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Squat Foot Placement: Proper Foot Position Explained

Squats are an exercise many love, but are you knowledgeable about squat foot placement? Correct foot placement for squats can help reduce the risk of injury and aid in targeting certain muscles during different squat variations.

What is the best squat foot placement?

Squat foot placement can change depending on the type of squat you are performing, and the muscles you intend on stressing during the movement. Lifting with your feet shoulder-width apart, closer together, and considerably wider are all potential foot positions for squats depending on the squat variation.

Squat Foot Placement

Why Is Foot Placement Important During Squats?

Lifting with correct form is vital across all aspects of weight training, and feet position for squats is part of this. There isn’t just one way to perform a squat, and with many variations of the movement, it’s essential to know where and how you should be placing your feet.

1. Creates Stability

Feet form the foundation of a squat as they create the baseline of stability from the ground up. Your squat foot position will change depending on the squat variation you’re performing, but regardless of positioning, the feet need to be planted to create stability. Unstable feet during a squat can lead to poor form, and can negatively impact your lift by making you unsteady.

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2. Protects Knees

Alongside stance, foot placement for squats can impact the movement in the knee joint. By placing your feet at an appropriate angle and distance apart, you can help avoid injury that may occur from repeatedly squatting in extreme positions. Your knees shouldn’t turn in when squatting as this puts unnecessary pressure on the joint, so foot placement is key.

3. Can Affect Lifting Ability

The choice you make in squat foot placement and squat leg position can affect how much weight you’re lifting. Sumo squats generally focus more of the load on the inner thigh and glutes, as they are more of a hip-dominant movement compared to traditional squats. This can lead to some being able to lift heavier with sumo squats, but this depends on the individual anatomy and ability of the lifter.

woman doing squats with dumbbell

4 Factors Influencing Foot Placement While Squatting

Several factors can influence foot placement while squatting, and exploring them in more depth is a great way to better your understanding of squat foot placement.

1. Stance Width

The type of squat you perform can change your stance width considerably. Conventional back squats entail a shoulder-width squat foot position, while sumo squats require a wider stance with your feet set further apart. Squatting with a large width can result in greater activation of the gluteus maximus during a conventional back squat, so wide stance squats are an ideal exercise to incorporate into your training if strengthening glutes is a goal for you.

2. Hip Anatomy

Just as our skeletons are different from one another, so is our hip anatomy, and this can affect barbell squat feet position alongside other squat variations. Hip anatomy can affect squat mechanics as those with shallow sockets are more likely to find achieving squat depth easier than those with deeper sockets. This can lead to squat on toes where some individuals may only be able to complete a deep squat if their knees stick out over their toes slightly.

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3. Squat Variation

Performing different types of squats can have a large effect on where you place your feet. Regardless of the style of squat you’re doing, it’s essential to keep some degree of your toes turned out. It’s normal for this angle to vary between lifters, but the most important thing is to ensure your knees aren’t rolling inwards. This is important whether you’re doing a traditional back squat, goblet squat, sumo squat, overhead squat, or other variation.

4. Footwear

It’s common to see various types of footwear in the gym, from flat-soled trainers and weightlifting shoes to people lifting without shoes at all. Squat leg position affects where you place your feet, but so does the type of footwear you’re wearing. Studies have shown that wearing weightlifting shoes activates areas of the ankle which in turn leads to better balance performance.

Tips From the Champ

If you don’t currently own any weightlifting shoes, this effect can be replicated. By wearing flat-soled shoes or going barefoot, you can elevate your heels slightly with a small lifting plate or similar.

Oleksiy Torokhtiy
Oleksiy Torokhtiy

Olympic Weightlifting Champion

What Is The Optimal Foot Placement For Squats?

The ultimate squat foot position can vary depending on anatomy, squat type, stance, and more. Optimal foot placement for squats depends on personal ability and the style of squat you are performing, but I’ve put together some tips so you can assess your form and try to avoid a squat on toes.

1. Shoulder Width

A squat foot placement of shoulder width apart is a good baseline for a conventional squat, where feet should be planted on the ground, providing balance and stability. During execution, the goal is for body weight to be distributed through the foot, with more weight toward the back of the foot to support the hips during the squat.

Shoulder Width Stance

2. Close Together

Unlike a sumo squat which recruits more from the glutes, a narrow stance squat targets the quads more. Adopting a stance where the feet are close together is great for those wanting to build lower body strength and hypertrophy. As a wide stance can affect muscle activity with the thighs and buttocks, a narrow stance may be a better position for those with lower hip ROM.

Squatting with close together stance

3. Wide

For a wide squat stance, the feet should be wider than shoulder-width apart, with the toes slightly turned out which should help keep the knees from rolling inwards. When adopting a wide stance, it’s essential to not make the stance too big, as this can lead to a lack of stability and balance when performing the exercise.

Wide Stand in Use

Narrow vs Wide Feet Placement While Squatting: Key Differences

Narrow Squat Foot PositionWide Squat Foot Position
More recruitment from quadriceps and hamstringsMore activation from adductors, inner thighs, and gluteus maximus
Can be difficult to achieve depth with a narrow squatEasier to achieve depth for those with good hip ROM
Narrow stance makes it easier to stop knees from turning inwardsCan be difficult to stop knees rolling inwards due to a widened stance

3 Mistakes With Foot Placement When Squatting

Working out the optimal foot placement for squats can take time and a closer look at your body. Once you’ve learned the correct form, you can perfect your squats and help avoid some of the common mistakes I regularly see with foot placement during squatting.

1. Feet Rolling In

When squatting, keeping your feet planted on the ground is vital, as the feet are what anchor the body during the movement. Lifting with a stable foundation is key for successful training and reducing the risk of injury, so ensure your feet are planted and your feet don’t roll in (often followed by your knees).

2. Heels Rising Off The Ground

Lifting your heels off the floor during a squat isn’t wise, as it can lead to a lack of stability along with weight shifting forwards into your knees. Wearing weightlifting shoes or elevating your heel can be a great way of bettering balance and can also improve knee engagement during a barbell squat.

Performing Front Squat

3. Pointing Feet Inwards

Pointing the feet slightly outwards is a common practice for squats, as it allows for increased depth alongside lower injury risk in the ankles and knees. Pointing the feet inwards means it’s far more likely you will also turn your knees inwards, which is better to avoid in case of injury.

FAQ

Does Foot Placement Matter For Squats?

Foot placement matters for the correct execution of various squat types. It can, however, vary substantially from person to person, due to hip anatomy, squat variation, and the lifter’s ability. By performing a squat with the right foot placement, you can target muscles differently, remain stable and balanced, and even achieve a better squat overall.

Is It Better To Squat With Toes Forward Or Out?

When squatting, it’s vital to find a position that your body is comfortable with, and this can affect the squat foot position. Pointing the toes inwards is never an ideal position for squatting, but there’s a recurring debate about whether feet should face forwards, or be slightly turned outwards. Both of these positions are correct, but for most, turning the toes outwards leads to hip rotation and often a deeper squat position.

Conclusion

Squat foot placement is a broad topic with many possible discussions such as squat type, anatomy, individual capability, and more being a few I’ve touched on today. Finding the best feet position for squats means exploring various squat types, evaluating your ROM, and taking a closer look at how your body generally feels when completing the exercise.

What squat foot placement have you found to be most beneficial for your training? Let me know in the comments!

Referenses:

  1. Silvio Lorenzetti, Mira Ostermann, Fabian Zeidler, Pai Zimmer, Lina Jentsch, Renate List, William R. Taylor & Florian Schellenberg, “How to squat? Effects of various stance widths, foot placement angles and level of experience on knee, hip and trunk motion and loading”, BMC Sports Science, Medicine and Rehabilitation, https://bmcsportsscimedrehabil.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s13102-018-0103-7 (Accessed February 7 2024)
  2. Antonio Paoli, Giuseppe Marcolin, Nicola Petrone, “The effect of stance width on the electromyographical activity of eight superficial thigh muscles during back squat with different bar loads”, National Center For Biotechnology Information, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19130646/ (Accessed February 7 2024)
  3. Charlie Hoolihan, CSCS, “A Coach and Trainer’s Challenge – Individual Variables in Health, Fitness, and Nutrition”, National Strength and Conditioning Association,
    https://www.nsca.com/education/articles/ptq/a-coach-and-trainers-challenge-individual-variables-in-health-fitness-and-nutrition/ (Accessed February 7 2024)
  4. Joshua W. Cohen, Philip Lee, Jessa Buchman-Pearle, “The Effects of Footwear on Squat Movements”, University of Western Ontario, https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/8860/3128c083f813662507a12b3bddef98aac73d.pdf (Accessed February 7 2024)
  5. Myer, Gregory D. PhD, CSCSD Kushner, Adam M. BS, CSCS Brent, Jensen L. BS, CSCS Schoenfeld, Brad J. PhD, CSCS, FNSCA Hugentobler, Jason PT, DPT, CSCS Lloyd, Rhodri S. PhD, CSCSD Vermeil, Al MS, RSCC*E Chu, Donald A. PhD, PT, ATC, CSCS, FNSCA Harbin, Jason MS McGill, Stuart M. PhD, “The Back Squat:
    A Proposed Assessment of Functional Deficits and Technical Factors That Limit Performance”, Strength and Conditioning Journal, https://journals.lww.com/nsca-scj/fulltext/2014/12000/the_back_squat__a_proposed_assessment_of.2.aspx (Accessed February 7 2024)
  6. S T McCaw, D R Melrose, “Stance width and bar load effects on leg muscle activity during the parallel squat”, National Center For Biotechnology Information, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/10188748/ (Accessed February 7 2024)
  7. Zhenghui Lu, Xin Li, Rongrong Xuan, Yang Song, István Bíró, Minjun Liang, and Yaodong Gu, “Effect of Heel Lift Insoles on Lower Extremity Muscle Activation and Joint Work during Barbell Squats”, National Center For Biotechnology Information,
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9312299/# (Accessed February 7 2024)

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Author: Jason Li
Personal Coach, Functional Range Conditioning Mobility Specialist

Experience: 10 years

Jason is an NYC personal training expert and National level Olympic Weightlifting Coach with over 10 years of experience training everyday clients to high levels of performance. He has trained everyone from youth (13 years old and under) to masters (60+ years old) to regional and national rankings for powerlifting, Olympic Weightlifting, Short distance (up to 200m) sprinting, discus & hammer throwing.

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