Improve Your Balance and Performance: The Tripod Foot

When analyzing squat mechanics, a quick glance at one’s feet will tell me most of what I need to know. If the feet are pronated, supinated, or the toes are coming off the ground, I can typically expect to see a cascade of poopy events further up the kinetic chain. That could mean a lack of posterior chain engagement, poor positioning, improper squat depth and overall instability.

Which one of these do you think will yield a stronger squat? (Image source: Road Runner Sports)

A solid foundation for the squat (and any other compound lift, for that matter) starts from the bottom up. Keeping the weight on the heels is a good start, but if you’re lifting your toes while you squat, deadlift, or press, you are doing yourself (and your strength gains) a huge disservice. Let me tell you about this nifty little cue called the ‘tripod foot’, and how it can dramatically improve the way you lift. Basically, it involves keeping three points of contact between the foot and the ground: the heel, the base of the big toe and the base of the pinky. Together, they form a triangle, much like the feet of a tripod. Reinforcing these three anchor points ensures even weight distribution over the entire foot. This is ideal for creating a vertically linear bar path, engaging the stabilizing muscles of the lower body, as well as simply building a more stable foundation to lift from. A full-foot approach teaches you to activate the intrinsic muscles of the feet, which can increase foot and ankle stability. This is especially beneficial to those with flat feet, as it reinforces the medial arch of the foot, setting the ankle in a more stable and neutral position. More importantly, the tripod foot enables you to “screw” your feet into the ground, by creating torque and external rotation at the knee and, in turn, the hips. This helps the knees stay in line with the toes, which can have a tremendous effect on squat depth and overall technique. You know that ol’ cue, “keep your knees out”? Well, that’s essentially what this is, but instead of trying to mask an issue by addressing its symptoms (knees caving inwards), we’re fixing it at the source. In the deadlift, screwing your feet into the floor will achieve the same effect, increasing glute activation at the onset of the lift and setting you up for a stronger and more efficient pull. However, hip rotation demands in the deadlift are lower than in a squat, so while this cue might help those who struggle keeping the knees out, it might not be useful for all lifters. If you’ve ever felt yourself lose balance during a big lift, or have noticed your foot turning in or out beneath you, chances are you could benefit from a more stable foot position. By the by, this is also why I recommend training barefoot or with minimalist shoes. The cushion provided by runners can not only diminish your kinesthetic awareness, but also make it harder for you to actually ‘feel’ the floor beneath you. Give this a try, not only on your big barbell lifts but also any single-leg work, and notice the difference it will make in your stability and performance.  

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About The Author

Barbara M.

Barbara is a strength coach for females looking to get stronger, both online and in person at Barbell Strength. Her passion lies in helping women of all fitness levels feel more confident in and out of the gym.