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Building a solid deadlift requires one to pay close attention to their base of support, which is the feet.
The feet act as a suspension system that absorbs force as we load the entire body. Flat feet can trigger a sequence of misalignments of the joints that can lead to knee pain, hip pain, and even back pain.
For this reason, correcting flat feet can be a huge benefit to increasing the performance and health of your deadlift.
How do you deadlift with flat feet? To deadlift with flat feet you need to incorporate corrective exercises that strengthen the posterior tibialis, big toe muscles, and glutes. Also, you need to implement specific arch-building flexibility drills into your workouts and build proper cueing patterns to maintain a big foot arch while deadlifting.
In the following article, I will talk about 5 tips to correct your flat feet when deadlifting.
Be sure to check out our article on the Best Deadlift Shoes For Flat Feet, as having the proper footwear is an easy fix to maintaining a high foot arch while deadlifting.
What Does Deadlifting With Flat Feet Mean?
Having flat feet means that the arch of your foot is flat to the ground.
Flat feet can be acquired at a young age due to dysfunction of the posterior tibialis muscle (back of lower leg) or lack of muscular control and laxity of the arch (lazy muscles in the foot).
The arch of the foot is a tough, elastic, connection of ligaments, tendons, and fascia.
When deadlifting, this structure can act as a “shock absorber” by absorbing forces that are loaded onto the body as you pick up the barbell. As a force travels down the different muscular systems, without the arch, there is nowhere for this generated force from deadlifting to go.
The arch of the foot has three points of contact: the heel, big toe, and between the 4th and 5th toe.
Without this arch, the soles of the foot touch the floor. As the arch falls, the inside of the knee and hip become misaligned which can lead to biomechanical inefficiencies and pain.
Why Is Deadlifting With Flat Feet Bad?
While deadlifting, flat feet are typically asymptomatic but can alter the structures of the ankle, knees, hips, and lower back which can result in an increased risk of pain and injury in those areas.
Common symptoms of flat feet can include foot pain or swelling inside the ankle. This is because the lack of an arch allows for the loss of energy to irritate the surrounding areas.
Without an arch, the feet become more rigid and unable to adapt to different surfaces. Specifically while deadlifting, when we set our hips, we won’t be able to anchor ourselves into the ground. This can be problematic for both conventional and sumo deadlifting.
Additionally, mechanical changes occur due to the lack of an arch on the inside of the foot which causes the ankle, knee, and hip to drop.
If we deadlift with flat feet, then our feet will pronate (turn inward), which can bring our knees and hips in when we go to deadlift. This position is less secure, which can cause us to lift less weight and place us at greater risk for injury and pain.
Want to improve your deadlift technique?
4 Tips To Deadlift With Flat Feet
Now that we know why deadlifting with flat feet isn’t ideal, let’s turn our attention to how to fix.
Here are my 4 tips to deadlifting with flat feet:
- Implement Proper Cueing For Deadlifts
- Orthotics & Proper Shoes Can Help
- Stretch the Muscles of the Feet and Ankle
- Strengthen The Muscles Involved
1. Implement Proper Cueing For Deadlifts
While deadlifting, a functioning foot will be stacked parallel to the joints above, including the knee and hip.
To correct this, try to roll your feet out to the edges of your feet and actively raise the instep of the foot.
By consciously creating this gap, we can create an arch which will realign the structures of the hip and knee.
- Pull your toes towards your heel. By pulling your big toe and 4th and 5th toe towards your heels then an arch will form at the midfoot.
- Close the gap between your feet. Normally there should be a gap in the midfoot. By thinking about closing this gap with our heel and toes then an arch will form.
- Hug the ground with your toes. If we think about hugging the floor with our toes then our mid foot will be pushed into an arched position.
As you continue to read, I mention a short foot exercise. This exercise can help with proper cueing for the deadlift and building an arch.
2. Orthotics & Proper Shoes Can Help
Orthotics are custom made insoles that can help support the arch to relieve pain and irritation while deadlifting. Typically, you can purchase these at a local pharmacy or specialized retailer.
Powerstep Original Insoles are popularly used on amazon and are well reviewed, which you can find HERE.
Other than orthotics, wearing minimalist shoes with arch support can help correct flat feet while deadlifting. We tested the 5 deadlift shoes for flat-footed lifters, and the best deadlift shoe for flat feet was the Sabo Deadlift Pro.
3. Stretch the Muscles of the Feet and Ankle
Roll Out The Bottom Of Your Foot With a Lacrosse Ball
Place a lacrosse ball under your feet. Roll it around under your foot until you find a tender spot, apply pressure to this location and hold it there for about 30 seconds. This activity can act as a therapeutic soft tissue release movement to relieve pain in the foot.
Split Stance Calf Stretch
Stand in a split stance where one foot is placed in front of the other. Elevated the front of the back foot while driving your heel through the ground. Hold this position, while allowing the half foam roller or elevation to pull the front of the foot up. This stretch can help improve ankle mobility and stretch out the calf muscles.
Short Foot Exercise
For this exercise, you will focus on pulling your toes into the ground to push your mid foot into an arched position. You can hold this arched position for 30-60 seconds to help prevent flat feet while deadlifting.
Starting with the big toe, you will lift it up and hold this position for several seconds then subsequently drive your toe into the ground. You will do this for each of the toes to increase mobility and flexibility in the joints of the feet.
4. Strengthen The Muscles Involved
To correct flat feet, you need to strengthen the muscles of the big toe, posterior tibialis, and gluteus medius. In the following section, I have included exercises that you can integrate into your programming to specifically correct flat feet.
By strengthening the muscles of the big toe, we can assist the lifting up of the foot and producing an arch. Here are a series of big toe exercises that can fix flat feet while deadlifting.
Walking on your heels can work the muscles of the feet and big toe. You can integrate this non fatiguing exercise into your deadlift warm up to help build the muscles of the arch.
Single Leg Balance Exercises
To correct flat feet while deadlifting, a single leg balance exercise that helps build the arch is doing wood chops while standing one leg. This forces the foot to supinate and raise the instep to prevent falling over.
For this exercise, all you need to do is be seated with a tower under your feet. You can crunch down on the tower with your feet until you achieve exhaustion.
A weak posterior tibialis is one of the biggest reasons for the arch falling. Here are a series of exercises that target the posterior tibialis that can fix flat feet while deadlifting.
Posterior Tibialis Calf Raises
A flattened arch causes weakness of the posterior tibialis. For this exercise you will squeeze a tennis ball between your ankles and perform calf raises.
Arch Gap Romanian Deadlifts
For this exercise, you will work on bridging the tissue of the feet together by forming a gap beneath your feet. You will place one five lbs plate under your heel, and one five lbs plate under the front of your feet. There will be a gap that's about a few inches in size within the center of the foot.
Gluteus Medius weakness is symptomatic of the misalignments that are caused by fallen arches. Here are a series of gluteus medius exercises that can fix flat feet while deadlifting:
Bulgarian Split Squats
Otherwise known as rear foot elevated split squats, can force your feet into supination to balance properly. To complete this exercise you should have your back foot driving into a bench with a slight bend in your back knee. You will have your opposite foot in front of you, in line with your hip. To descend you will initiate with your hips while letting your knee travel forward over your third and fourth toe.
Lateral Banded Walks (Band Around Feet)
For this exercise you will put a band around the laces of your shoes. This will challenge the feet to execute this lateral banded walk formation.
Feeling extra sore after deadlifts lately? Read Quads Sore After Deadlifting: Is It Good Or Bad? to find out whether or not this is a good thing.
How To Implement Corrective Exercises For Flat Feet
All the corrections mentioned in this article might seem like a lot but it's definitely possible to integrate these strategies into your routine.
Here is an example of how you could implement these into a deadlift workout:
- Roll out the bottom of your foot for 1 set of 30 – 60 seconds each side
- Calf stretch 1 set of 30 seconds each side
- Heel walks 1 sets of 20 yards
- Posterior tibialis calf raise 1 set of 20 on each side
- Lateral banded walks 1 set of 20 yards on each side
Between each set you can implement correctives to build your arch while you deadlift.
- Short foot exercise for 30 seconds on each foot
- Single leg balance exercises for 30 seconds on each foot
In combination with wearing proper footwear, while deadlifting, this example routine can help build proper cueing patterns and strengthen the muscles that are responsible for flat feet.
Flat feet can be asymptomatic but can prove to be problematic while deadlifting. Fallen arches can lead to pain, discomfort, and an ineffective deadlift. Potential irritations include knee cave, patellar tendonitis, and swelling of the feet. A quick solution would be to purchase orthotics while implementing these cueing patterns and therapeutic activities into your daily routine.
About The Author
Javad Bakhshinejad was born and raised in the Washington Area. Currently, he is a student at Seattle University where he’s been pursuing an MS in Kinesiology, and has been a Strength Coach in the athletic department. He was a competitive bodybuilder for 8 years where he later transitioned to competitive powerlifting for 4 years. Currently, He has his own personal coaching business, where he works with powerlifters and bodybuilders.