Should I point my toes forward?

Yesterday I talked about how the “toes more forward” position increases torque about the hip and how the musculoskeletal anatomy is used more efficiently when doing so. The finer points are still being cleared up, but the overall point seems logical and objective. But does that mean you should point your toes forward in your next squatting session? This video was filmed right after yesterday’s video while at the Arnold; it details some general points concerning cuing toe angle when squatting:

Should I point my toes forward?
The answer, as always, depends on the individual. If you don’t currently have the mobility to do so, then no, you shouldn’t try to alter your toe angle. If a person with “poor” mobility — in that they don’t have the capability to achieve proper positioning with the toes angled more forward of their current toe angle — attempts to squat this way, then at best they will facilitate poor mechanics and at worst could experience an injury. The poor mechanics could simply result in the inside of the foot being lifted from the ground, thus reducing the stability and force applied at the foot. The potential injury could be due to undue torsion at the knee if the ankles, knees, hips, and everything in between don’t have acceptable mobility. The message should be clear: don’t jump into if you lack the mobility.

A corollary is to not cue someone to put their toes forward when they lack the necessary mobility. If you don’t know if they have the mobility, then reconsider your role or job as their coach. If you accept the consequences in the previous paragraph, then prematurely adjusting to a “forward toe angle” stance could have a range of negative consequences. Don’t blindly cue because you read something on the internet. Instead, develop your trainee so that they are able to handle the new mobility demands by improving their mobility over time. The best way to do that is to take them through pre/post mobility routines from and give the trainee “homework” to do on their own. Use any and all of Kelly’s methods; they clearly work.

The contrast to the above coaching sentiment is that you shouldn’t cue excessively wide toe angles either. I see lots of videos online (and workshop attendees) who use toe angles as wide as 45 degrees. I don’t know whether they were coached to do it that way or if it was their interpretation of something they read or watched, but it’s just as wrong as being too far forward. As stated yesterday, a wide stance facilitates navicular drop (AKA dropping the foot arch), a position that results in the knee shifting medially and results in undue stress on the medial aspect of the knee — even with the knees shoved out. Excessive outward toe angles (those closer to 45 degrees) also make it hard to sit back with the hips properly in a low bar squat; this reduces tension on the hamstrings and places a lot of stress on the adductors (which would obviously result in lots of groin soreness). In the high bar, clean, or snatch, excessive outward toe angle typically results in a lot of torsion on the knee’s connective tissue (since the knees will typically track inward on the ascent) and places the majority of the stress on the medial knee extensors. This may be fine or desirable for competitive weightlifters, but not for general strength or fitness trainees. Regardless of squat technique, the excessive outward angle of the toes limits the force distribution across the thighs and usually focuses the majority of the force on a single area.

I still consider toe angles of 30 degrees to be wide; they will show the same deficiencies as wider toe angled squats (see previous paragraph). 30 degrees is actually the limit of what should be used — even with trainees that have terrible mobility. Note that trainees with the crappiest mobility will still be able to squat to proper depth with a low bar squat and a 30 degree toe angle (they will not be able to do so with a high bar squat). This clearly isn’t ideal; after all, we just said that they have crappy mobility. Mobility effects how safe and effective the tissues can function through their range of motion. If someone has crappy mobility, then they are not able to properly apply force safely through a full, effective ROM. By definition they are not optimal, so it’s silly to think that their squat is — especially when we have to give them a wider toe angle to account for their poor mobility. People that fit into this demographic should aggressively aim to improve their mobility as it will significantly improve their muscle recruitment in lifting. MobilityWOD users and 70’s Big readers always echo that they finally “feel” certain muscle groupings in basic lifts like the squat or deadlift after properly mobilizing the related structures. If structures are tight, sticky, or not fluid, they won’t be able to work through the full ROM properly and getting them to this point is an epiphany. Part of a coach’s job should be to develop the trainee towards “optimal mobility” by chronically improving their current mobility.

Does this really matter?
At this point, the answer is a resounding yes. Efficacy in applying force. Safety from injury. Tighter and more stable positioning. It all reflects back to improved performance and safety. But what if you can only improve marginally from where you are now? If you have a toe angle, say, of 22.5 degrees, and you squat with good, neutral ankles and appropriately track your knees, then altering your toe angle may only have a minimal or subtle effect. However, I’m of the opinion that training should be conducted as efficiently as possible, so the subtlety matters. If there is only an arbitrary 2% difference in mechanics due to the toe angle change, and we consider that 2% difference over 1,000 reps, then, yes, I think it matters. It could chronically train the hamstrings or quads more fully. If there’s even a small potential for improvement, avoiding the “more forward toe angle” just because you don’t think it’s going to have a significant effect is just laziness and belligerence (even Brent wouldn’t do that). Even if there was only a 50% chance that my analysis is right, though I back it up 100% with mechanics and musculoskeletal anatomy, a logical argument for keeping the toe angle wider doesn’t exist (currently, and to my knowledge).

Remember that the focus isn’t on a “forward toe angle”; this is why I laboriously write “more forward toe angle”. The innermost toe angle will probably be about 10 degrees from “forward”. Also note that arguments that focus on toe angles regarding athletics are irrelevant. If the toe angle used in training most optimally prepares the structures in a given movement, then it should be used regardless of angles will be used in other activities, whether they are dancing, judo, football, or soccer.

Note that comparing these mechanics to something like geared powerlifting is also not very relevant, especially with multi-ply. Single ply lifting is still fairly similar to raw lifting, and that’s why successful programs like Quest Athletics lift with the same mechanics in or out of gear (their squat is the same thing as the low bar, but the eye gaze and grip is different — I think the grip is better, though). However, the game changes with multi-ply gear. This isn’t a discussion about loving or hating multi-ply, it’s just a fact. If you’re going to be successful in multi-ply competitions, then you damn well better use the gear as optimally as possible. These lifters now have an ergonomic aid to their joints; the squat suit extends the hips and the knee wraps extend the knees. Therefore, comparing their squat styles or toe angles to a raw, strength training squat is incompatible and completely irrelevant. It doesn’t mean they are wrong, it’s comprised of completely different mechanical demands.

What about weightlifting? Should weightlifters aim to have similar toe angles? Ideally yes, but weightlifting is a sport that aims to move the most weight. If the lifter has a collapsed ankle, knee, and hip position as he recovers from a max effort clean, it doesn’t matter. The judges don’t grade him based on his front squat technique. He has to do whatever it takes to squat the weight up within the established regulations. Should the model be a more forward toe position? Yes. Will it always happen or is it always practical? No. It’s the same with the low bar squat example above: if the mobility is lacking, then work with the available mobility. In the case of weightlifting, the skill might be lacking, so you work with what you have. Besides, worrying about how a lifter angles his toes on a clean or a snatch is pretty irrelevant anyway; the coach should be more concerned with more important things like gross motor positions and bar path. Toe angle in clean or snatch recovery is almost an irrelevant point of emphasis. However, we could say that their high bar or front squat strength training should or could fit within proper toe angle parameters.

TL;DR Summary
If your mobility is poor, then you shouldn’t try to jump into what would be the “optimal” position for people with good mobility. Instead, use the best toe angle you can and always work to improve your mobility. The end result will be an improvement in force distribution throughout the relevant musculature and tighter, safer, and more effective positions. Avoid excessively wide to angles, especially those that are 30 degrees or greater. By improving your mobility, even marginally, you can and will improve how effective your squat is. This will pay dividends in your training. Review today and yesterday’s posts for support of this technique, and feel free to ask questions (even well-thought-out contradictory ones). However, comparing this squat style to various sports creates a moot point if you accept that a “more forward toe angle” is more efficient.

Edit: I originally intended to incorporate this into the above post, but all of this discussion is dependent on the lifter/trainee wearing weightlifting shoes. If they aren’t, then it’s a moot point because their mechanics will not be optimal anyway. Oh, and some of the best single ply and raw lifters in the world from Quest Athletics wear weightlifting shoes when squatting…

26 thoughts on “Should I point my toes forward?

  1. i didn’t read this, i only skimmed it. but this is a particularly important post. Too many people tend to hear things like “toes pointed forward” and immediately its “required” and don’t think of what it actually means, and DOES IT WORK FOR THEM. Also, when you read a certain book and a certain author puts his foot down and says “point your toes out” and then someone else says “point them forward”, the tendency is to defend said author by arguing, rather than trying to understand why there are two different people saying two different things and which one of those things applies to MY situation.

    nice post Justine.

  2. This is more support for squatting in oly shoes as well. While it doesn’t cure bad ankle mobility it definitely helps. My squat improved immediately when I switched to weightlifting shoes and 90% of it I contribute to being able to point my toes more forward. I’ve also noticed I recover better with less soreness.

  3. Gotta love how there’s all this interesting stuff about foot position while squatting is coming out now while all us douchey crossfitters still have DOMS from 12.4.

  4. So would the feet coming up off the ground and onto the lateral portion of the foot the main indicator of insufficient ankle flexibility?

    My feet sometimes do this when I’m really pushing through a tough rep, but I never understood why. I have to squat with toes out about 30 deg., otherwise I get knee pain (but my mobility started off absolutely atrocious and is only now slowly improving).

  5. Toes were forward during last night’s squatting session. Significantly less knee pain and my adductors don’t feel like someone’s jabbing them with ice picks whenever I put a lax ball within 6 inches of them.

    I’m for it.

  6. I wish this post came up 2 months ago. Around that time I was focusing more on mobility and trying to get a “toes more forward” squat, except I kind of rushed myself to the toes forward squat. I ended up tweaking my left adductor. I laid off squatting, but I couldn’t take a break from hockey, and ended up tearing my adductor/lower left abdomen.

    Now I’m in squat withdrawal. It’s a real thing.

  7. Damn Justin, you are pumping out posts like an illegal immigrant pumps out children.

    On a more serious note, I’m being much more serious with my mobbing; I hit up K-Star’s squat cycle vids and GOOD LORD my hips felt it.

  8. Justin – Would it be possible to get a write-up from you in the future on which mobs are “safe” to do pre-workout and which ones should be saved for an off day between workouts? I remember reading that Brent likes to do some the night before a workout because he feels too loose if he does them pre-workout.

  9. You know Justin I can’t believe how many people think(from before this post)that you are now all of a sudden advocating more forward toe angle squat for everyone(and Kelly for that matter), the timing of this and the statement”depends on the individual” for whether or not to incorporate this was perfect. Its almost like inferring and thinking for yourself is gone, whatever people read they just seem to blindly follow.

    But again awesome post and perfect timing. Also, I 2nd Chris’s idea of a write-up on mobs and when to do them.

  10. So I have been playing around with turning my toes out a bit (from 0 to 10 degrees) like we discussed at the workshop and not going as low as I was. What I have found thus far is I really do feel like I am shorting my reps now and don’t really feel a bounce unless I go lower regardless of toe angle. I thought maybe pushing out the toe angle would raise the spot in which I felt able to bounce out of the squat but that hasn’t seemed to be the case. Help?

  11. Kind of off topic, but can anyone recommend me a specific strength/resistence (lbs) for bands that I should buy to use for mobility exercises? I’m clueless

  12. Thanks Terrible. Green/blue are the ones he tends to use on a lot of people correct?

    Also, the reddit flamewar about Justin’s posts this week are fucking hilarious. The ignorance is blinding.

  13. One of the reasons I have heard justifying a more toed out position is that it allows your knee to act like a simple hinge. With toes out, your knees can track your toes and still get out of the way of hip impingement. And that if the toes are forward, your knees are somewhat outside of you toes therefore creating a axial torque on the knee joint itself.

    I was sitting here trying to visualize the squat with two pens (one as the femur and one as the shank) and I don’t think the reasoning above is always correct. Because you have the extra degrees of freedom to move laterally at the hip and ankle, the knee can still act as a simple hinge when lateral to the foot. You just need that lateral shank angle and hip ext rotation to accommodate for the knee’s hinge motion. But if you don’t have that mobility, I can see the potential for that twisting force on the knee joint.

    Now if this is ‘optimal’ and how that affects medial/lateral activation patterns I have no idea. But I think the concern about axially loading the knee joint is not sufficient reason to toe out.

    Anybody else have other explanations?

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