Using Force And Pressure To Cue The Squat

 

As a company invested in sports performance, we’re always interested to see how experts first react to a new technology like BodiTrak.  We had the opportunity to introduce Chris Frankel (Head of Human Performance at TRX) and Kelly Starrett DPT (Founder of MobilityWOD) – two of the most influential thought-leaders in fitness – to BodiTrak at Kelly’s San Francisco CrossFit headquarters.  Almost immediately, they turned their attention to the feet, specifically using BodiTrak to evaluate how an athlete is maintaining stability and where they are pushing from.

Though any fitness professional will acknowledge the importance of the feet for performance in movement or sports, it’s one of the most under-cued body part in a typical session.  Prior to the data that BodiTrak provides, it has been difficult to observe (much less quantify) the interaction between foot and ground in a commercial gym setting. We wanted to highlight a few observations made by Kelly and Chris and share how they relate to what is being taught in the industry.

1. Maintaining Your Arch To Maximize Stability

“You cannot effectively engage the posterior chain if you allow your arch to collapse.”

– Kelly Starrett 

 

When squatting, we want to create a tripod between the forefoot and the heel.

By using pressure Kelly and Chris are able to help an athlete associate a movement with a feeling.  Rather than external cues related to movement, they – in Kelly’s words – “normalize an intrinsic feeling.”

In addition to creating a more stable base to move from, reducing excessive variability can have an impact on durability and the incidence of pain.  “Losing an arch” may sound trivial, but it has significant consequences up the chain. Here’s Jeremy Ethier of EliteFTS describing what happens when we allow our arches to collapse.  

When an arch is collapsed, the heel kicks out laterally and causes the foot to pronate and the tibia to rotate inward. This inward rotation of the tibia creates an inward torque on the knee, which becomes a significant problem when a load is added (such as during a squat). It completely misaligns the lower extremity and can not only cause issues in your knee and hip, but can create problems in your back as well.

A great way to practice maintaining a stable and consistent arch to do use Kelly’s “27 Squats Protocol” demonstrated here by MobilityWOD’s Jami Tikkanen

The idea is to squat with 27 different foot positions (wide, narrow, normal… feet in, out and square).  It was designed as a warm-up, but can offer tremendous feedback on BodiTrak.  

“If I’m on the BodiTrak, even though I’m changing my foot position, my pressure should be normalized.  I want that pattern of foot pressure to remain constant in any variation… It’s hard for me to be wide and balanced, but I should see limited variability in the pressure in the foot.”

– Kelly Starrett

2. Offering the Right Cue for the Right Athlete

One of the more popular squat cues we hear is to “push through the heels.”  While this might be appropriate for some athletes, it can be very misleading for others.  Watch this excellent video from Squat University:

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When you squat, should you be pushing largely through your heel? This is a common cue many coaches use but should everyone use it?🤔 . If someone is performing a squat and their heels pop off the ground (and yes this is an exagerated demonstration for the purpose of today's post) the cue to drive the heels down work great to redirect their technique and create a balanced foot.🏋🏼‍♀️👣 . However if someone overuses this cue and drives too much of their weight through their heel, they can become equally off balance – just in the opposite direction – leading to issues like the "good morning"/"stripper" squat, or causing the toes to spin out to the side.❌ . When we look at your feet during a squat– we ideally want to have equal pressure across three points of contact (this is called the tripod foot). Putting all your weight into your heels on a squat places too much force on only one point of the tripod and decreases overall stability.❌ . The next time you squat, do your first set barefoot to feel for the tripod foot. Think about grabbing the ground with your entire foot and your bodyweight balanced – jamming the big toe down can be very helpful for most who like to be too far back on their heels.✅ . Thank you @3d4medical and their app Complete Anatomy for the visual of the body and weightlifter @lee_sang____ from South Korea for being today's athlete model!🙏🏼 . To watch more on how to perfect foot stability & limit problems like foot pronation (arch collapse) check out the YouTube video linked in my bio📲 ______________________________________

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Applying force through the heels will cause the center of pressure and the center of mass to move posteriorly.  In order to keep from falling backwards, the athlete often compensates with excessive flexion of the trunk in order to move the barbell anteriorly and counterbalance their center of mass.  This is a sub-optimal movement and may have been initiated by a misunderstanding of a cue.

“I don’t want to do things just because I think they are working well, I want immediate feedback for myself and my athlete that tells me they ARE working well.”

– Chris Frankel

 

Here’s Dr. Beau Beard offering a solution on BodiTrak: 

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“Weight in your heels!” – This is one of those coaching cues that has the best of intentions but ultimately leads to it’s own destructive problems. 🤢 – The first video demonstrates a normal loading pattern through a properly loaded/domed foot. Side Note: a woman’s foot is going to be different than a man’s with a more well developed anterior transverse arch that become important during pregnancy.👶 – In the first photo we see exaggerated fore foot loading. This is the usual go-to for those non-coached squatters or someone who is severely lacking ankle dorsiflexion. Due to this being the most common compensation, it has led to our favorite coaching cue which is demonstrated in the second photo. – In this photo we see an exaggerated posterior weight shift to the point of the toes being in slight extension. I CAN’T TELL YOU HOW COMMON THIS IS. Many people do this instinctively to activate the anterior compartment of the lower leg to maintain a semblance of dorsiflexion, while others think this is what is required for ‘getting their weight into the heels’. – The last photo is another representation of a properly loaded foot. A good drill to get someone to feel this is to have them stand with locked knees and simply rock back and forth on their feet, searching for equal distribution of force, also a cues like ‘tear the floor apart’, ‘dinner plates’ or other power lifting cues can be useful. – As with most technique issues, adequate mobility, stability and motor control will be a big part of the equation in getting this right. @boditraksports

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“If we’re giving credence to the fact that whole foot is important to the function of the athlete, we should be making decisions about athletic stance based on function and pressure.”

– Kelly Starrett

 

 

“Feedback with a technology like BodiTrak allows a coach to communicate by saying less.  The role of the coach is to create an environment where the athlete can learn better. Sometimes that means the coach needs to be quiet and let the athlete find their way.”

– Chris Frankel

 

Using force and pressure in training doesn’t just offer an additional datapoint, it provides confidence that the athlete is reacting to how they are being coached.  It’s a common language. As Dr. Greg Rose says, BodiTrak allows me to step inside your body and know what you are feeling.