Who’s Asked, “Why Can’t I Keep My Feet Flat When I Squat?”
Squats are a fantastic exercise whether you perform them with your own body weight, a barbell, or any other load for that matter.
They work a huge number of muscles in the body, as well as the Central Nervous System.
And although they are viewed as the “King of Lower Body Exercises”, they certainly have an impact on your upper body too.
However, squats don’t come without certain problems for many of us.
One such issue is the inability to keep your feet flat on the floor during squats.
More often than not, you’ll typically find that as you either squat deeper or add more weight to the bar that your heels come off the floor.
So, what exactly is going on here?
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Why Can’t I Keep My Feet Flat When I Squat?
The main reason you can’t keep your feet flat on the floor when you squat is because you lack ankle mobility. Your shins and ankles should be slightly angled forward whenever you squat. So, in order to maintain the perfect ankle and shin angle you may find that your heels come off the floor. Plus, if you try to keep your heels flat on the floor you find that you start falling backwards. Additionally, a lack of knee or hip mobility can cause the same issues. Furthermore, if you have tight calves or tight hip flexors this will also affect your flexibility and mobility whenever you squat.
1. You Lack Ankle Mobility (Hips & Knees Too)
Squats require a great deal of flexibility in the hips, knees, and ankles.
This is whether you choose to perform bodyweight squats or with an added load.
So, if you lack a certain amount of mobility in the joints there’s a good chance that your feet won’t remain rooted to the floor.
And this is especially true when it comes to ankle mobility.
If your ankle mobility isn’t great you’ll typically find that your heels come off the floor whenever you drop deeper into a squat.
You may even notice that you have difficulty in maintaining an upright torso.
In fact, your upper body almost becomes parallel to the floor.
Plus, if you’re squatting with a load, i.e. a barbell, you’ll probably find that your squat depth is further reduced before your heels begin to rise.
If you lack hip mobility this is most noticeable in the positioning of your torso during squats.
Your upper body should remain fairly upright with just a slight forward lean.
However, if your hips are impacting on your squat you’ll generally find that your upper body positioning is more reminiscent of a deadlift.
Basically, you have turned the squat into a hip-dominant exercise rather than a knee-dominant movement.
And unfortunately this excessive forward lean will typically see your heels come off the floor.
Finally, we have a lack of knee flexibility.
This will generally mean that your torso should remain in a good position for squatting.
However, you’ll usually hit a “sticking point”, perhaps your upper legs just about get to parallel to the floor.
Although, in most cases, a lack of knee flexibility will see you stop somewhere short, probably around half-squat level.
So, as soon as you try to squat any deeper you’ll tend to come up onto our toes.
For all these mobility issues if you try to keep your feels planted to the floor you’ll often find yourself falling backwards.
This obviously brings additional “danger” and safety issues to the fore.
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You may wish to work on your own specific mobility issue, i.e. ankles, hips, or knees.
However, there is one movement that can help with all of these, namely the “Third World Squat”.
This simply involves dropping into a deep squat and holding the position for an extended period of time.
With that being said, if you do have mobility issues then this won’t be possible without some form of “support”.
I see nothing wrong with this.
My recommendation would be to perform Third World Squats in a doorway, so you can hold onto either side.
Then again, simply find a ledge, door handle, pole, upright frame, etc. that you can hold onto while you squat.
Continue to perform the Third World Squat multiple times throughout the day, whenever you can, holding for 20-30 seconds each time.
As your mobility improves you can hold the position for longer until you are eventually able to “squat” without any support.
2. You Have Tight Calves
Another reason you can’t keep your feet flat when you squat is because you have tight calves.
Once again, this will become apparent by your heels leaving the ground.
Something you can do for additional support is to place a couple of weight plates below your heels whenever you squat.
However, in truth, this is only really a temporary solution.
This will allow you to reach an adequate squat depth and you won’t feel the strain as much in your calves.
With that being said, you should really deal with the issue at hand.
You can regularly foam roll your calves, even on days when you aren’t squatting.
Plus, the downward facing dog is an excellent yoga movement which can help to stretch and loosen your calves.
Furthermore, it will also help with ankle mobility.
You may find that when you initially try the downward facing dog that your heels come off the floor.
However, as you perform the pose more often your flexibility will increase and your calves won’t feel as tight.
You can also try placing one foot behind the other ankle to stretch the calves individually.
Downward Facing Dog Pose
3. You Have Tight Hip Flexors
I’ve already spoken of how a lack of hip mobility can affect your squat.
Your hips in turn could be impacted by tight hip flexors.
In fact, tight hip flexors can affect many exercises and even various daily activities.
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A sign of tight hip flexors could be that you find that your upper body becomes almost parallel to the floor whenever you squat.
As you can see, trying to maintain an upright body position during squats can be affected by any number of flexibility and mobility issues.
Once again, you can ease the issue of tight hip flexors through foam rolling, certain stretches and mobility drills.
Tight Hip Flexors? (Self Assessment | Stretches | Exercises)
So, I hope you have a better understanding of why you can’t keep your feet flat on the floor when you squat.
This is mainly due to a lack of mobility in one or more of the joints, namely the ankles, knees, or hips.
You can practice supported Third World Squats throughout the day in order to improve your mobility in all these areas.
Eventually, you’ll want to move onto “hands-free” Third World Squats once you have the required flexibility and mobility.
You may also find that tight calves or tight hip flexors can stop you from keeping your feet flat during squats.
Hi, I’m Partha, owner and founder of My Bodyweight Exercises. I am a Level 3 Personal Trainer and Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist through the Register of Exercise Professionals, United Kingdom. I have been a regular gym-goer since 2000 and coaching clients since 2012. My aim is to help you achieve your body composition goals.