YOU be the Judge Part 4: Knee Position and Orientation, by Dr. Lon Kilgore

We are proud to present another guest post by Dr. Lon Kilgore. This is Part Four; check out Parts One, Two, and Three.

Interrogative: What should fitness trainers teach relative to knee position during the Squat?

EvidenceThe NSCA Essentials of Strength Training & Conditioning, the NSCA Basics of Strength and Conditioning, the NSCA official Website, and the NSCA Position Paper: The Squat Exercise in Athletic Conditioning, all offer different instruction to trainers on teaching correct knee position in the squat. To wit;

Instruction 1Bend the knees to 90o flexion

Instruction 2 – The shins are as vertical as possible

Instruction 3 – Knees must be behind the balls of the feet

Instruction 4 – Knees going past the toes forward is acceptable

Analysis: For instructions 1 and 2 together, these descriptions, if the definition of a parallel squat is that the femur is parallel to the floor, mandate that the knee (femur:tibia) and the ankle (tibia:floor) angles must both be at 90o. This necessitates a torso lean forward that approaches 0o (parallel to the floor). This contradicts NSCA published back angle statements. Instruction 3, if the condition of a parallel femur is maintained, contradicts instruction 1 as knee travel forward will reduce the knee angle to less than 90o. Instruction 4 contradicts all other previous instructions.

Summary: NSCA publications referencing knee position during the squat are sufficiently incomplete, contradicting, and confounding to a point suggesting that any knee position may be acceptable.

Dr. William Kraemer, editor-in-chief of the NSCA's Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research

Dr. William Kraemer, editor-in-chief of the NSCA’s Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research

Commentary: The self-proclaimed world authoritative materials promulgated by the NSCA are inconsistent in recommendation, incomplete in scientific support, lacking definition, inadequate in anatomical description, and impractical in application. The said publications and recommendations create an environment where education of professionals on knee position in the squat is inconsistent.

The authorship, editorial, or graphical issues present may ultimately have negative effects on individual fitness results and the safety of the public, as correct technique cannot be reliably determined from the published position statements, texts, and videos.

About the Author
Professor Lon Kilgore graduated from Lincoln University with a bachelor of science in biology and earned a Ph.D. in anatomy and physiology from Kansas State University. He has competed in weightlifting to the national level since 1972 and coached his first athletes to national-championship event medals in 1974. He has worked in the trenches, as a coach or scientific consultant, with athletes from rank novices to professionals and the Olympic elite, and as a collegiate strength coach. He has been a certifying instructor for USA Weightlifting for more than a decade and a frequent lecturer at events at the U.S. Olympic Training Center. His illustration, authorship, and co-authorship efforts include the best-selling books “Starting Strength” (first and second editions) and “Practical Programming for Strength Training” (first and second editions), recent releases “Anatomy Without a Scalpel” and “FIT,” magazine columns, textbook chapters, and numerous research journal publications. He is presently engaged in the most difficult task of his career: recreating the educational track to becoming a professional fitness practitioner. The second stage of this effort is the creation of a one-year university qualification in fitness practice at the University of the West of Scotland.


  1. Pingback: YOU be the Judge Part 5: Head and Neck Position, by Dr. Lon Kilgore | THE RUSSELLS

  2. tvhatic – In the researchers own words “it is currently unknown what threshold of peak or repetitive forces would be detrimental to the knee joint” (Devor) and ” it is currently unknown how much patellofemoral compressive force and stress is detrimental to the patellofemoral joint” (Escamilla), so all recommendations on squat depth and safety are currently speculation, produced without tangible evidence that the recommendations actually improve safety.

    Further, the subjects in the Devor study had been doing full range of motion squats for a year with no injury or deleterious effects. This latter point would suggest that the knee is fully capable of adapting to the full range of motion squat and tolerating forces thus applied. As would the absence of squat induced injury evidence reported in the review by Escamilla.

    There is also a bit of a strange contradiction in the Escamilla paper, it is OK, per his summation, for injured knees to perform the squat through the complete range of motion (moving from 0 degree knee flexion down to 50 degree flexion and back) but it is not appropriate for healthy knees. If weakened or damaged tissues can tolerate and benefit from full range of motion squats, to withhold that benefit from healthy and athletic populations seems counter-intuitive and is unsupported by any causal data.

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