Importance of Foot Strength in Your Squat [EXPERT GUIDE]
All of us want to squat heavy. I mean, there really is just something primal about putting a bunch of weight on your shoulders and squatting it.
Truthfully, there really is no better measure of lower body pushing strength than the squat.
What many people forget is that the squat is a movement that starts in the feet. Before you do any movement at the hip or knee, your foot muscle become stable and strong.
If you were to watch a squat in slow motion you will notice that the calf muscles are the first muscles to fire – telling us that foot strength and ankle strength is very important in overloading on the squat.
Think about this for a moment – have you ever seen a really tall tree that did not have a strong base of support? Unlikely, right? This same idea is the reason why foot strength could be the missing link in your training.
If you have been struggling to pack on the weight in your big lifts – especially squats, deadlifts and lunges you could have weak feet and weak ankles that are holding you back.
In this guide, we are going to walk you through the importance of foot strength in the squat and 5 ways to improve your strength to improve your lifting potential.
The Importance of Foot Strength in Your Squat
Every dude that walks into the gym and jumps on a squat rack will first start to warm up their quads and hamstrings, but if you watch carefully, the guys that really lift heavy will work on their foot and ankle strength.
You might see them doing interesting moves that pure the knee over the toe (dorsiflexion) or strange looking calf raises – either way, they understand that increasing the strength of the feet is completely essential.
Here are a couple of reasons why foot strength is important in the squat:
Better Dorsiflexion = More Load
The greater the range of motion you have in your ankle, the easier it will be to overload the muscles in a deep squat.
If you can successfully load the weight over your foot you can recruit more of the muscles in the quads to push out of the bottom range of motion.
This means less stress on the back and hamstrings and more strength transfer through the body.
Stronger Feet = Better Base of Support
Do you find yourself leaning from side to side on some reps? Trouble standing up in one motion? This could be the result of weak feet that cannot transfer power through evenly. The stronger your base of support, the easier it will be to balance the weight and overload without injury.
Healthy Feet = Healthy Knees = Healthy Hips
The feet are the base of support for all movements in our bipedal patterns. Think about how many steps you take in a day.
Without a good base of support this could be thousands of steps that are using muscles they shouldn’t be or overcompensate and causing pain in a specific area.
Having healthy feet means you have healthy knees and healthy hips. This is a process of working from the ground up, ensuring that you are always growing stronger and achieving much higher pursuit of strength.
The list goes on and on – but without strong feet none of these matters. The biggest area of concern for most people is that without strong feet (even if they do not know it) they will suffer more frequent injuries and come to find that they hit plateaus more frequently than others.
If you have been looking for some effective ways to strengthen your feet and improve your squat here are 5 ways to do it:
Perhaps the most underrated aspect of any workout program. Skipping used to be a big aspect of the gym, but many people do not value it as much anymore.
On a very basic level, skipping will strengthen the feet because it will help to put plasticity back into your soles.
After all, your feet are built like springs that are supposed to be strong, but also absorb shock.
If your soles are weak and cannot absorb shock you will find that your feet fall flat and turn inwards on heavier squats. This could be an indication that a simple exercise like skipping can help.
2. Train Rotation
Many people forget that the ankle joint is highly mobile. Training the full range of motion is an important aspect of strengthening the entire system.
Not only will this ensure that you have better mobility, but it will help to turn on some of the main muscles your feet may not have been using while stuck in shoes those past couple years.
3. Towel Pulls
One of the better exercises for developing toe strength. Human toes have evolved to be very short and powerful. They are not built to climb very well, grip very well, but what they can do is absorb shock and help to push off in a running motion.
For this reason, using a simple exercise like a towel pull can help to activate some of the deep muscles in the foot allowing for better energy transfer and greater strength.
4. Calf Raises
A very common exercise among players in power sports like football and basketball, but among gym-goers, this one is sometimes missed.
Don’t complicate it, complete calf raises through a deep range of motion and try to build strength over time.
Calf raises are a great exercise for developing strength in the main muscles in the posterior calf like the soleus and gastrocnemius.
5. Heel Walks
Last, but certainly not least – the heel walk is one of the best exercises for developing strength in the most important muscle for deep squatting – the tibialis anterior.
In order to complete this exercise, you should find a softer surface and walk only using your heels. This means you are constantly pulling your toe to your face and activating a stretch in your posterior calf while strengthening the anterior side.
This will lead to better strength in the foot and allow for you to complete a deeper range of motion when you are squatting.
Bottom Line: Foot Strength And The Squat
The importance of foot strength cannot be undermined – especially when you are starting to get into heavier squatting weights. To a certain extent, if you do not have a strong balance of support and mobility required to squat properly, you will only run into injury and strength plateaus.
You can solve all of this by strengthening the feet with the exercises above and taking a more intentional approach to your mobility and strength.
The biggest aspect to keep in mind here is that everything is connected. Assuming you have weak feet, this could mean that your body will use another muscle to complete a movement. This can lead to an imbalance and injury in the knee or hit – even if you aren’t lifting heavy.
Make your life easy and train every muscle and every main joint in your body. Trust us, you’ll only see strength and benefits to a more wholesome approach.
Related: How to Improve Squat Performance
Gabriello is a writer and strength expert best known for his science-based and practical approach to Exercise Physiology, Nutrition and Strength. After serving in a directors position for The Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology Gabriello moved towards writing to help more people understand the importance of living a healthy life. Gabriello’s writings have been published in several languages on some of the largest health and fitness websites helping people learn, grow and understand the complex components of optimizing human performance in a simplistic way.
Gabriello also takes on specialized, high-performance athletes who are in need of strength, mobility and conditioning programming to optimize their fitness through his Earned Fitness program.
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