There are many different versions of the “squat” that take demand certain mechanics or take advantage of specific foot positions.
Below is a brainstorm of some things I can think of in terms of why certain positions are used, desired, or should be avoided.
1. FMS Deep Squat
–This is movement-evaluative squat, not necessarily one that would be be regularly exercised. If you are actually correcting the squat in the rare occasions of 13 with a 1 on the squat or 19 or 20 with a 1 or 2 on the squat, then again the toes would be straight. The big piece here in terms of keeping toes straight is to appraise relative hip internal rotation. It is not a measure of internal rotation per se, but if you can keep your toes straight, the tone of hip flexors and/or stiffness in the posterior capsule is graded by the foot position that would challenge those limitations. If you can keep toes straight, the Screen suggests that internal rotation is adequate. However, if toes can stay straight in the 2 position, it does not necessarily mean the issue lies in the hip. It can still be anything or anywhere.
2. Competition Squat
–Louie has talked about this, but I have never actually seen someone employ a powerlifting competition squat with toes straight. If you can make depth and tension out against a straight foot, in theory, the passive tension of the capsule might give you some “free” stiffness in and out of the hole. I can never feel it, and inherently, the knees collapse. It makes sense in terms of the hip stiffness, but I don’t think it’s a viable option especially if you are wider than shoulders, not to mention clipping into FAI in the hole as well.
1. Slacks hip flexors allowing for more relative stability of the pelvis. As the Rectus Femoris (AIIS) and TFL and Sartorius (ASIS) become toned or even just in their quality resting tension with toes straight, their vector(s) to the fixed point of the lateral calcaneus is to pull the pelvis into an anterior tilt. This approximation posteriorly, which feels like a hard arch, can likely cut a squat early from negative proprioception in the spine and/or unable to stay big against the anterior weight. Letting the toes go out, anywhere from 20 degrees to 90 degrees, changes the line of pull of these muscles out of the sagittal plane, thus making the spine easier to centrate in a squatting pattern.
2. The toes out position puts the ADDuctors on a line of pull that allows them act as sagittal plane hip extenders. It’s fairly simple biomechanics. Better line of pull = more force into returning out of the hip hinge.
3. Partially for the spinal and hip implications of 1. and 2., slight toes out is not coincidentally the centrated position of the hip joint. Centration is the position of the joint where there is maximal bony congruency around the joint as well as equal co-contraction of agonists and antagonists. This anatomical visual is the basis of stereotypical postures in developmental kinesiology and is believed to yield full-body neurological strength and stability. When 1 joint is “in place,” the rest of the body will ultimately follow.
4. Please keep in mind that while there are advantages to handling load with toes out, it must be an option to be out there. A loss of hip internal rotation may allow for force the toes to go out, but if there is a hallowing of the lateral glutes, this is the loss of centration in the hip joint that will also be forced. The hallowing will be an indication that the deep stabilizers of the hips are not functioning as stabilizers. This is an example of a high threshold strategy where the global muscles are contracting before the local muscles in the default pattern. Toes out are okay, but it must be an option and still have the proper postural stereotype.
5. Retroverted hips make it okay. This bony structural change is typically a result of position during fetal development or an imbalance during early stages of development. Retroversion creates a normal centration of the femoral head in the acetabulum, however, it is connected via a femoral neck that leads to a femur that is rotated externally. Depending on the degree of retroversion, toes straight will be closer to slight toes out for some people. Others will get to centration with excessive toes out. The Craig’s Test is one fair measure of retroversion or anteversion. It is also worth noting that some resources describe ante- and retroversion as the opposite of each other. These are benign conditions overall, but they do lead us to stop looking to increase hip rotation when it’s a bony reason that’s preventing it.
1. No arch = less power. I know a lot of people think they have flat feet, but this can be trained in a number of different ways both through training and manual therapy. Many years ago, I was chatting with a podiatrist who became increasingly annoying, and I got out of the conversation telling him not to send me anybody with flat feet because after I’m done with them, they won’t need your little orthotics anymore.
The foot should have a tripod base of support via the sesamoid of the big toe, the MT head of the 5th toe, and the lateral heal. The heel is the rear wheel drive, as Pavel would describe, and the front portion is the front wheel drive. All wheels interacting with the ground = more more. If the body of the vehicle is bottomed out on the ground, aka a fallen arch, there is minimized drive.
The arch is obligatory. There are some people that are structurally flat, but this is terribly rare. It’s also terrible for your squat or closed chain force production, but you did it to yourself during development.
Patrick Ward showing an example of taking advantage of and driving the short foot.
2. Orthotics giving you a stiff post as an arch may work, or it may not work. If you have an arch in the open-chain, or it can be achieved with passive overpressure mean there is an arch available in that foot. Training it reflexively with tension and reaction with the floor will bring out that arch and a whole gang of tension and strength into the lift. If you need orthotics to stay out of pain, that’s a different story, but can they be regressed in their stiffness or maybe use something like Barefoot Science that has a built in regression and forcing the arch via a reaction, not just giving you one like in most orthotics.
3. The short foot is the ideal centrated posture of the midfoot along with close to zero degrees of dorsiflexion. However, like other stability positions like packing the neck, bracing the abdominals, or squeezing the glutes, the desired position can be achieved through feed-forward mechanisms or just along the chain of a feed-back mechanism. It is useful to force the short foot as if holding a melon under your foot, but it is only to gain a “feel” for the position and the tripod. Ideally the short foot with the arch should be gained naturally without demanding it. It will actually feel quite different.
1. Make no mistake about it. In a static position, closed loop environment, curling the toes into gripping the floor will increase tension as we have learned from Pavel and Stuart McGill’s Superstiffness principles.
Toes curled is also a sympathetic reaction to threat. Toes curled inhibits the ideal tripod as well, and while there is stiffness and tension with toes curled, it is at the expense of multiple mid-foot muscles being inhibited.
My thought is that the toes curled is an e-brake on the system, and while static tension is measured, I think posterior chain is inhibited without the toe pads gaining proprioception and a signal that the body is ready to propel.
I’m sure many a stud will suggest, just like the packed neck message, that they have had “success” with curling the toes despite the logic and soft science I am suggesting, but also like the packed neck, I think curling the toes is an e-brake that is easy to drive through.
Try shortening the foot with toes curled and without toes curled. There should be an appreciable difference in the activation of the deep foot flexors. I think this is something we want in attempting to translate force from the ground up through the chain. Curling the toes limits that with the approximation and alteration of the tripod.
Just something to think about, but I don’t really want to argue.