The Great Squat Debate: Toes Forward or Angled Out?

Toes Forward Debate Cover

During a recent Squat University seminar, I was approached by an athlete who wondered why I had asked everyone to show me his or her squat with their toes straightforward. This was definitely not the first time I’ve been asked this question. There’s a lot of controversy in the fitness world today when it comes to recommended foot position during the squat. Some experts say our feet should be straightforward all the time. Others advocate the toes should turn out at an angle. So who is correct?

This is actually a trick question. The answer is both. Let me explain.

Argument for Toes Forward

The squat is a movement first and an exercise second. When I screen a new athlete, I want to see their ability to squat with shoes off and toes facing forward. My goal is to assess their MOVEMENT. This method allows me to see any weak links with the athlete.

Squatting with your feet straightforward is more difficult than with the toes pointed slightly outward. I don’t think many would argue with that notion. However, that is the point of the screen.

Toes Forward Explination

In order to squat to full depth with the toes straightforward, an athlete must have adequate ankle and hip mobility and sufficient pelvic/core control. They must also have acceptable coordination and balance. By turning the toes out at an angle, it allows a majority of people to achieve a full depth squat with a more upright chest position. There will always be a few individuals who are simply unable to get into a deep squat position due to abnormal anatomical reasons. Some people are born with genetic abnormalities. With that said, most athletes should be able to reach ass to grass with a squat.

The bodyweight squat sets the movement foundation for other athletic actions such as jumping and landing. Many knee injuries occur when you land with your foot pointing out and with the knee caving in. Players who have to jump and cut will tear their ACL when the knee caves in and rotates. My goal is for athletes to land and jump with good mechanics therefore decreasing their lack of season-ending injuries.

Argument for Toes Out

As soon as you pick up a barbell, the squat now becomes an exercise. For this reason, there are slight changes in the movement pattern that are more “sport specific”. This includes turning the toes out slightly. Doing so creates a mechanical advantage for the squat. Not only does it give us a slightly wider base of support, but it does not challenge our pelvic control and mobility to the fullest extent (1).

Toes Out Explination

This is why some athletes can squat deeper when they turn their toes out. By externally rotating the hips we can usually achieve a deeper and better-looking squat.

When our hips externally rotate, the adductor muscles on the inside of our legs are lengthened. As we squat these muscles are put in a better position to produce force (length-tension relationship). This simply means the adductors are turned on and recruited to a greater degree during the squat if you turn your toes out slightly (2). The adductor magnus specifically has been shown to help produce hip extension (the action of standing up from a squat) (4). More help from the adductors means a stronger and more efficient way to move the barbell.

Adductor
The Adductor Magnus

Turning the toes out, however, only changes the activation of the adductor muscle group. The glutes and quads (the main movers in the squat) are not significantly activated to a greater extent (3). Research has shown that turning the toes out more than 30-degree is less effective (2). For this reason, you should perform barbell squats with your feet turned out anywhere from 10-30 degrees. Always use a position that is most comfortable for your body. Remember, no two squats will look exactly the same. It’s normal and expected for you and your friend to have different squat stances while lifting the barbell.

Final Thoughts

The argument is simple. I believe we should have the capability to perform a bodyweight squat with the toes relatively straightforward. If you cannot, more than likely there are some things you need to work on. I recommend turning your toes out when you squat with a barbell for optimal performance.

Toes Argument Post

This is the difference between training and screening. Screening should point out and illuminate limitations in how we move. Training should reinforce and strengthen our current movement capabilities. When coaching athletes, it’s your job to know the difference between screening and training.

Until next time,

SquatBottom
Dr. Aaron Horschig, PT, DPT, CSCS, USAW

With

Kevin Photo
Dr. Kevin Sonthana, PT, DPT, CSCS

**If you haven’t ordered your 4th of July SquatU shirt yet, they are still available! Sale ends this Sunday, June 19th! 

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Resources

1) Movement: Functional Movement Systems: Screening, Assessment, and Corrective Strategies.Gray Cook, editor. On Target Publications: Santa Cruz, California, U.S.A.2010

2)Pereira GR, Leporace G, Chagas DDV, et al. Influence of hip external rotation on hip adductor and rectus femoris myoelectric activity during a dynamic parallel squat. JSCR; 2010. 24(10):2749-2752

3) Clark DR, Lambert MI, & Hunter AM. Muscle activation in the loaded free barbell squat: a brief review. JSCR; 2012. 26(4):1169-1178.

4) Dostal WF, Soderberg GL & Andrews JG. Actions of hip muscles. Phys Ther. 1986; 66:351-359. 

 

The Squat Fix: Don’t Forget The Foot!

PistolSquatArch

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