Locked Limbs: The True Sign of Un-Athleticism

By Tucker Loken

Here’s something that makes me shudder every time I see it – Hyperextended knees on the squat and deadlift.

Here’s my big qualm with it – Besides doing hell on your joints, it just shows me that overall you have very poor awareness and control of your body.


It shows you’ve never played sports, and probably neither did your parents because no one taught you muscle awareness or that locking joints under pressure is a bad idea. You’ll see it in the elbows too, but not quite as much. I’m not sure if it’s just because people can see their elbows more easily and it freaks them out if it’s bending in a weird way, or if that joint is just less likely to extend that far. Regardless, it doesn’t  look pretty.

One thing everyone learns, whether you’re playing soccer, football, basketball, baseball or cricket, or even curling, is to never lock your limbs. If you plant a foot and fully extend your knee playing football, you’re asking for someone to bump into you and tear something. The same goes for any sport that you have any athletic movement in what so ever. If you lock your arms when going up for a rebound in basketball, you’re running the risk that when someone swats at the ball they could potentially damage your joint pretty bad. Not to be the jock police and tell all the un-athletic kids to play somewhere else, but seriously, you’re just begging to let me know you can’t catch a ball if there was a million dollars attached to it and it was lobbed from five feet away.


You’ll see it all the time if you pay attention – the squat goes down to parallel, comes back up, it’s a grinder and once it gets near the top, the athlete is pushing so hard that BAM! The knees lock back and actually sit behind the femur. I’ve seen it a thousand times with deadlifts too. I always call it when it’s someone who’s going to hyperextend when they walk up to the bar. Something about the way they carry themselves, their gait, and usually a little bit of knock-kneed tendency is a dead giveaway. The bar comes up, and as they haul it back once it gets past mid-thigh BAM! The knees lock back again. Youch! This doesn’t mean you should practice having a soft lock out by the way, you can still lock out the weight without hyperextending, it’s called using muscles instead of joints.

Why should this concern you? Because a lot of people do it and it might be you! I was training a girl once who always wore knee sleeves, even on days that weren’t very heavy. She said she had been having knee problems ever since she got stronger and didn’t know what from, but that the sleeves helped her somehow. She locked a little bit too far in squats and deadlifts, but it was when I got her on the hack squat and leg press that I saw all hell break loose. I honestly don’t know how those legs didn’t bend backwards. No wonder she was having knee pain. I alerted her of it and told her to always keep the legs stiff, but not 100% straight at the end of a movement, and see how it feels in a couple weeks. Two weeks went by and guess what? Knee pain gone. She had decent body awareness in other aspects, but just let it all go loose when she was lifting weights because she was focusing on finishing the movement only, rather than finishing the movement and protecting herself from injury.


What is the actual issue that causes people to lock their knees? It’s a weakness of the legs muscles and a person wanting to shift their weight from the muscle to the tendon and joint. You see little kids do this all the time because their muscles aren’t developed enough. But we are adults, not children, so we have to use our big people muscles, and not default to out joints just because it’s comfy.


In summary, don’t lock your knees or elbows. It looks bad and it’s bad for you. Try to keep a micro-bend in your knees even when you walk around, and transfer the weight to the muscles for stability. Being mindful of this in daily life will train the muscle over and over and will help you when you lift to not haphazardly push as hard as possible and lock your joints.


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Tucker Loken is a Bodybuilder turned Powerlifter turned Powerbuilder from Eugene, Oregon. He did his first bodybuilding show when he was still in high school, and has been training male and female competitors for shows since 2011. Several years ago he decided to take a step away from his normal routine and learn how to get strong. He worked with Brian for 9 months, added 200 pounds to his raw total and qualified as an Elite lifter in the 220 pound weight class. He returned back to bodybuilding much stronger and now incorporates the 10/20/Life philosophy into his training to keep himself healthy and making continual progress in the Big 3 as well as adding size and shaping his physique. Now part of Team PRS, he brings his unique expertise of nutritional knowledge and how to balance Bodybuilding with Powerlifting to help athletes achieve their best potential.
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