Any time I start working with a new powerlifting athlete, I make sure their stance is in the optimal position. Your foot stance represents the base of support in the squat, and is where the load will transfer into the ground. So for you, it’s important that you get the foot position correct in order to maximize strength and reduce the likeliness of injury.
As you think about your squat stance, you might wonder whether your feet should be pointing more inward or outward. Generally speaking, you will want to take a stance that is slightly outside of shoulder-width, and point your toes outward at an angle of 15-30 degrees.
Of course, everyone is built with different limb lengths, joint angles, and mobility, which makes the answer a bit more nuanced. So let’s find out the exact stance that’s going to work for you.
Start With a Bodyweight Squat
To begin assessing where your toes should be, you will want to start with a bodyweight squat.
Perform the following drill:
- Start with your feet directly under your shoulders with your feet pointed straight
- Then flare your toes out slightly.
- Then flare your heels out slightly.
- Then flare your toes out slighty, again.
What this should achieve is a stance that is slightly outside of shoulder-width, with your toes slightly pointed outward. Once you’re in this stance, do 10-15 bodyweight squats.
The two main things you’re watching for are:
- Does your stance change as you’re squatting. You shouldn’t have your toes flare out any more as the reps go on.
- Does the reps “feel okay”? You’ll know if things feel okay if you’re able to squat full range of motion (hips below parallel) without any restrictions.
Why You Should Point Your Toes Slightly Outward
You’ll feel more balanced (better motor control)
When you turn your feet outward you create a naturally broader base of support. As a result, when you squat you’ll be more balanced. The risk of not feeling balanced is that you could fall forward or backward, which can be a risk if the weights are heavier or you’re working closer to fatigue.
You’ll be able to squat deeper (better range of motion)
As well, having your toes flared out will allow most people to squat deeper. This is because a squat requires a certain degree of external hip rotation, and the slightly flared toes will open up the hips and allow them to sit naturally between your feet. While this is not the case for everyone, it’s true for most people. In fact, if you have tight hip flexors, you might find flaring your toes out more will allow you to achieve a greater range of motion that was previously not possible. If this is you, just remember, you’ll want to work on developing more flexibility in your hips, but in the meantime, you can rotate your feet to get the range of motion you desire.
You’ll activate your glute medius and adductor magnus (better muscle recruitment)
Lastly, when you have your hips externally rotating in the squat, you activate two muscles: the gluteus medius adductor magnus. The gluteus medius is the muscle on the side part of the glute. It has a role in keeping your knees tracking properly (i.e. it will prevent your knees from caving inward). When your knees are tracking properly, your adductor magnus becomes activated as you stand up out of the bottom of the squat. The adductor magnus has shown to hep produce hip extension (i.e. the action of standing up from a squat) (1).
How Much Should I Flare My Toes Outward?
Some flare outward is good. But, doing too much might be disadvantageous. There’s definitely a balance with how much your feet should point outward.
If you flare your toes so far outward that they’re pointing completely sideways, your glute medius will need to do a lot more (unnecessary) work to keep your hips externally rotated. At some point, your gluteus medius will not be able to overcome the force required to keep your hips externally rotated, so you might see your knees caving. This would definitely be a movement pattern to avoid.
The first principle you should always come back to when deciding how much you should flare your feet is: does it feel comfortable? It definitely won’t feel comfortable on your knees having your toes pointing completely sideways.
Is It Bad to Have Your Toes Pointing Straight Forward?
If you’re squatting with your toes pointing forward, it probably means that you have superior mobility. When you have your toes pointing forward, you’ll need to have greater ankle and hip mobility to achieve the same depth. It doesn’t mean that having your feet pointing forward is a more advanced position and you’ll get stronger as a result. But it does mean that you have more advanced mobility than most people, making it easier to get to a deeper range of motion.
As long as you feel balanced in the bottom of the squat, your knees aren’t caving inward, and you can keep your heels on the ground, then you can continue to squat with your toes pointing forward safely.
I’m Still Unsure About Where to Point My Toes
What some people do is constantly change where their toes point in hopes of finding some ‘magical position that will make their squat feel instantly better.
I encourage you not to change your toe position regularly.
You should squat with the same toe position, using the general best practices mentioned above, and gather training evidence of what’s working and what’s not. If you’re constantly changing your position, you will not have adequate time to adapt to the new stance and understand if it’s right for you.
If after some time practicing your squats, you find your depth lacking, your knees caving, or your heels rising, then it may be time to look at pointing your toes more inward or outward.
If you’re new to a powerlifting squat, start with the bodyweight squat and place your feet outside of shoulder-width with your toes slightly pointed outward. From there, assess how comfortable you feel going to full range of motion. If you can’t get full range of motion with your heels flat on the ground and your knees tracking properly, consider a slightly more flared position.
Other Frequently Asked Questions
Can your knees go over your toes while squatting?
Yes, your knees can travel in front of your foot. The greater the forward knee bend, however, the more strength that is required in your knee extensors (quadriceps). So you’ll need to make sure you have the base of strength necessary to support this greater forward knee bend. What you want to avoid altogether is having your knees cave inward — also known as ‘knee valgus’.
Do you squat on your toes or heels?
You’ll always want to squat with your heels on the ground. If you start coming forward onto your toes, you will lose your balance forward, which under heavier loads or fatigue will be hard to recover from. Additionally, if your heels are coming up, you’ll reduce the amount of force being transferred into the floor as you push the barbell upward. This will limit your maximal strength in the squat.