The Squat Fix: Don’t Forget The Foot!

Today we’re going to cover a topic that is a little less understood by most. We are going to talk about your feet. Our feet set the foundation for every single functional movement. They provide a stable platform for the rest of our body to move.

Very often I find that athletes do not use their feet properly. Many coaches and physical therapists lose sight in how important the feet are when it comes to movement. Whether we are squatting, lunging, running or jumping, a stable foot provides a platform for efficient and powerful movement for the rest of the body.

For this reason it is important to establish a simple baseline for understanding our feet. The first thing we need to establish is that the foot is naturally mobile. There are over 25 bones spread across four different joints in the foot. This allows for a ton of movement! The role of our muscles therefore should be that of stability. The second we brace our bodies to lift that heavy barbell from the rack, we want our mobile foot to be instantaneously stable.

When we squat, we need the foot to be stable and maintain its natural arch. When we look at the main arch of our foot, we notice that it moves in relation to the rest of our lower body. If the ankles, knees and hips bow outward – the entire foot moves into a full arched position. When the ankle, knees and hips fall inward – the foot subsequently collapses and the arch flattens out.

We can manipulate the position of our feet by setting our hips and knees in a good position prior to initiating our squat. This connected lower body movement is the physical representation of the ‘Joint-By-Joint Concept’ we covered last week. If one link in the human chain of movement breaks down, the entire structure will be affected.

When we create a good arch in our foot, we inevitably form what we call a ‘tripod’ foot. The three points of the tripod consists of the heel, the base of the 1st toe and the base of the 5th toe. Our foot is basically like a three wheeled motorcycle. Our goal when squatting should be to maintain the arch of our feet and have our weight distributed evenly – like the three wheels of a motorcycle. If all of the wheels are in contact with the ground we get more power. If one wheel is off the ground or if the body bottoms out, power is lost and the motorcycle breaks down. When our foot is out of position (arch collapse) stability and power is lost.

TripodTrike

Try this simple test at home. Take your shoes off and assume a squat stance. With our shoes off, we should all have our feet relatively straight-forward. Notice what position your feet are in. Do you have equal weight on each of the three contact tripod points? Is your arch in a good position or has it already collapsed? The goal is to become aware of how your foot is functioning.

From this position, squeeze your butt muscles and drive your knees out to the side while keeping your big toe in contact with the ground. Notice what position your feet are now in. Did anything change? By setting our knees in a stable position we naturally bring our feet into a good position.

LowArchPhotoHighArchPhoto

As you squat don’t just think about keeping your knees in line with your feet. Do your best to maintain your arch and the tripod foot. Keep your foot strong and stable. Don’t let the arch collapse. Notice how this feels? Your squat should feel more stable.

SquatBottom

If you can pass this test with a bodyweight squat, try it again with a pistol squat. The pistol squat challenges the body to a greater degree than a body weight squat. The goal with this activity is to increase our awareness of our feet position during the squat and the pistol squat. Every athlete, regardless of foot type, should be capable of performing a double and single leg squat barefoot while maintaining a stable foot. An inability to do so highlights a crack in our movement foundation. Left unchecked, this crack will wreak havoc on athletes’ barbell lifts and affect his or her on skilled field movements.

PistolSquatArch

Once we can get our athletes to adopt a better position with their feet, a lot of the other movement problems they have will take care of themselves. The body naturally starts to assume better positions because it is now moving from a stable platform. In doing so, we not only improve movement quality but also decrease pain and improve our performance. This all starts with solidifying our base. With this post, I hope you have a better understanding on how the foot can help with squats and other fundamental movement.

Until next time,

Dr. Aaron Horschig

With

Dr. Kevin Sonthana

Published by

Dr. Aaron Horschig

Doctor of Physical Therapy, CSCS, USAW coach and athlete.

20 thoughts on “The Squat Fix: Don’t Forget The Foot!

  1. What can I do if I have High arched feet and the balls of my feet don’t let me put the weight on 1st and 5th toe because they are also in contact with the ground. Thanks!

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    1. Max, I’m confused about your question. Even though you may have high arches, you should still be able to get your foot into a position where the base of your first toe is still in contact with the ground while you squat. What we want to avoid is loosing contact with any of the three points of the tripod foot.

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  2. What if you have flat feet? I’ve always been flat footed and when I create an arch for my feet my big toe barely makes contact with the ground and I feel all the weight on the outside of my foot. What are somethings I can do to help my flat feet?

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    1. Hugo, even though you have flat does doesn’t mean you still cant work on creating a stable base with all three points of the tripod in contact with the ground equally. Some people will never be able to make a large arch in their foot due to the anatomy of their foot. However, by focusing on keeping equal contact among the three points of contact as we discuss here, it should help provide a more stable base for a better squat.

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  4. […] The foot is an area of the body that could benefit from increased stability and motor control due to its tendency to become unstable during movement. A recent article published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine compared the stability our ‘core’ provides to our lower back to the role of the smaller muscles of our foot that work to maintain the same type of motor control during movement (2). This control inevitably creates the stability of the foot for which all human movement such as squatting is based upon. While proper shoe wear does play an important part in the performance and injury processes, there is no denying we could all benefit from increased stability of the foot. When the foot has a stability problem it will directly affect the ankle joint. […]

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  5. With individuals that are suffering from flat feet and are unable to maintain a neutral arch in the bottom positioning of the squat.For me personally I suffer from weak inverters and everters on my right ankle. For this reason I have trouble maintaining a neutral arch in the bottom position which puts my knee in a slightly internally rotated position which decreases the amount of power that I can generate in the bottom position ,as well as, increasing the potential for injury. Since muscles such as the tibialis anterior & posterior as well as the fibularis longus are heavily involved with maintaining the neutral arch of the foot. Would you suggest performing isometric and eccentric exercises focusing on maintaining the arch in a non weight bearing position before moving in more dynamic exercises that engage those muscles in a weight bearing position.

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    1. Great question Cameron. It really depends on the level of weakness involved in those muscles. Just because we strengthen a muscle in a non-weightbearing position doesn’t necessarily mean it will work as it should in coordination with the rest of the body in a weight bearing position or movement. Now if the muscle is very weak, sure that should be a part of the comprehensive program to work on foot stability. I always suggest working on different exercises without shoes on to emphasize balance and pronation control before trying to load up the bar. If things cannot be improved with rehabilitation and corrective exercise techniques, an orthotic can be a positive tool to aid in anatomically realigning the foot.

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  6. So Dr. should we try to grip or squeeze the floor with our while lifting? Basically contracting our toes and bottoms of our feet?

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  7. Thanks for your article. I have high arches and very limited dorsiflexion, so I am unable to maintain heel-contact with the ground while squatting (always rolling forward to the balls of my feet). I am uncertain as to whether my dorsiflexion can be increased in any way so as to maintain heel-contact. When I feel my ankle joints at maximum dorsiflexion, it seems as though it is entirely incapable of going any further. I also have read that those with high-arched feet tend to have more limited dorsiflexion, which may be alleviated through myofascial trigger point release. Would you have any insights in this regard? Best regards. – Dave

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