How and where should your feet be placed when squatting?
Maybe you keep them directly underneath you with toes forward. Though if you’ve ever trained with me then I’ll have asked you to go shoulder-width apart and turn the toes out. This is the standard for most strength coaches.
However, this is now in question, thanks to a few videos posted to www.mobilitywod.com. Much respected CrossFit coach, Kelly Starrett, threw a spanner in the works and suggested that toes should, instead, be facing forwards to reduce the chance of valgus knee movement (knock knees or damage to the outside of the knee) and to build tension and maximise torque in the hip during squatting.
His opinion disagrees with so many notable names:
Coach Mark Rippetoe would have your “toes point out 30 degrees. Feet at shoulder width”.
Gray Cook believes “the best and strongest foot position in a regular squat is with an out turn”.
Powerlifters like Louie Simmons would get you to turn your toes out, as would record breaker Andy Bolton who suggests the toes should be “turned out 10 to 40 degrees”.
With so much unsubstantiated hearsay in strength training, it’s worth highlighting exactly why so many prefer the toes-out position.
By widening your stance and turning your toes out you open up the hip allowing the femur to move more freely and thus allowing for greater depth. In addition we want to keep the knee safe, as coach Greg Everett states:
“We squat toes out to match the direction of the thighs to ensure the knee is hinging not twisting”
He also argues that the only real threat of valgus knee movement will come when the stance is too wide. Otherwise the knee remains “supported by the lower leg vertically”.
So what’s a confused squat enthusiast to do? What’s the answer? Where the hell should my feet be?
Well as you might guess, it depends.
If you struggle with flexibility then a toes forward position may not allow for sufficient depth. Inflexible ankles, tight hamstrings or hips will all benefit more from a wider stance with toes out. At least to begin with.
Suffering from a groin injury? Then the toes forward narrow stance may allow you to continue squatting through your injury.
But with each of these scenarios as flexibility and squat strength improves, the athlete may benefit from experimenting with foot stance and position. It all becomes a matter of trial and error on what works best for you given your personal fitness and any limitations you have.
If you switch up your position from time to time you can switch up the muscle emphasis to some degree. In other words hitting different muscles around the hip and making your overall squat stronger. Toes out will involve the adductors (groin muscles) to a greater degree, toes in will recruit more of the lateral musculature – those of the outside of the leg.
Whatever position you choose or prefer bear in mind the following standards:
- Ensure the thigh and foot are aligned to ensure safe hinging of the knee
- Ensure that your foot position does not compromise safe posture such as forcing a rounded back or collapsed chest
- Always make sure you are squatting as deep as you can with good form. We aim for a full range of motion at the hip, like all movements
What’s right for you could be less than ideal or even unsafe for someone else. Different limb lengths or limitations mean that foot position is not a one-size-fits all matter.