Being the only part of your body in contact with the ground, how you position your feet during the squat is of critical importance. Variables such as the angle of your feet, stance width, foot position within shoe, and heel height must all be considered if your are to maximise the efficiency of your squat technique, to best achieve and maintain strong healthy knees. This article will cover the major feet considerations you should make (and always be aware of) when performing squat exercises.
Correct angle of your feet during squats
Those who have read our articles on How to keep those “knees out” for good during the squat and How squats can help with fallen arches will understand the importance of externally rotating the legs from the hips to help with hip stability, knee position and promoting a healthy arch in the foot. As far as foot angle is concerned, the best way to achieve the strongest external rotation at the hip is to keep your feet parallel to each other.
By keeping your feet perfectly straight as opposed to angled out (say around 30 degrees), this puts an additional demand on flexibility at the ankle. You need this flexibility in order to have the knees wide enough over the feet, to allow a knee width which provides a wide enough knee-hip-knee base with an appropriate (i.e. not excessively inclined forwards) back angle. So straight feet squatting can take some getting used to, and requires lots of ankle mobility work to be effective – but we’ve already helped you with that with our piece about Improving ankle flexibility for effective squats.
A trade-off that can be employed is to turn the toes out just a fraction, say 5 to 10 degrees, as this slightly reduces the ankle mobility demands without doing too much harm to the ability to generate good external rotation from the hips.
To answer how wide your stance should be, let’s go back to the importance of achieving a wide enough knee-hip-knee base to facilitate an appropriate back angle. It follows that if your ankle mobility is restrictive and makes the “diagonal shin” position (discussed here) difficult to achieve, the best stance width is a wide one. Those with really tight ankles might need to position their heels half a shoe’s width outside shoulder width. If your ankle mobility is better, shoulder width heels might feel more comfortable.
Foot position within the shoe
Simply deciding on an angle and width of the feet is not enough: to use our feet most effectively you should also try to shape the foot correctly within the shoe. There are two key things to concentrate on. The first is to visualise pushing the heels to the inside edge of your shoes as you strongly externally rotate from the hips. The second is to keep the balls of the big toes pressed down into the shoe – the inside of the foot should not come up off the floor when we squat. Both of these actions work to enable you to keep strong arches in your feet, keep your feet firmly planted on the floor and put the shins at the correct position to coordinate with the externally rotated upper legs from the work being done at the glutes.
The above details describe foot positioning which enables a squat where the shins do not need to incline forwards very much at all – the only incline is the slight outward diagonal shin angle.Squatting in such a style, therefore, does not benefit from having a raised heel, so fairly flat soled shoes can be used. The one caveat to this is that those new to these techniques are likely to be weak at externally rotating the legs from the hips; this means that your knees might not be pushed wide enough. With the knees not wide enough, the only way to maintain proper balance would be by having more forward incline of the shins than would be desirable.During this phase where such a forward shin incline is necessary, a raised heel in the shoe would be advantageous, although the long-term fix is wider knees with firmly planted feet.
Keep all these points in mind throughout your squats, and you will soon master foot positioning, and improve your overall technique.