Ever notice what your feet are doing while you’re squatting? Probably not, but I DO. And I see it all the time. It makes my ankles, knees, hips and lower back HURT just looking at this.

Poor LEFT ankle mobility

What is actually going on when your feet are turning out during a squat (like the photo above)?

I would generalize and say it’s coming from issues at one or two (maybe both) places: your ankles and/or your hips.

For this post, I will concentrate on the ankles.

Squatting requires good dorsiflexion mobility at your ankle joint. In other words, the ability to bring the top of your foot closer towards your shin. Any problems with this means that your body may compensate and find a way around the issue. In most cases, the compensation involves turning the foot outwards.

Lack of ankle mobility may be due to tightness of the calf muscles, the gastrocnemius and soleus and the long toe flexors, or stiffness in the ankle joint/s.

Try this knee-to-wall test to see if your ankle range of movement is adequate:

  1. Measure 10cm away from the wall with a ruler/measuring tape and mark the spot on the floor.
  2. Place your big toe of one foot at the 10cm mark, with the other leg behind you. Ensure your hips stay square to the wall.
  3. Bend the front knee, making sure to keep your heel absolutely flat on the floor. The knee should be tracking over the middle of the foot (and not dropping in towards the midline).
  4. If your knee cannot touch the wall without the heel coming off the floor, move the foot forward in centimeter increments and repeat until your knee touches the wall without the heel lifting.
  5. Compare to the other side.
    Knee-to-wall test

If your score was less than 9-10cm from the wall, you have restricted ankle range of movement.

Try doing some mobility for the sole of the foot, the calves and hamstrings – stretch, foam roller, lacrosse/trigger point ball – prior to squatting. If this fails to make a difference, the problem may be more with restriction in the ankle joint/s. 

The use of an Olympic style lifting shoe can make a massive difference with squatting if your joint mobility isn’t so flash. But get that ankle restriction looked at by a Physio. Old injuries like ankle sprains can have an impact on your joint range of movement, so if in doubt, get it checked out!