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.
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.
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.
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.
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
Dr. Kevin Sonthana