Public Service Announcement: Toe Angle

I wrote a post and filmed a video explaining “Hip torque, toe angle, and squatting” to explain why a more forward toe angle in the squat was beneficial. It helps distribute force across the front and back of the thighs more efficiently which results in more muscular applying force to aid the movement. I followed this with another post and video titled “Should I point my toes forward?” The TL;DR on this second post was, “If you do not have the mobility to point the toes forward, then don’t do it.”

Not only are there people squatting with their toes forward — when I deliberately told them not to do so — these same people are getting tweaks in their knee and don’t know why. The sum of the “why?” is that they don’t have the mobility to do it and aren’t listening to Justin.

This is a public service announcement saying, again: Do not point your toes forward unless you have the mobility to do it. I created the following video that explains what occurs anatomically to cause a strain or tweak in the knee if someone ignores this advice. I also provide a method to quantify the amount of mobility a person should have before pointing their toes forward on a loaded squat (hint: it’s doing the “paleo” squat barefoot, toes forward, and knees out without pain or falling over). I also provide some “mobs”, specifically soft tissue work, that can help relieve tension in that area to improve the mobility to eventually shift the toes more forward. It would have been to difficult to explain this stuff via text, and a video is much easier. I’ve split the video into two parts, because the anatomical portion is a bit long by necessity.

Part 1

Note that the popliteus gets strained because it isn’t extensible enough to handle the torque associated with the toes forward position. Also note that repetitive stress on the back of the knee from road marching, rucking, hiking, or high frequency or volume CrossFit movements can beat the structure down. If you try and apply torque on a crusty structure that is in a recovery deficit, then this is another reason why tweaks can occur on the back or side of the knee when doing knees forward squatting. If the structure is beat up, then give it more days of rest than you usually would before returning to squatting.

Part 2

Will everyone be able to squat with a toe angle of right outside of forward? No. Can most people improve their mobility to move their toe angle a little bit in from where it is now? Probably. Watch the videos and learn the reasoning that explains why shifting them forward too soon can result in a strain the popliteus (on the back or outside of the knee). This next video provides

49 thoughts on “Public Service Announcement: Toe Angle

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  2. This site has become borderline pointless. I’ve looked at the site since it started, but never find the need to post. Justin never brings any new information to the table, except to people who do not know where to look, and he also changes positions on topics like a three dollar hooker. First he started by just restating everything Rippetoe had to say, then he rode the coattails of a few physiologists for a while, and now he just tries to repost everything Kelly Starrett does, but with a little twist. You do all of these rants about crap you hate, but you never give any good advice. You always say there isn’t any good research in exercise physiology, then try to back up your posts with super outdated research… It doesn’t make sense. I’m just tired of reading crap that you rip off from other people, then see you go the other direction a few months later. I know I don’t have to read this site, but it gives me something to get mad at when I’m bored. That’s it for this Justin style rant.

    • I get the impression that you think I think you shouldn’t point your toes out? Is that the confusion? The point is that it’s dependent on what your mobility safely allows you to do.

      If that point isn’t clear, let me know.

      • No, sorry that was supposed to be a reply to what is supposedly a BB.com meme.

        Actually, this post made me realize my toe angle was way to wide, like 45 degrees. I brought it in to about 30-35 and I did feel a difference this morning. I felt more posterior chain involvement and was able to set a new PR with 270 @ 3×5.

  3. great site and great information. i love all the internet bouncers that feel the need to throw out their vitriol instead of having a rational discussion about the topic.

    question.

    Should our goal be to work toward toes-pointed forward or is that something that may not ever be in the cards. (obviously still working mobility exercises to prevent worsening of the issue)

    and is their a point that we should stop squatting if our angle of comfort becomes to great?

    • Whether or not a person will move to “forward” (implying right outside of forward) depends on the person. It may be a long-term end goal or something that you’re capable of soon; I don’t know because I don’t know what your mobility situation is.

      I don’t think you should be uncomfortable from a structural perspective. If you feel discomfort in your knees, I would say your toes are too far in. If there’s discomfort in your hips, then I’d tell you to work on your anterior and external hip, see if the discomfort is still there. If it is, then you’d widen the angle a little bit.

      In other words, you shouldn’t necessarily have discomfort.

      • thanks for the reply. just rewatched the video and am letting it all sink in. What i was trying to say is greater than 30 degrees and issue if it is comfortable or should take the squat out (or deload) and work the mobility hard and then re-introduce squatting?

          • this is siituational (not me, just hypothetical). What I am trying to say/ask is:

            if a client/person is squatting at say 45 degrees or greater but it is comfortable versus turning their toes into 30 where it is discomforting. Do you A) stop squatting (because the toe angle is so great despite no pain) and focus on mobility until they can move in? or B) hit mobility and using the short term change created have them slightly move in and squat (gradually working in)?

            sorry if I am not quite concise in my description.

  4. Jokes on you, my shirt was already off. My thought process was “why don’t I have a pair of shorts like those” instead.

    So after your first toe angle post, I started positioning my toes more forward, and luckily I’ve never had any problems with my knees, although I actually can’t do a bodyweight squat and not fall over, although that is due to tight calves I believe. Does it really matter since I’m squatting in a heeled shoe anyway?

    Also, I may have missed it since I had the video on in the background (if it was in there, just say so and I’ll look again for it), but can the more toes forward cause hip pain? One of my hips feels…just not 100%. I can still squat just fine and it only hurts if I try and sit cross legged and push down on that knee, but its fine otherwise, and its not terribly bad.

    • Most people of decent mobility can probably transition their toe angle with no big deal, but I felt the need to make this post and video because I didn’t want the folks who shouldn’t do it to get hurt.

      I would say that the ability to do the “paleo squat” is an indication of mobility. I think it does matter, though it may not change your actual barbell squat positioning. Your calf tightness should be addressed over time regardless.

      If your hips don’t feel regular, then that would be an indication of something wrong. The first thing I think is that your knees aren’t shoved out enough (external rotation of hip). You could be impinging your femur (thigh bone) on the ASIS (hip bone) a bit, or you could have some pre-existing injury or mobility limitation that makes it not 100%. It needs to be diagnosed and worked on.

      • Hm alright. I’ve been working on my calves, but they take forever, and if I ever forget them for 1 day, I seem to lose almost all progress.

        As far as the hip, It’s definitely not from my knees not being shoved out far enough, but I have no idea about the thigh/hip impingement. Is there a way I could test for that impingement, or is that only something a doctor could tell me? I’ve never had any hip issues in the past, and I’ve always had pretty good hip mobility.

          • Well at the gym they have an angled piece of wood that is used to stretch your calves, so I do that as often as I can when I remember. At home I’ll just randomly stretch on stairs and occasionally dig my lacrosse ball into the back of my calve, and quickly smack it across my heel to make sure the skin is loose. Kstar has a video on that last thing, that basically the achilles skin should be loose like the skin on the back of your hand. I need to get a pvc pipe or foam roller and have a friend roll it for me though.

            Oh, and sometimes at the gym I’ll take a bar with like 100-120lbs loaded on it, and sit into a squat with it resting on top of my knees, which pushes my knees forward and stretches out my calves more. There are pictures of Jon North floating around doing it.

        • I’d need to know where you feel discomfort or pain to be specific. And you have not had an acute injury to it recently or in the past, correct?

  5. Interesting! Shortly after the folks at my CF Affiliate did Kstarr’s mobility cert, they started making us all squat toes forward with or without load. Cut to about 5 months later, I’m hiking out at Lake Folsom over some uneven ground and get this amazingly sharp pain in my medial knee. Had to limp back to the truck.

    Took forever to rehab, seeing various specialists, but I think it ultimately was a problem with the sartorius. Ever since then, I’ve had issues with hip impingement and the best thing I can do for that is grind that sartorius on a barbell in a rack. Fun stuff.

    Anyway, I wonder if this is coincidental with the toes forward squatting? Is my sartorius ultimately facilitating the popliteus?

    And yes, I quit squatting toes forward.

    • I’d be very surprised to learn that your satrorius is in fact the problem muscle. It’s a very long, thin muscle running from the hip to the medial knee.

      What occurred when you tweaked it? Weird position? What was your training program like at the time (CrossFit workouts how many times a week?) What movements makes the medial knee hurt?

      I’d expect a groin muscle to be more of the problem muscle, but before I’d expect a muscle issue, I’d think it was parts of the knee itself.

      • Crossfit 5 days/week with a strength bias. I.e. lifting plus short/heavy metcons.

        Walking/running is what made it hurt the most, though squatting irritated it a bit. Of course if the toes forward position is what caused it in the first place, squatting like that over and over probably just re-aggravated it.

        Got an MRI, no bad news inside the knee itself, and it eventually resolved after getting lots of soft tissue work above and below the knee, but whenever it flares up again, I can usually resolve it by grinding the inner thigh on a barbell.

        • oh sorry, you asked what occurrred when I tweaked it. I was just hiking across some uneven ground at lake folsom, but I don’t remember taking a bad step or anything.

  6. after my acl surgery and partial lateral meniscoctomy, toes forward is very painful. feels like bone one bone action. i probably should just stop trying…

    • Yeah, man, I wouldn’t attempt it. Perhaps you could hit a different end ROM after a while, but it depends on how the repair was done. The ACL resists anterior translation (the tibia shearing forward) as well as medial rotation. That second part is the important part.

      I haven’t wrapped my head around that second part yet, but when you squat with toes forward the tibia laterally rotates. The ACL is supposed to stop medial rotation, that would produce tension on the ligament. Lateral rotation on the tibia might compress the ligament. That might be the painful part since it’s surgically repaired and no longer normal. Perhaps the repaired tissue is getting pushed into itself, or maybe it’s getting compressed into bone.

      Either way, you are right in thinking that you shouldn’t point the toes forward. Maybe forever, but at least for several months.

      • Houston is typically humid, but Florida is very, very humid. I lived in an apartment in Florida without much of a yard and hated the weather. I’m also not a fan of the flora in Florida. But yeah, it was miserably hot. Utah is heaps better than the southeast. And Texas.

  7. Hi Justin,

    thank you for the Post. I developed some soreness at the back of my knee lately from squatting, but i thought this was due to the increased volume. After reading your article i realize, it could also be related to my not-forward but ‘slightly-smaller-than-usual’ toe angle.

    Btw. have you any kind of follow up program for the beginners weightlifting program?

    Cheers,
    Rolf

  8. In case anyone’s interested in an anecdote about this: I’ve been able to eliminate a lot of my plantar fasciitis pain over the past few months and I believe it is in part due to squatting with a more forward toe angle. Not totally forward, but more like “11 and 1″ instead of “10 and 2.” I have pretty good mobility–I have no trouble hanging out in the “paleo squat” for a couple minutes without discomfort and do it every day–so I slowly started putting my toes more forward. The previous post about how plantar fasciitis can be aggrivated by toes too far out squatting was spot on in my experience.

  9. That helps explain a lot and also gives me some more mobility exercises to work in along with the foot drills and other hip stretches as I emailed you awhile ago about. I’ve made some progress and feel I would have more with consistency earlier this summer being an issue.

    Given my own lack of hip flexibility though when I try moving the toes in slightly (from 45 degrees to maybe 40-35 even) I feel I can’t go as low in the squat. Is that normal when first working on this adjustment?

  10. Seriously, keep doing these. I have been doing the whole mobility wod thing since roughly a month after Starrett started posting videos and I feel like your videos just take the topic to the next level. I like the stuff Kelley does but I prefer how you package and present the topics.

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  13. I have always wondered about the “voodoo band” knee stuff. It has helped a lot since I tore my meniscus, but I never really understood why. Do you know when the post about the “voodoo bands” is going go to up?

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  15. Justin,

    I really appreciate your take on this matter. I haven’t hurt myself doing the more athletic-toes forward-squat, but this post helps me take care to mobilize in specific way for this style. This is especially relevant to me because I’m recovering from surgery to repair a tear in the lateral miniscus (tear happened playing basketball after icing after a squat session which I did daily per the Bulgarian style). On the net it’s seldom that young bucks shed new light or give any good advice, you are among the few. Thanks!

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