“Hip torque”, toe angle, and squatting

Dr. Kelly Starrett of Mobility WOD has been preaching a more forward toe angle in the squat for a few years now. I respect everything Kelly has to say, but I don’t like to follow anyone blindly without reason. When Kelly talked about “improving torque” at the hip, it confused me. I asked various people to explain it, but nobody could give me an explanation that used mechanics and musculoskeletal anatomy.

I never got a chance to talk to Kelly about it (and haven’t attended his seminar yet, but will), but after thinking about it for a long time it makes a lot of sense. It all has to do with the distribution of force from the ground up, but the entire process is dependent on the mobility of everything from the foot to the back. The following video is a (thorough) explanation of what’s going on along with necessary visuals.

Put simply, hip torque is dependent on having good mobility. Good mobility allows the lifter to squat with a more forward toe angle, thus having optimal torque at the hip is dependent on having a more forward toe angle. When a lifter has the mobility to use a “forward toe angle” — or one that is about 10 degrees outside of “straight ahead” — and maintain proper knee and hip positioning, the distribution of their force application is more even across the posterior and anterior aspects of the thigh (regardless of squatting type). Here is another simple way of saying that: more musculature is used in a tighter way when the lifter has the mobility to use a more forward toe angle correctly. Being tighter with more musculature would result in being stronger throughout a squat.

The “torque” part is referring to the hip’s ability to externally rotate. Torque is a rotational force, and the external rotators rotate the femur laterally away from the mid-line of the body. When the lifter’s thigh, knee, shin, and ankle structures are able to allow the external rotators to do this, it loads the hip in a way that can be described as improving the “torque”, or rotational force at the hip itself. Torque can also increase at the knee and ankle since if the knee is tracked slightly outside of the toe angle, the tibia slightly laterally rotates with respect to the ankle. The result of greater torque from the foot to the hip is that the force distributes optimally across all of segments and joints to have a stronger and more stable position. This increases both performance and safety.

Specifically force is distributed more optimally to the lateral portions of the thigh. Anyone who actually has the mobility to squat with a more forward toe angle reports feeling “tighter”, especially through the proximal and lateral portion of the hamstrings, lateral portion of the quadriceps, and lateral and distal portion of the hips. It turns these areas “on” whereas with a wider toe angle these areas are more “off”. It’s not possible to show this to someone who is unable to achieve the more forward toe angle because they won’t be able to achieve proper positioning, and therefore won’t feel the difference. As someone who can do this, I can tell you that having a wider toe angle (that is anywhere from 20ish to 30ish degrees) places a greater emphasis on the adductors (inner thigh muscles), medial hamstrings, and medial quads. If you have ever been sore from low bar squats in the inner thigh region, this is part of the reason why (the adductors will still be “on” with the “toes more forward” position, it’s just that you won’t specifically be focusing on them and you’ll probably experience soreness in other areas instead).

It is very clear to me how torque is increased from a mechanics perspective, given that the “toes more forward” position increases the rotational force at the ankles, knees, and hips. It is also very clear to me, both from analyzing it and doing it, that the force is distributed evenly across the anterior and posterior aspects of the thighs and hips better in this forward toe position. If you have watched the above video and read this post and are still fuzzy on the issue, then post your questions to comments and we’ll improve our understanding of it.

47 thoughts on ““Hip torque”, toe angle, and squatting

  1. Good stuff. Was just reading an article about this the other day in which Greg Everett compares Kelly’s “toes forward” position to the “toes out” position.

    Haven’t seen it. Was it any good?


  2. Would a wider toe angle also present itself as soreness/tightness in the adductors when high bar/front squatting? Or is that simply due to the greater load placed on the quadriceps and adductors when performing these lifts?

    I actually wouldn’t say there’s a greater adductor involvement during high bar or front squats. It could be that you are stressing them more if you are currently adapted to low bar, but if you were adapted to both then having sore adductors typically wouldn’t be the case. Without any other info, I’d assume that, yes, the adductor soreness is a function of your toe angle.


  3. This finally puts into words the entire application of all of the specific mobility work I’ve seen. Well done sir.

    Also, I’ve laid off the heavy squats and have been mashing/laxing lots of leg related stuff twice a day since friday. Have had a visible increase in bodyweight squat range already, need significantly more though.

  4. Forgot to put my question in my original post: Where do you stand on high bar vs low bar for people with long legs and relatively short torsos? me and “Terrible” were discussing this on AC’s blog the other day because we’re both 6’2″ and all legs, and we both said that low bar has always felt off. Do you think high bar is better for guys like us, or do you think low bar could work with some coaching?

    Both of you should look at Mike as a case study. He’s an inch or so shorter, but has an extremely short torso and extremely long femurs. He gets along fine in the low bar, but his mechanical demands are different than Chris (who has a long torso and short femurs). Mike’s squat is improving along with his mobility improvements. Also, he received some benefit from using high bar and front squats in his training the last four to six months, though we both think he was using them with slightly high frequency. His quad size increased, and that helps him in the low bar very much since his femurs are long. I will make a note to do a post on segment lengths and how it relates to squat styles.

    TL;DR — If you are a strength trainee or raw powerlifter, low bar will still be the optimal method to use. High bar or front squatting can help improve the low bar, though.


  5. I’ve been doing the Mulligan technique with a black band for distraction but I’m not seeing any lasting change. Immediately after I’m done mobbing I can squat with toes forward but within a few hours the mobility is gone. I also spend a good amount in the bottom of the squat leaning against one shin so it is out past my forward facing foot, but the same problem occurs.

    Are there any other things that you know of that can be done other than what KStarr has prescribed to help ankle mobility?

    I’ve also never tried to squat toes forward with a bar or any weight as I’m sure I’d fall right on my ass.

    “Mulligan” refers to the anterior/posterior band distraction on the ankle, right?

    Note that ankle flexibility is absolutely not the only thing that will dictate toe angle. Again, it’s everything from the foot to the hip. Just because you hit one mob doesn’t mean that you’re good, and just because you hit a mob once doesn’t mean you have fixed your position. If you’ve been chronically tight, say, in the ankles for years, one or two minutes of work isn’t going to “fix it”. You’ll require chronic mobilization to have a permanent change, and it will most require upkeep once you “get to that point” anyway.


  6. This made a lot of sense to me. As Tim and Eric would say, “Great Job!”

    Should a person lacking sufficient mobility to squat toes-forward squat toes out until he’s improved his mobility? Or should he squat toes forward (perhaps with lighter weights) for a while in order to learn the proper movement while he improves his mobility enough to go toes forward?

    A person lacking in mobility will use whatever toe angle he can to do his sets, but should have his goals set to improve his toe angle (by shifting it to a more forward position). Tomorrow’s post focuses on this (with video).


  7. I started squatting with toes more forward once I got my lifting shoes and first saw kelly talking about the torque increase, and I can say that it definitely helps. It’s a bit harder to get used to pushing your knees out without the outward toe positioning, but once you get the movement pattern down, as justin said, it helps tightness immensely.

    A great example of this in my opinion is Max Aita, which is pretty obvious in his 0-600 squat vid, and you can just see how much tighter he looks in the hole compared to a lot of people.


    @Chris: Based on my experiences with the opposite torso/leg proportions, I feel like low bar should feel more at home with you. I squat low bar but I resemble a high bar position since my ass won’t sit back as far due to short legs, and my torso sits more upright due to it being longer (leaning forward as far as low bar recommends causes me to go on my toes). If you high bar it will probably resemble a low bar squat either way, similar to mine. So I’m really not sure if one is better than the other in terms of musculature development, or if its just preference, but take what you want from my thoughts.

    You mentioned that it’s harder to shove your knees out. Note that this is a function of your overall mobility. For you, it might be your external hip rotators, your anterior hip, your anterior thigh — if you improve the mobility of these areas then it could improve the ease of shoving your knees out. At this point, I don’t have any trouble at all shoving my knees out or keeping them out.


  8. Looks like your camera (wo)man musta been drunk :-/
    la la laaaahhhh . . .

    Haha, I almost stated that. That first part you are zoomed in on my hips and I’m showing the band on my ankle.


  9. Great post. However, this particular MWOD has always confused me on this concept (take it to the 50 sec. mark):



    This is a great video to show a guy like Donnie who has the knee/thigh/hip mobility to keep proper knee positioning relative to his ankle positioning. Watch that early part where Kelly points out how he has “neutral ankle positioning” — that means he’s not allowing his arch to collapse.

    But, Jay, I think you’re asking, “Why use the 10 minute squat test?” It’s a good question. Let’s save it for the Friday Q&A.


  10. Justin,

    Great post. I have also been thinking about the reasoning behind Kelly’s ‘torque farming’ idea. I think he also mentions that the external rotation kind of winds up the joint capsule itself, which places the head of the femur back in the socket.

    The change in distribution of force across the knee is an interesting theory as is more activation of the lateral ham/quad. I get a little nervous when the knee is far outside of the ankle but it is hard to know for sure if there is excessive varus or valgus knee moments in that position, since you are in large knee flexion.

    I originally thought the torque at the hip just helped with activating the glutes more. Have you found squatting that way has made you glutes more sore? Or just the lateral thigh musculature? I don’t have the lateral ankle mobility to squat like that ( yet…) but I find it interesting that it is so different than the wider stance that a lot of powerlifters favor. Do you think they are just relying on more adductors and medial thighs (and the squat suit) and shorter range of motion which makes up for lack of lateral thigh involvement?

    So much to think about…anyway thanks for the post,

    Hey Greg,

    The point that the head of the femur is back in the acetabulum (hip socket) is a good one, and I should have included it in the post. Good call. It’s the same situation as internal/external rotation in the shoulder. If you IR the shoulder, the glenoid fossa (the ‘socket’) moves forward, if you Ext Rot the shoulder, then the glenoid moves back in it’s proper, efficient positioning (it also allows for proper thoracic extension, which isn’t possible if both shoulders are IR’d). Good point, and one that I will be sure to make since it improves the stability of the hip itself.

    Note that the knee is not “ar outside of the ankle”, as you worry about. Check out yesterday’s post — we talk about why that would be a bad thing. It’s all relative, but the knee positioning won’t be that much outside of the toe angle, though you are right to be weary of it occurring.

    I think that this type of squatting is more than just “more glute activiation” and “having sore glutes”. I indicated what I think is going on, but I didn’t put a lot of emphasis on the actual foot articulation. If the arch is collapsing, that facilitates all of the bad positioning and lack of muscular action across the thigh and hip. Let’s assume the foot positioning is good, and I see more force application from the lateral quadriceps (distal and proximal), lateral hamstrings (distal and proximal, but more proximal in the high bar squat), and the entire gluteal region (both styles of squatting).

    I think that geared powerlifters utilize wider stances because they use suits, especially the multi-ply gear lifters. They aim to achieve as much hip flexion as possible because their suit resists hip flexion. They’d be stupid if they didn’t try to get an extremely acute hip angle at the bottom because they wouldn’t use the potential of the suit. Also note that the strongest multi-ply gear users are also very large guys, so the wider stance facilitates their hip impingement with respect to their mass (usually a solid gut or power belly). Note that Donnie Thompson has short femurs and a long back; he was made to squat (also note that his ’10 min squat test’ squat is much more narrow than his powerlifting stance). I still am of the opinion that it’s more mechanically efficient to use a more narrow stance like we teach, which is the same that Rip teaches (I obviously was taught by him), though I would modify the toe angle (in lifters who have adequate mobility) and the grip in some people.


  11. I’m just trying to determine what you mean by good mobility; from the video what you mean is that if you can shove your knees out with a more forward toe angle and your feet do not come off the ground, you have enough ankle mobility correct? What about anterior ankle mobility?

  12. Justin,

    Nice post on this. I reached a lot of the same conclusions as you recently when I also spent far too much time thinking about the whole concept of torque and how Kelly spun it. It makes sense from the perspective of the hip joint and actively using the hip external rotators to generate much more stability in the joint (just like the shoulders when in flexion). However, I don’t follow your point on balancing the load between the medial and lateral quads. In the PT world there used to be ideas about the vastus medialis being under or overly active and leading to knee pain, but that didn’t really pan out since the quads are all innervated by the same nerve. Likewise, I don’t know if the lateral quad would be affected too much by hip external rotation since it doesn’t cross that joint. Adductors make perfect sense, but I couldn’t get the quad part. Could you please clear that up for me? Thanks.

    Also, are your guys all going to make it down for the TX state meet?

    I’m not sure when that meet is, but I don’t think Chris/Mike are going to do another meet before Nationals in August. You’re going to that, right?

    I like this question, because you’re thinking in terms of muscle attachments and nerve innervations. Now, ignore that for a second, set up a squat with your normal stance width. Put your toes at 30 and squat low bar style while pushing your butt out of the hole. Now go to 10 degrees (to others: I know Mark has the mobility, or at least he should). Do the same thing and push your butt up.

    Now do all the same stuff with high bar mechanics and focus on driving the heels through the ground. You tell me: do you feel a difference in how much your lateral quads are working? I do.

    There’s a subtle difference in actual femur angle between the squat with the 30 degree angle and the 10 degree angle. I think that this must be the reason. Though the lateral quads aren’t crossing the hips (others: the rectus femoris is the only muscle from the quads that does so), they are still integrated along the IT band along their lateral border. If the IT band is attaching up around the glute medius area, and there is more external rotation and torque going on at the hip…then that might explain why there is more “tightness” or tension along the lateral portion of the anterior of the thigh. You tell me what you think, because I’m still developing my grasp of the why.

    I’m pretty sure that I know what the end product is (meaning that I’m almost positive what I’m saying in this post is true, from an objective mechanical/anatomical perspective), but I’m still trying to figure out how to explain these finer details (like “how do the lateral quads ‘do more’ with toes more forward”).

    The integration with the IT band (which is going to be loaded differently due to the torque at the knee and hip) makes sense to em.

    Oh! And note that there is a slight rotation of the tibia relative to the ankle, right? We could say it’s marginally rotated outside of it to uphold the neutral ankle position (assuming a proper arch in the foot), yes? Then maybe that slight outward turning of the face of the tibia creates that knee torque. If the right knee is rotation slightly to the right (i.e. laterally), then that could shortern the structures along the lateral portion of the thigh and thus make them “tighter”. This seems kind of a reach, and it might be too subtle to even matter, but it’s an interesting possibility.


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  14. Does Kelly Starrett have book on these stretches? I’m going through MWOD and I’m finding a lot of the problems I have with my squat he seems to addressing

  15. Sorry this has really opened a lot up to me,but how can someone tell if they’re are genetically predispositioned to have bad mobility or if they’re just really tight from shitty habits? Like you said Mike has stiff ankles is that from bad habits or is it just genetics?

    I suppose genetics could predispose someone to poor or better mobility. Segment lengths will definitely play a part in it. I sat here and brainstormed for a couple minutes to try and see how having longer femurs could create less mobile ankles in every day locomotion, but I don’t see a connection.

    More specifically I think it’s the adaptation to the lifestyle and common movement patterns. Guys who come from a “gym bro” background of lots of upper body work typically have very tight shoulder girdles, especially in the anterior side. People who have 8hr/day office jobs are very tight in their front sides of their body (due to chronic knee flexion, hip flexion, trunk flexion, shoulder internal rotation, thoracic flexion, scapular protraction, cervical flexion, and atlas extension). Mobility is a function of how you move. Olympic lifters generally have good mobility because the end range of snatches and cleans are typically “active stretches” on their structures. Dr. Kilgore can pop down into a perfect squat any day of the week, and he’s in his mid 50s (the fact that his body type is equivalent to Chinese lifters is immaterial).

    So, don’t blame your parents; blame yourself for not taking care of your body.


  16. I always took the increased torque at the hip comments, which originated with Louis Simmons to the best of my knowledge, to mean an increased stretch on anything which helps externally rotate the hips (since foot forward = comparatively internally rotated, i.e. external rotators will be stretched), which includes not only the deep six rotators, but glute max and biceps femoris, as well.

    Increased stretch as you approach the bottom = comparatively increased stability and better storage of elastic energy, basically, like nature’s own squat suit.

    Yes indeedy.


  17. @matthewjd I wonder the same thing. I’ve always been extremely athletic and inflexible. I remember being in figure skating as a wee girl and I couldn’t touch my toes, yeah I quickly switched to hockey. AND I’ve always had to do my bra up in the front, turn it around and slip the straps over my shoulders. Is a certain amount of lack of mobility genetic?

    Justin do a video putting on a bra. (on yrself) Im curious if you could do it up and undo it from the back. :-)

    Hmm, this is interesting. I think you’re just uniquely a pain in the ass!

    But, there are children whose parents would stretch them out (for gymnastics, or whatever), and they have excessive mobility. It’s hard to say if you were just naturally immobile as a young pain in the ass or if it was a function of how the first few years of your life occurred. The body’s development is dependent on things like how it develops in the womb or the first couple years. There’s no way of knowing what the cause is, but there is one certainty: you can influence it now. So work on it daily. If you have severe immobility (like your shoulders), then work them twice a day (though it will be hard with your insane schedule).


  18. Justin – I e-mailed you the article I mentioned in my first post on March 8th, but maybe you didn’t see it. Here’s the article: http://www.cathletics.com/articles/article.php?articleID=113

    Thanks for the link. I will check it out. I get tons of e-mails and don’t have the ability to see them all if I’m ever going to do any other work.

    Edit: I did see this article and skimmed most of it whenever I looked at it.

    Edit 2: Is it me, or is that article difficult to read?

    Edit 3: “I actually like my lifters’ stance to be very slightly outside directly under the legs”…

    Edit 4: I’ll power through the end of the article, but comparing geared powerlifters to weightlifters is completely irrelevant.

    Edit 5: There really wasn’t much comparison going on in this article; it was more explaining why Greg teaches his lifters the toes out squat. The first few paragraphs are the only relevant portions, and it doesn’t address mechanics, anatomy, or mobility. That isn’t to say he’s wrong and I’m right, it’s just that my opinion is that it didn’t accomplish anything other than try to make points why he does it that way.


  19. My confusion with the video I posted was that Kelly usually advocates a toes forward position but didn’t seem to have a problem with Donnie’s toes slightly out position. You answered that with your reply but by all means use the 10 minute squat test utility question on Friday because I have often wondered about that too. Thank you.

  20. No idea if you’ll see this this far down in the comments justin but I’ll ask anyways. Up above where I said I found it harder to push my knees out at the bottom, I would probably say it comes from being tight on the outsides of my thighs, just before my glutes (IT band? not sure the name). I notice it improves dramatically from doing Kstar’s pre-squat mob RX from about a month ago, as well as the stretch you posted in your 3 stretches for lifters about putting your leg on top of a couch externally rotated. I know my ankle is also fairly tight, and I’m working on that as well; that seems to be a deeply ingrained tightness from my years of playing soccer and most likely not stretching it enough afterwards.

  21. Yeah, compare probably wasn’t the right word and it is a bit difficult to follow, but I found it when I was looking into Kelly’s stuff so I figured I’d share it.

  22. Louie Simmons used to preach about having the toes pointed forward all the time in his early vids and articles because it created more torque at the hip. The first guys I squatted with followed west side and they have a super wide stance with toes pointed forward. The mobility they had to achieve this was pretty fucking crazy and I never have been able to do it.

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  24. I sent this to Greg Everett, would be cool to get him to weigh in on his position.

    I think a lot of this is people saying the same thing, where toes aren’t directly forward, but only slightly turned out. Then again, I’ve seen “toe angle = thigh angle”, so who knows.

  25. Justin, I don’t know if this is slightly off topic but I am 6′ tall and have obtained pretty good growth in my hamstrings and glutes due to low bar squats I was doing for about a year. I see some growth in my quads but not much. I tried doing high bar squats to get more growth in my quads but my previously injured right lateral knee flares up. I am thinking this is due to the more forward knee potition in the high bar (the sme reason I injured it in the first place before I learned how to do squats properly). So I went back to low bar and no pain. Do you think I was doing high bar wrong, or is my knee doomed forver thus no quad development?

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  27. Thanks for that quick response, Justin. I’ll try out the comparison tonight at training to see what I can feel. I’ve done it with bare feet, but I think I’ll need to actually put a bar on my back for the real verdict.

    I’ll have to chew on your idea about the ITB playing a role in there as well. Tight IT’s can definitely put some external rotation on the tibia and by association a little abduction and ER of the femur, so it’s entirely possible it’d play a role with the lateralis.

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  31. I stumbled upon this article from the Starting Strength forums. It may be relevant to me.

    You mention that “toes out” can result in collapsed arches: this is absolutely the case for me. When standing, the outside edge of my foot doesn’t contact the ground at all unless I point my feet directly forward.

    With squatting, I can’t effectively drive my knees out at heavy weights. My ankles collapse inwards, and my knees follow.

    Provided I have the required mobility, would a shoulder width stance with toes pointed forward be dangerous? I don’t want to blow out my knees, but I’d also like to squat more than 250 lbs.

  32. Only just see your Vid, as my gym buddy pointed out to me that my feet seem to be pointing out more and more. really enjoyed the article and vid as it made a lot of sense, but can you recommend some good stretches to enhance my mobility. many Thanks

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