Common Cues and Why They Matter: “Knees Out” and “Tripod Feet”

As a CrossFit coach, there are general lines and shapes we’re looking for in your body when performing a movement and there are two reasons for that: 1) we want you to be safe, and 2) we want you to move as efficiently as possible. Why, do you ask, is Becky always talking about efficiency? Because if you move efficiently, you move faster and/or more weight, which both contribute to increased intensity, and intensity produces results! 

Today, I want to talk about the shape we’re looking for when your posterior chain is activated. If you’ve been to CrossFit anywhere more than one time, you’ve probably heard the cue “knees out.” It’s every coach’s favorite cue, and sometimes overused. However, the reason it is so frequently used is because often times, it gets the desired effect, which is when your knees track out over your toes, and all three points of your feet are screwed into the ground to create some torque in your movement. 

When you do a squat, we want you to push your knees out over your toes. When you do a push press, push your knees out. Even when you deadlift, your knees will most likely ever so slightly track out. When your knees track out, it activates BIG muscles on the back and sides of your legs. If your knees only go straight forward, and your knees are out in front of your toes, you’re relying a lot more on your anterior chain, and in your legs, that means your quads. Don’t get me wrong, your quads are great, and everyone wants to have really jacked quads, but anatomically, you have more to work with on your posterior chain: your hamstrings and glutes. And, when you track those knees out, you’re even lighting up your lateral glutes as well. 

This doesn’t mean we want you to neglect the muscles on the front half of your body. As previously mentioned, another cue you’ll hear in our gym frequently is “Tripod feet! Screw all three points of your feet into the floor: your big toe, pinky toe, and heel.” When this is done correctly, you are giving your body a stable base from which you start any movement so that all muscles are engaging on the front and back half of your body. If this doesn’t make sense, try this little exercise: Hop on a rower and do about 7-10 pulls with only your toes and the balls of your feet on the foot pedals. Then do 7-10 more with your toes up and heels down. Finally, do 7-10 more pulls with your big toe, pinky toe, and heel planted the whole time. It will feel most powerful doing it the third way, because everything is working at the same time. You could even watch your screen and see how many calories per hour or meters per second you can pull with each type of rowing. Done correctly, the third will be the strongest! 

I challenge you to think about your movement next time you go to the gym. Before you start moving really fast in a metcon, ask yourself “where do I feel this?” when you’re warming up. If you have questions, ask a coach! We’re happy to help, and as always, we want you to move well before you move fast.