Proper squat mechanics start with the feet. When the arch of the foot flattens, it can negatively impact the rest of your squat. Flat feet can also lead to ankle, knee and hip pain if not corrected. So, it's important to address flat feet if it presents itself when squatting.
How do you fix flat feet while squatting? It's a combination of three things. First, you need to stretch and loosen tight muscles in the feet and ankles. Second, you need to implement specific feet and calf exercises that contribute to a strong arch. Last, you need to ensure you understand how to distribute your weight on the feet properly during the squat
Let's cover each of these elements in more detail so you can fix your flat feet and continue developing strong squatting technique.
One of the most important elements in squatting with flat feet is ensuring you have the proper shoes. I recommend the Nike Romaleos 3 XD (click for today’s price on Rogue Fitness). If you want to read my full review, check out my article on the Best Squat Shoes For Flat Feet.
What Does Squatting With Flat Feet Mean?
If you don't know what flat feet are it refers to the inside part of your foot being flat on the ground.
Everyone is supposed to have a natural space between the inside of the foot and the floor.
The purpose of having an arch in your foot is to help absorb some of the loading demands of whatever task you're doing. If you're squatting, the load from your own bodyweight and the barbell will be partially absorbed through the arch of the foot.
So the optimal position to be in while squatting is to have your heel, big toe, and outside of the foot make contact with the floor. But at the same time, maintain the arched position of the inside of the foot.
You can do this more easily by adjusting the angle of your foot, which I cover in my article on should your toes be pointing in or out.
When you maintain the arch while squatting, it allows you to keep your ankle, knee, and hip in straight alignment.
Why Is Squatting With Flat Feet Bad?
The arch acts as a ‘shock', just like a shock absorber on your bicycle or car.
When the arch flattens and there is no space between the foot and the floor, there is no shock absorber. This creates a situation where your knee and hip compensate for the lack of shock absorption and take on additional stress, which would have otherwise dissipated at the level of the foot.
If you continue to squat with flat feet, then overtime it may lead to injuries.
This is not to say that you will get injured, but it does mean you're more at risk.
Most commonly, you'll have people who squat with flat feet develop knee pain. This is because as the arch collapses, there is an inward rotation of the tibia (the shin bone), which creates a lot of torque at the level of the knee.
Furthermore, people can experience localized heel, feet, and ankle pain, which again is caused by the lack of shock absorption that would typically happen by having an arch. Athletes have complained that the bottom of their feet, especially the muscles in the foot and ankle, are excruciatingly painful.
Make sure you look at the footwear you're using for squats to help avoid these issues. For my athletes, I recommend the Nike Romaleos 3 XD (click to check today's price).
Common Causes For Flat Feet While Squatting
There are three main causes for flat feet while squatting:
- Genetics: It could be that you're not naturally built with high arches. However, just because you were born with flat feet, doesn't necessarily mean you can't develop an arch that would work for you. As a general note, you shouldn't accept flat arches based on genetics until you've worked through a series of corrective steps (as explained below) that aim to improve your arch.
- Ligament Laxity / Weak Muscles: Ligament laxity is a term for loose ligaments, which can lead to joint stability issues. This can be associated with weak muscles, especially in the foot and calf that contribute to supporting the arch.
- Improper Understanding of Squatting Mechanics: Some athletes simply don't understand how to cue their feet into the ground while squatting, and how to stack the joints (ankles, knees, and hips) properly.
If you have flat feet, then check out my article on How To Deadlift With Flat Feet where I give you 4 technique tips.
Want to improve your squat technique?
Correcting Flat Feet While Squatting
Squatting with flat feet isn't something that you should simply live with. There are several corrective exercises and tools that will allow you to develop a strong arch in the foot.
1. Wear Orthodics
One of the easiest ways to fix flat feet is to wear orthodics while squatting.
Orthodics are a custom-made appliance that you put inside your shoe that props up the inside of your foot.
However, there are two main problems with using orthodics while squatting.
First, it's only a band-aid solution and doesn't actually solve the root cause of the issue. As I said above, flat feet are usually due to a muscular weakness or poor squat mechanics. While orthotics will give you a temporary fix, anytime you're not wearing your orthotics you'll still be experiencing flat feet.
Second, custom orthotics are expensive and you might need to buy multiple pairs for different shoes that you wear.
I would recommend using orthotics if genetically you have naturally flatter feet. However, I wouldn't skip out on the other corrections suggested below just because you use orthotics.
2. Relieve Tight Muscles In The Foot & Calf
If you've been squatting with flat feel, more than likely the muscles in the bottom of your feet and the outside of your calf are extremely tight.
Eventually, you'll need to start developing the muscles that contribute to a higher arch, but first, you'll need to relieve the muscles that have been overworked by compensating for the lack of shock absorption.
I cover a full mobility routine in my article on how to warm up for squats; however, there are two soft tissue mobility drills you should implement if you have flat feet:
Rolling The Bottom of The Foot
Rolling The Outside of The Calf
Before you squat, use either a lacrosse ball or foam roller to apply pressure to the sore muscles. Here are some general guidelines for performing soft tissue mobility:
- Find a tender spot and sustain pressure until pain/tenderness subsides by approximately 75% (Clark et al. 2014).
- Apply pressure so that you feel the first sensation of ‘perceived pain’ (Macdonald et al., 2014). You don’t want to lightly apply pressure, it should be somewhat painful initially.
- Aim to do 5-10 strokes over the targetted muscle group for approximately 30-60 seconds (Peacock et al., 2014).
- Try to relax as much as possible (don’t tense your muscles)
3. Strengthen The Muscles Responsible For Supporting Arch of Foot
There are three areas that might be weak, which would contribute to flat feet.
First, we want to strengthen the muscles of the big toe. The big toe can assist you in lifting up your arch by being able to flex against the force of gravity of your own weight.
You can use the “Coin Exercise” to help strengthen the big toe. Simple place a coin underneath the big bone at the base of the toe. Press into the floor as hard as possible, think about curling your big toe and keeping the arch as engaged as possible. You can perform this exercise 3-4 times per week and isometrically press into the floor for 20-30 seconds.
The posterior tibialus is a muscle that starts in the middle of the calf, which runs down to the ankle and attaches to the top of the foot.
When the posterior tibialis is activated correctly, it holds up the arch of the food.
You can work this muscle by challenging your balance on one foot. You can use the “Horizontal Cable Wood Chopper” exercise to strengthen the posterior tibialis by doing the single leg variation.
Perform this exercise 1-2 times per week using 2-3 sets of 10-15 reps. Don't worry if the movement is not ‘smooth', you'll still find the inside of the foot will be quite active throughout the range of motion.
The glute medias is the side part of the glute.
The glute medius is responsible for externally rotating the hip. In other words, if you don't have a strong glute medius then your hips will internally rotate, which will cause your knees to cave inward during the squat. If your knees cave together during the squat, it will be hard to distribute the load on the outside of the foot, which will cause your ankle to rotate in and your arch to collapse.
You'll want to strengthen your glute medius to prevent any internal rotation of the hip while squatting. The two best exercises for this are:
Banded Bodyweight Squats
Banded Lateral Walks
You can perform these exercises before you squat to make sure the glute medius is activated properly. Do two sets of 10-15 reps and make sure you're feeling the side part of the glute.
While you're squatting the knees should be tracking in line with the toes, and a strong glute medius will allow you to accomplish that.
4. Implement Proper Squat Cues
While there are many squatting cues you can implement, if you have flat feet you should be specifically trying to cue your feet into the floor so that you can maintain high arches.
To properly cue your feet is to ensure: 1) the feet are active, 2) the weight is being distributed correctly into the feet, and 3) your knees are tracking over your toes.
Here's what you should be thinking about when you have the barbell on your back:
- Feel the floor with your feet. In order to do this you'll want to feel your big toe, pinky toe, and heel on the floor. Actively draw your attention to these places.
- Claw the ground with your toes. This will feel like gripping the floor. Your toes should actively curl into the ground. This will arch the inside of your foot.
- Screw your feet into the floor. You'll want to think about screwing your feet outward. This will naturally rotate your femur (upper leg) and open up your hips more. As you do this, your glute medius will activate to ensure your knees are tracking over the toes when you start squatting.
It might take several weeks for these cues to feel natural. But with practice, you'll notice that your arch collapes less while you squat.
If you have flat feet while squatting, work on loosening the muscles of the lower leg and foot, strengthening the muscles responsible for maintaining your arch, and implement squatting cues that allow your feet to remain active into the floor.
Similar to squatting with flat feet, you'll also want to make sure that you have the proper footwear for deadlifting with flat feet. Make sure you check out my review of the 5 Best Deadlifts Shoes For Flat Feet.
Clark, M., Lucett, S., Sutton, B. (2014). NASM Essentials of Corrective Exercises. Burlington, MA: Jones & Bartlett Learning.
Kohls-Gatzoulis, J., Angel, J., Singh, D., Haddad, F., Livingstone, J., Berry, G. (2004). Tibilais Posterior Dysfunction: A Common Treatable Cause of Adult Acquired Flatfoot. BMJ, 329: 7478, 1328-1333.
Macdonald, G., Button, D., Drinkwater, E. Behm, D. (2014). Foam Rolling as a Tool After an Intense Bout of Physical Activity. Medicine Science Sport Exercise. 46(1), 131-143.
Peacock, C., Krein, D., Silver, T., Sander, G., Carlowitz, K. (2014). An Acute Bout of Self-Myofascial Release in The Form of Foam Rolling Improves Performance Testing. International Journal of Exercise Science. 7(3), 202-211.