Why Flat Feet Kill Your Squat (2024)

Why Flat Feet Kill Your Squat

The squat is regarded as one of the “must-do” exercises for those looking to build, shape, and tone their bodies -- hence, its moniker as the “king” of all exercises. And, it’s true, the squat is a fantastic exercise for building muscle and strength as it recruits a tremendous amount of muscle tissue in the body, particularly that of the quads, adductors, and glutes.

Unfortunately, as great as the traditional barbell back squat is, it’s not an ideal exercise for everyone due to a whole host of issues including training history, personal preference, anatomy, and biomechanics.

Simply put, some people just aren’t built to squat with a barbell on their back.

Today, we’re going to look a little deeper into one of those anatomical anomalies that can hamper an individual’s performance in the squat -- flat feet.

What are “Flat Feet”, Anyway?

The term “flat feet” (also known as pes planus or fallen arches) describes a postural deformity in which the arch of the foot collapses causing the entire sole of the foot to come into complete contact with the ground. It is estimated that between 20–30% of the general population have an arch that never fully develops in one or both feet.[1]

Interestingly, we’re all born with flat feet, and it is not until the age of three, that we begin to develop an arch.

Flat feet are caused by loose ligaments in the feet, resulting in a flattened arch. They can be hereditary or brought on by bone breaks, bone dislocation, tendon tears, and/or arthritis. Furthermore, flat feet can also develop as a result of a sedentary lifestyle or excessive weight gain, particularly in adults 40 years of age and older.

The condition is usually not painful or non-life threatening, but you may notice especially sore or tender feet following bouts of prolonged physical activity, such as endurance training or high-intensity workouts.

How Flat Feet Hurt Your Squat

To understand how flat feet kill your squat performance, it helps to have a general idea of the anatomy of the foot.

Each foot contains 26 different bones held together by 33 joints. It also contains over 100 muscles, ligaments, and tendons.

The purpose of the arch in your foot is to provide a bit of a “spring” to your step and help to evenly distribute the weight of your body across both feet and legs.

Having flat feet may cause the feet to roll to the inner side when standing or walking, leading to excessive outward pointing of the feet, a condition known as overpronation. This also leads to uneven distribution of body weight across the legs and feet, which can result in muscle imbalances and overuse injuries.

Flat feet can also place unusual stress on the ankles, knees, and hips -- all of which are involved in the squat.

Based on all of this, it’s no surprise that having flat feet can seriously impair your ability to perform a squat pain-free, let alone proficiently.

Essentially, having flat feet causes outward rotation of the feet and an inward rotation of the knee, which upsets the natural alignment of the lower leg, leading to unnecessary torquing in the knee joint.

Note, that this occurs when you are just standing still.

When you begin to squat down, the problem compounds due to the fact that your lower body now has the added compressive force of a barbell on the back coupled with trying to stabilize and keep you upright.

Over time, the continued torquing forces on the knee can damage the ligaments, particularly the medial collateral ligament (MCL), potentially leading to a partial or complete torn ligament.

So, is there anything you can do to combat flat feet and safely train your lower body?


How to Work Around Flat Feet

Increase Foot Strength

To start improving the quality of your foot arch, you need to activate and strengthen the muscles in the foot. While there are 20 different muscles in the foot, the two you really need to be concerned with are the muscles of the big toe and the posterior tibialis.

The posterior tibialis is a key muscle that impacts stabilization as well as plantar flexion of the foot. It also serves a major role in supporting the medial arch of the foot, making it imperative that you keep it strong and supple just like every other muscle in your body.

Two of our favorite exercises for strengthening the muscles of the feet are the “coin” exercise and an exercise specifically tailored for the posterior tibialis.

To perform the coin exercise:

  • Place a quarter on the ground and step on it with the big bone of your big toe
  • Press down as hard as you can with your toes, trying to create an arch in the foot.
  • As your foot begins to arch, makes sure that the ball and heel of your foot are still in contact with the ground
  • Hold this position for 20 seconds, then perform on the other foot.
  • Repeat 4-5 times daily.

To perform the posterior tibialis exercise:

  • Anchor a resistance band around a stationary object
  • Position your body such that the resistance band is on the outside of the foot you’re training
  • Stand on one leg and draw the band across your body. Doing so, activates the posterior tibialis as it tries to stop you from falling over
  • Perform 10-15 repetitions on one side before switching sides and repeating for the same number of reps
  • This exercise can be performed 3-5 times per week

Strengthen Your Abductors

The adductors are the muscles on the outside of the hip (gluteus medius, gluteus minimus, and Tensor Fasciae Latae) that assist in moving the leg away from the centerline of the body. Weakness in these muscles can lead knee valgus during squatting, further contributing to unwanted stress on the knee, hip, and ankle joints.

One of the easiest (and most effective) ways to strengthen the abductors is to perform lateral mini-band walks.

To perform mini-band walks:

  • Wrap a mini band around your legs just above your knees.
  • Drop into a quarter squat and take 10 steps to your left, controlling the movement of your legs and never losing tension on the band.
  • Perform 10 reps to the right under control.
  • Rest for 30-60 seconds and repeat for a total of 3-5 times per day.

Using Cueing

Part and parcel with strengthening the muscles of your feet and hips are using the proper cues during the squat. Even if you don’t have flat arches, cueing can help reinforce good technique during squatting and help avoid stress in places you’d rather not have it (knees, low back, etc.).

A couple of our favorite squatting cues are:

  • Keep the knees in line with the toes during the squat
  • Drive your knees out when squatting
  • Spread the floor apart with your feet when squatting (this helps externally rotate the feet and hips).
  • Focus on pressing through the outside of your heels during the squat, which helps engage the stabilizing muscles thereby keeping the knee in proper alignment.


Flat feet is a common disorder of the foot affecting a significant portion of the population. It’s not life-threatening, but it can lead to pain, discomfort, and potentially injury when squatting. If you deal with flat feet, use the tips in this article to help improve the quality of your feet and be on your way to pain-free performance in the squat!


  1. Pita-Fernandez S, Gonzalez-Martin C, Alonso-Tajes F, et al. Flat Foot in a Random Population and its Impact on Quality of Life and Functionality. J Clin Diagn Res. 2017;11(4):LC22–LC27. doi:10.7860/JCDR/2017/24362.9697
  2. Oxford University Hospitals NHS Trust. "Foot Information - Foot and Ankle." Oxford University Hospitals, 2019.
Why Flat Feet Kill Your Squat (2024)


Are flat feet bad for squats? ›

Anyone who squats with flat feet suffers from knee pain because the inward rotation of the tibia or shin bone occurs in this case. In addition to knee pain, people also suffer from ankle and foot pain when their arch isn't correct during squatting.

Why can I not squat with my feet flat? ›

1 - You Have Low Ankle Mobility

The most obvious sign of this is an inability to keep your feet flat to the floor when you try to squat as your heels lift up to compensate for the lack of ankle mobility. There are several causes for ankle tightness: Ankle sprain (current or prior) Osteoarthritis in older people.

Why does the arch of my foot hurt when I squat? ›

Squats are another CrossFit movement that can lead to a foot problem, specifically to a painful condition known as plantar fasciitis. Plantar fasciitis is an inflammation of the plantar fascia, a band of tissue that runs from the heel to the toes. If squats are done improperly, they put strain on the plantar fascia.

Can you learn to squat flat footed? ›

When it comes to mobility challenges, it seems like mastering the flat-footed squat is one of the trickiest. Progress can be frustratingly slow, and even if we do get our heels down, we often find ourselves uncomfortably hunched in the bottom position. Rarely is it a position we'd consider rest.

Are there any advantages to flat feet? ›

Despite the many disadvantages, it might be the case that some incidences of flat feet could improve the absorption of shocks. If you are a swimmer, flat feet may also be very helpful because they can act as a kind of flipper. Flat feet, of course, are not entirely advantageous.

Why do I squat better without shoes? ›

Squatting barefoot (no shoes at all) offers the benefits of gaining more feedback from the ground compared to any pair of shoes, rooting your foot to the ground to build up strength in the intrinsic foot muscles, and better balance. You are in control of your body and you direct the squat.

Why do I lean forward when I squat? ›

A common movement pattern deviation observed during the squat is the excessive torso lean. This misalignment in form is often the result of weak back extensors (erector spinae) and hips. However, tight calf muscles (gastrocnemius/soleus) and hip flexors may also be contributing to the problem.

How do you fix flat feet? ›

Non-surgical treatment for flat feet includes:
  1. Modifying your daily activity.
  2. Ankle braces.
  3. Anti-inflammatory medications.
  4. Custom orthotics (shoe inserts)
  5. Physical therapy.

Is it okay to arch back when squatting? ›

Some weightlifters deliberately arch their back while doing a barbell squat, a topic that is discussed on sports sites. The experts agreed that too much arching over the long term can cause back pain and injury. It's best to keep your back neutral during squats, in a natural, slightly curved position.

Why do my feet go up when I squat? ›

Heels lifting up during a squat is an indication that your body—and the barbell—is moving forward. You want to be as stable as possible during a squat and when the heel creeps up, you instantly become less steady. Ideally, the barbell should be aligned above your hips and ankles and steady over your entire foot.

How rare is flat footed? ›

Approximately 8% of adults in the United States have congenital flat feet, which occur when the arches fail to form during early childhood. An additional 4% have fallen arches, flat feet that are acquired due to a preexisting arch collapsing over time.

What are the cons of being flat footed? ›

You may have flat feet and feel no pain or other symptoms, but you can also experience a range of uncomfortable issues, including:
  • Pain in your arches.
  • Inflammation.
  • Noticeable flattening of your arches.
  • Increased foot or ankle pain.
  • Limited range of motion.
  • Change in how you walk (gait)
  • Leg cramps or muscle pain.

Is it OK to be flat footed? ›

There's no cause for concern if your feet are flat and you have no pain. However, if your feet ache after walking long distances or standing for many hours, flat feet may be the cause. You may also feel pain in your lower legs and ankles.

Is it bad to work out with flat feet? ›

Is exercise good for flat feet? In short, yes, exercise is good for flat feet. Notes Bogden, “As long as you're not having pain, and progress increases in activities or exercise in moderation, there's no reason to limit yourself.”

What should I avoid if I have flat feet? ›

Men and women with flat feet should generally avoid shoes that offer little to no arch support, such as flip flops, shoes with thin or flat soles, and certain types of high heels. Look for shoes that will provide the support you'll need to safely participate in physical activities.

Is it better to squat in flats or heels? ›

The difference between raised heel squatting and flat heel squatting comes from the type of shoe that's being used. For some squat variations, raised heel shoes are better as they help the athlete maintain proper form, while in other cases, flat shoes for squats are the better option.

Is it bad to have really flat feet? ›

Your body's balance begins in the feet; when the feet do not provide proper support, it can raise your risk for joint problems caused by poor posture and unnatural gait. Individuals with flat feet could be more likely to experience injury or pain in the feet, ankles, knees, or hips.


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