry, AC., Smith, JC, S., & Schilling, BK. (2003, November). Effect of knee position on hip and knee torques during the barbell squat. Journal Of Strength And Conditioning Research / National Strength & Conditioning Association17(4), 629-633.
  • Hamill, B. (1994, January). Relative Safety of Weightlifting and Weight Training. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research/National Strength and Conditioning Association, 8(1), 53-57.
  • McLaughlin, T., Lardner, T., & Dillman, C. (1978, May). Kinetics of the parallel squat. Research Quarterly49(2), 175-189.
  • Gary Gray, renowned Physical Therapist recognized internationally for being “First in Function
  • ACE’s Functional Training & Assessment Workshop
  • ACE’s online exercise library

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