By Carlos Terron, CPT, CF-L1
An excessive turn-out of the feet in a squat is not wildly uncommon. However, knowing why it happens and what to address could help you bring your feet back to their normal anatomical position, forward.
Preface: Before we begin, I would like to point out the driving word in the previous paragraph, ‘excessive’. It is common to see the feet slightly turned out in a squat. Just as we all come in different shapes and sizes, some of us may in fact be at our best position with the feet ‘slightly’ turned out in a squat. Another factor to consider is the difference between a loaded squat (back squat, front squat, etc.) and an unloaded squat. In a loaded squat, it is generally easier to load at a greater advantage when the feet are in line with the abducted hip and femur, and slightly turned out.
Overview: In this post, we’ll cover the majority of the problem by addressing the incorrect movement due to lack of information or proper correction. Knowing why the feet turn out, could help us understand how to correct the altered movement pattern.
First, let’s quickly cover some highlights of a perfect squat:
A few common reasons why the feet turn out during a squat are (1.) a lack of mobility of the ankle and (2.) overactive (tight) calf muscles. Generally speaking, strengthening the weak (lengthened) muscles of the hip abductors and foam rolling and static stretching of the overactive (tight) muscles of the hip adductors, Gastrocnemius, Soleus and Bicep Femoris will help improve overall movement efficiency of the squat. Let’s take a deeper dive to understand the different components involved.
Details: Mobility is a necessarily component of remaining injury and pain free. Regularly commit time to work on mobility and gain improvements in your fitness and overall posture. To improve ankle mobility, we recommend 2-3 minutes of self myofascial release (SMR a.k.a. foam rolling) on the Gastrocnemius and Soleus (upper and lower calves) and surrounding muscles. This process requires patience and some degree of pain tolerance. When foam rolling, you are basically looking to break up knots and adhesions of outer layer of the muscle. Find a sensitive area that is relatively uncomfortable and stay on it for about 30 seconds and move to another area. Once you have spent some time foam rolling, we recommend to move on to static stretching of the calves. Perform standing and sitting calf stretches to target both upper and lower calf and be sure to hold the stretches for at least 30 seconds. Time under tension in the stretch is important as the Golgi Tendon Organ (GTO) will sense the tension of the muscle and relax the muscle at about the 30 second mark, optimizing your stretch. This is generally why the immediate tension of a stretch goes away when holding a stretch for an extended period of time.
Furthermore, we continue on to mobility work. In a staggered stance (one foot in front of the other) place one foot about a “fist-length” away from the wall and hold on to the wall. Then, in a controlled fashion, bring the front knee forward until the knee touches the wall and both heels stay on the ground. Hold this position for 30-60 seconds. Proper displacement of weight on both feet will help keep the weight evenly distributed. Discontinue if you experience knee pain. If this is easy, step back 1-2 inches and bring the knee to the wall without the heel coming off the ground. Repeat this process on both legs and continue moving back and bringing the knee to the wall until you are no longer able to safely keep the heel on the ground. Be sure to perform SMR with a foam roller and lacrosse ball followed by static stretching of the calf muscles as well as stretching the medial and lateral side of the ankle 2-3 times per week. This will likely help improve mobility.
Another common issue that leads to the feet turning out is tight calves. Overactive calves prevent the normal movement and flexibility of the calf muscles. Our bodies naturally attempt to look for the path of least resistance, a process known as relative flexibility. Put it this way, just because our calves are tight, our body is not going to prevent us from doing a squat. However, it will attempt to find an alternative to stretching the calf muscle. The more we turn our feet outward, the less the calf needs to stretch. Hence, we accomplish the squat but in an altered pattern. By doing so, we create repetitive incorrect patterns that lead to injury which leads to improper movement…which leads to more injury and so on; a situation know as a cumulative injury cycle. Performing regular SMR and static stretch of the calves, will help release the tension of the calves and allow for improved movement.
Conclusion: In conclusion, it is important to address the issues at the root of the problem. Knowing the points of a proper squat are key as is understanding why improper movement happens. We recommend spending time foam rolling first, then, static stretching as well as progressing on to other forms of stretching such as isolated active stretching and dynamic stretching. We also recommend allocating days to just work on mobility and overall flexibility. Lastly, enjoy the journey and take your time. Only squat to a depth that allows for proper form. Work your way down to a full-depth squat only as you see and feel improvements in mobility.
Please don’t hesitate to contact us if you have any questions or need guidance.