On “Creating Torque” by Screwing the Feet Into the Ground

Lately, there have been many experts suggesting that for optimal squatting and conventional deadlifting performance, one should purposefully create torque by screwing one’s feet into the ground. Kelly Starrett and Mark Bell are two proponents of this.

I’d like to discuss my thoughts on this topic, but before I do I want to mention that I have tremendous respect for Kelly and Mark, so this is nothing personal.

Kelly_Starrett

And also before I get started, let me briefly touch upon torque for those who need a brush-up on their biomechanics.

What is Torque? 

If I push against a wall, I exert force against that wall. I also exert force into the ground. Force is a vector quantity because it must contain a direction. I can also push against a wrench. However, since there’s a pivot, the force creates torque about that pivot. Torque is turning force, and can be thought of as linear force’s rotational analog. While force is usually measured in Newtons, torque is usually measured in Newton-meters, which you can think of as the amount of force exerted perpendicularly to the wrench one meter away from the pivot (which one be one long-ass wrench but hopefully you get the point). Torque is sometimes reported in pound-inches to make it more “American-friendly,” but the point is that it’s dependent on both the magnitude and distance away from the pivot of force production.

force_torque-wrench

How Can I Increase Torque Production?

Keep thinking of the wrench analogy. There are three ways to increase the torque output of the wrench:

  1. Exert more force onto the wrench
  2. Exert the same force onto the wrench but further away from the pivot
  3. Do a combination of both, increase force and the lever arm distance

In biomechanics, muscles exert forces which create joint torques. In other words, when muscles contract, they pull on bones rather linearly which creates rotational forces, or torques, around the various joints of the body.

Larger muscles are capable of producing greater muscle force and therefore creating more torque, and tendon insertion points farther away from the joint centers have greater leverage and can therefore produce greater torque.

Biomechanical Explanations of Torque Require a Joint and an Action

Simply mentioning that you’re “creating torque” isn’t sufficient. In what joint, and in what direction are you creating torque? For example, at the hip, you can create 6 different types of torque, including hip extension torque, hip flexion torque, hip abduction torque, hip adduction torque, hip external rotation torque, and hip internal rotation torque. The neuromuscular system can create torque at each possible action of a joint.

deadlift

What Kinds of Torque are Present in the Deadlift?

When you initiate the pull in a heavy conventional deadlift with proper form, the primary torque production by the muscles (ignoring grip associated torques) will be scapular retraction torque, thoracic spinal extension torque, lumbar spinal extension torque, anterior pelvic tilt torque, hip extension torque, knee extension torque, and ankle plantarflexion torque.

Sure lots of muscles will be co-contracting for joint stabilization purposes, but the net torques will come out as listed above.

When you lock out a heavy conventional deadlift with proper form, the primary torques will be scapular retraction torque, scapular elevation torque, thoracic spinal extension torque, lumbar spinal extension torque, posterior pelvic tilt torque, and hip extension torque.

Do I Have to Screw my Feet into the Ground to Create Torque?

No, you don’t. As I mentioned directly above, pulling a conventional deadlift will elicit all sorts of torque production at the various joints.

But again, in order to be biomechanically accurate, you must specify the torque. There are hip and lower limb muscles than can create external rotation torque along the axis of the leg, so screwing the feet into the ground at the initiation of a deadlift could involve hip external rotation, knee external rotation, and foot abduction, all in flexed positions.

deadlift2

Do I Need to Create Hip External Rotation Torque When I Deadlift? 

I believe that beginners should indeed practice “screwing the feet into the ground” with submaximal loading to feel the glutes activate properly. I feel that performing some lateral band walks with band placement around the feet prior to conventional deadlifting could be valuable in this regard as well for glute activation purposes.

However, once you achieve proficiency at feeling the hips and activating the glutes, I feel that directing muscle activation toward producing hip external rotation torque during the conventional deadlift is just wasted energy that would be better-spent elsewhere, perhaps for additional spinal, hip, or knee extension torque development. The conventional deadlift is an axial movement that requires vertical force development and sagittal plane torque development, and any torsional movement, lateral force development, or frontal/transverse plane torque development is not necessary or optimal for maximal performance. I have some very strong powerlifting friends, and none of them actively screw their feet into the ground while conventional deadlifting, nor do I.

That said, I’ve heard several anecdotes from fellow lifters who employed this technique during the conventional deadlift and felt that it helped them. For the rare individuals who experience knee valgus when deadlifting, they should definitely practice screwing the feet into the ground during deadlifts. But you don’t see this too often as the deadlift doesn’t require much rotary hip stability, at least in comparison with the squat. So definitely give it a try, but feel free to dismiss it if you don’t find that it’s helpful. Here is a video where I better explain some of this information:

What About Squats – Should I Position my Feet in Neutral, and Should I Create Torque by Screwing my Feet into the Ground During the Squat? 

With regards to Kelly Starrett’s advice on squatting, I disagree in some respects and agree in other respects. Here’s where I disagree. Kellie believes that lifters should point their feet straight ahead during the squat. I believe that around a 15-30 degree foot flare is best for most people, however some indeed do best with neutral foot positions. I don’t feel that blanket statements can be made with ideal foot position for squatting as it’s highly dependent on the anatomy of the hip and other lower body structures.

For example, if I try to squat with my feet straight ahead, it hurts my knees. If I flare slightly, there’s never any pain. This makes sense as my entire family is a bit duck-footed. Some of my powerlifting friends experience hip and/or knee pain when attempting to squat with their feet straight ahead, even if they’re forcing the knees out. Conversely, some of them experience pain when attempting to flare their feet outward in a squat and instead require a straight-ahead foot position. Therefore, I recommend that lifters tinker with foot flare in order to find the optimal position for their bodies.

Here’s where I agree with Kelly. I feel that the majority of lifters feel and perform better in the squat when they take a narrow to moderate stance width and aggressively force the knees out. I address this in the following video:

Furthermore, I agree that individuals should actively screw their feet into the ground during squats. However, I don’t think the emphasis should be on the ground-reaction force, but rather on forcing the knee outward, which should automatically produce the desired effect into the ground. Ideally, just as in the case with other squat cues, the lifter would reach “automaticity” in that he or she wouldn’t need to think about it when squatting heavy  – it would just happen naturally. In this way, it will most certainly enhance and not detract form squat performance.

54 Comments

  • Eric Engelken says:

    Love the random horse head in the back of the video hahahahahaha

  • ryan says:

    I wanted to respond to your statement about knee pain with screwing feet into the ground with certain individuals.

    Do you think it’s possible the reason why there is pain in the knee because of this action or cue is because the big toe (and/or ball of the big toe) isn’t properly planted which affects proper stability of a strong arch in the foot?

    Ankle range of motion along with proper arch function has to affect the mechanics of the knee during the cue “screwing your feet into the ground.” Because of this typical ankle/foot dysfunction it causes the center of mass to be less centered over the arch and more over the the outside of the foot which sometimes causes a little bit of foot inversion (just a little). Wouldn’t this affect the mechanics of how much the medial quad, abductors and adductors contract?

    From my own personal experience trying to fix my dysfunctions I’ve experienced intermittent knee pain in my left left knee (quad tendon) during full squatting during extension. Imagine like a little prick or shock. When I pay attention to loading my left big toe / ball of foot during the “screw the feet in cue” I’m able to eliminate the pain. Also a band aid fix is that wraps make it go away completely.

    Another thing I want to mention is most shoes have elevated heel which affect lift to a certain degree.

    I wanted to share my view and insight with you and because your knowledge of biomechincs is better than mine maybe you talk about ankle flexbility as it relates to creating torque and producing force during the deadlift and squat.

    thanks for all the stuff you do and provide. I’m a big fan and follower of your work.

    “For example, if I try to squat with my feet straight ahead, it hurts my knees. If I flare slightly, there’s never any pain. This makes sense as my entire family is a bit duck-footed. Some of my powerlifting friends experience hip and/or knee pain when attempting to squat with their feet straight ahead, even if they’re forcing the knees out. Conversely, some of them experience pain when attempting to flare their feet outward in a squat and instead require a straight-ahead foot position. Therefore, I recommend that lifters tinker with foot flare in order to find the optimal position for their bodies.”

    • Bret says:

      Hmmm, great question Ryan. I definitely agree that foot mechanics will affect knee joint reaction forces. Many lifters’ center of pressures (COPs) are too anterior and medial, which is often due to poor ankle dorislexion, quad dominance, and poor hip stability. Therefore I like lifters to have more centered COPs with the feet appearing motionless during the squat. If the lifters’ COPs are off-kilter, either laterally or medially, then it will definitely affect the forces and stresses on the knee. But again, I see pronation and ankle plantarflexion much more commonly than excessive supination. And heeled-shoes can eliminate or exacerbate lifter’s knee issues depending on the culprit. If ankle dorsiflexion is a problem, heeled shoes are a quick fix. If quad dominance and week glutes are a culprit, however, they could worsen the knee pain. It’s great that you’ve found success with tinkering with foot COP and ext rotation cueing (and also with wraps). Many lifters just keep pounding away and ignoring pain signals without ever trying to find solutions. Great question!

  • Derrick Blanton says:

    Bret, great post, and I love the way you break stuff down!

    I have also found the toes forward stance to be an awkward, significant problem. I made some progress with it, but it never felt right. Possibly b/c my legs were genetically varus, and had to be corrected with braces as a child learning to walk?

    I seem to do very well without about a 15-20-degree turnout, flare. When I see someone flaring over 30-degrees, I get a little nervous about overpronation of the ankle, and valgus collapse, but as you say, everybody has different hip structure.

    Interestingly, I have discovered that I tend to turn out the right foot more, and this seemed to cause right knee pain. So I tried to correct it by not turning the right foot out so much. This didn’t work!

    Finally, I went the other route, and just started turning out the left foot a little more to be symmetrical. Voila! Success. The turnout of one foot affects the contribution of the contra-lateral hip through the position of the pelvis. Who knew?

    I also have medial knee pain when I get my knees laterally over the foot as KS demos in that first pix. Knees right over the feet seems ideal for me.

    Also, I would suggest that winding the hip up into external rotation, whether it is cued through the feet, knees, or hips as…

    “shove the knees out”

    “screw the hips into the socket”

    “spin the feet out”

    is more of a short rotator group cue to chart the angle of movement. A way to preset the hip in the socket, a navigational tool if you will, rather than a strict glute max cue.

    I tend to view the short rotator group of the hip (piriformis and friends), as the hip “rotator cuff”, and much like the external rotary torque at the shoulder, it is a way to align before moving.

    The idea of “Set it, and forget it” is sometimes helpful.

    • Bret says:

      Hi Derrick – great thoughts as usual. It’s hard to talk about this stuff because there are so many considerations. For example, foot flares greater than 30 degrees are well-advised with wide-stance powerilfting style squatting, but not so much with narrower stance squatting. As with many things, knees neutral and tracking right over the feet is probably ideal (probably same for the spine too). Some folks respond better to different cues and techniques depending on their situations.

    • Sven says:

      Could it be that feet straight ahead as K.S. recommends works better if you try to keep nearly vertical shins and stop at about parallel (i.e. emphasizing hip flexion and limiting knee flexion)?
      I only squat deep, with the knees traveling past the toes, and feet straight ahead definitely hurts, even with a light load.

      • Bret says:

        This may indeed be true, but Kelly prefers deep squats to my knowledge and appears to have more of an affinity to Oly lifting than PLing.

  • Hi bret,

    Found it really interesting, and also like you throwing it out there. Keep it up, awesome!

    I agree with what you mentioned about it being a blanket statement.

    I think it’s a good coaching cue particularly when dealing with a lifter with vagus tendencies, and those suffering from chronic knee pain eventuating into osgood schlatters. I’ve found by using this cue it has actually reduced these symptoms.

    It’s also great you defined difference between squat and dead lift!

    The other way I’ve found this screwing your feet into the ground very useful is coaching either beginners/others who display pronation in their feet as it elevates the arch and reduces the collapsing-leading to slight vagus tendency.

    You mentioned Kelly talks about direction the feet straight (I think he mentions up to 5 degrees), but a bit of the literature I’ve read mentions 0-15 degrees, you mention even greater which is also cool, and if talking some power lifters they may go even more!

    But the one bit I like is you mention it’s to do with anatomy of each individuals hip joint! So true.

    Keep up the solid work mate

    • Taken directly from Kelly’s Book – Becoming a Supple Leopard (page 61)

      “Now it’s important to mention that you can turn your feet out slightly – maybe between 15 and 30 degrees – and still generate a sufficient amount of torque.”

      He prefers closer to parallel, but as you can see, mentions some abduction is fine

      • Bret says:

        Hmmm, I’ve heard him say “straight” on multiple occasions. So if his definition of straight allows for up to 30 degrees of foot flare, then we’re on the same page.

  • will says:

    Bret,

    I think squat stance needs to be specific to your own joint structure. For example, someone with high arches resulting in a supinated foot won’t be able to perform a squat with a straight foot without their foot rolling in (inversion). They already stand with their body weight on the outside of the foot to begin with and the tibia moving laterally in relating to the foot causes more weight to be shifted to the lateral side of the foot eventually causing inversion. However when the knee joint is line with the ankle joint the problem is solved.

  • Bret, a long time ago I received a degree in Mechanical Engineering. Your usage of the term ‘torque’ doesn’t exactly match the usage can remember, or what I read now doing some quick research. You may be right, and checking on this may still be a good idea.

  • Jon Contos says:

    Bret
    Anatomy upper and lower body length play into what you have mentioned with regards to strength and range of motion in your joints their becomes compensation with technique and the force involved.
    The Greek Pyrros Dimas shows so much of what Kelly is talking about watch and learn~
    Jon Contos
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K837AwoIpFI

    • Bret says:

      Jon – watch and learn? I see an elite lifter pulling off impressive feats of strength. How does this demonstrate what Kelly is talking about?

      If you wanted to figure out joint moments, you’d need to measure joint angle movements and ground reaction forces then utilize inverse dynamics. How do you know how much hip external rotation torque or lateral ground reaction forces Pyrros Dimas is creating?

      It looks to me like he generates just enough during his squats to keep his knees tracking over his toes, no more and no less. During his pulls he appears to wind up a bit more, but 1) not every Oly lifter does this, and 2) most powerlifters don’t do this.

  • Eric Engelken says:

    Hey Brett this is unrelated to your article but my question is about your e-book. I noticed in your exercise chapter I looked at your squat form on all of them and notice that when you do an olympic squat the bar is in a low bar position and you call the high bar position squat a manta ray squat. I’m not critiquing your form I’m just curious if that’s normal to go ATG with a low bar position for the squat. I ask this because I’m a big fan of Mark Rippetoe and how he teaches the low bar squat and I’ve noticed several articles by you that support Mark.The point I’m trying to make is for a low bar squat don’t you normally stop a little below parallel something like between ATG and parallel if that makes sense in my crazy long question?

  • morris condon says:

    Hi Bret, Torque or other interpretations appear to be the new buzz word in the UK mainly related to sprint starts. It is just talked about and practiced but nobody I know appears to know the origin just that a lot of high level sprinters use it. Can you offer any info on this as related to forward movement such as the sprint start or Bobsled and would the main benefit come from only the the hip. On of the athletes I coach is on the short list for the Olympic Bobsled team and although she has the fastest 15-55m time she is rank only 5th at 15m. I have lots of your stuff and this has become the main source of my practice although still explore all the theories that is availale. Any tips or leads would be much appreciated and I await you next book. many thanks Morris

  • Sam says:

    Great post Bret, do you feel there is evidence that the joint capsule become less slack by creating the external torque and would this contribute to stability at the hip and knee during heavy lifting. Kelly Starrett mentions that the anatomical structure and mechanics of the hip are similar to that of the shoulder and this external torque at the shoulder aids in the stability to support weight in the overhead position (one of the means by reducing joint laxity due to tightening of the joint capsule)

    Thanks again

    • Bret says:

      Possibly. The close-packed position for the hip joint is actually extension, abduction, and internal rotation. http://moon.ouhsc.edu/dthompso/namics/hipintro.htm

      The open-packed position is the opposite (flexion, adduction, external rotation). So it depends on whether you’re seeking ligamentous stability or muscular stability.

      Some lifters appear to move right up and down during the squat with knees tracking over the feet with great ease. Others, based on their anatomy and form, need to work harder to keep the knees out.

      Is there a precise amount of external rotation torque that’s needed for optimal stability? It’s going to depend on the individual and their anatomy.

      And some lifters cave slightly but this appears to be very stable for them. Is this guy doing it wrong?
      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VcEsmhVag1c#at=13

  • Roger says:

    Is there a possibility that screwing your feet into the ground while flaring out feet could lead to knee instability (not sure if that would be the case) and subsequently patellar pain?

    Thank you for all your insight

    • Bret says:

      I don’t think so…it also depends on stance width. If you go wide, you’ll need to flare more. If you go narrow at 30 degrees, you can still screw the feet into the ground just fine and stabilize the knee. But again, it depends on anatomy, so tinker around and find what feels best. Some will prefer foot flare, others straight, some screwing, others not so much.

  • Bob says:

    My reading of Supple Leopard is this: external rotation torque in the hips during squats and deadlifts will increase the joint stability by more fully engaging the joint capsule. (And similarly for the shoulder during presses, or even holding the bar during a squat.)

    The “feet forward” position makes it easier to generate external rotation torque; furthermore “feet forward” gives a larger base for stability in the sagittal plane. (Those points seem true.)

    That said, not everyone has the mobility to use feet forward without pain. I presume that both you and KS would agree lifters should squat within their existing limits, while at the same time seeking to improve mobility that will enhance technique.

    I have tried bringing my toes in a bit, not all the way to forward, and to aim for more external rotation torque. It does feel a bit more stable. However, “knees out” and “screw your feet” are not the same to me. I need both.

    Question: To someone interested in improving technique, would you recommend working towards a more foot forward stance? Or simply “do what works” for your current hip/knee mobility and work on other aspects of technique?

    • Bret says:

      I agree with both points.

      With regards to a feet straight ahead squat, I think the main change in mobility demands is that you’ll need more ankle dorsiflexion mobility to squat to the same depth, which many are limited in.

      Yes, Kelly and I would both agree that lifters should squat within their limits and seek to improve technique whether that requires bringing up deficits in mobility, stability, or coordination.

      Agree that knees out and screw your feet are unique cues.

      I’d say that you have some wiggle room with foot flare and to do what feels best after tinkering with both. Maybe it’s feet straight ahead, maybe it’s feet flared 15 degrees, maybe 30 degrees.

      Good thoughts!

  • Rob Panariello says:

    One main consideration for the proper foot position at the initiation of the performance of the squat exercise is based on the arthrokinematics and screw home mechanism of the knee joint. The “screw home mechanism” of the knee provides a protective locking mechanism of the joint at full extension. One should be aware of the differences in the anatomical structure of the knee. Viewed in the sagittal plane, you would observe that the femur’s articulating surface is convex when compared to the tibia’s articulating surface which is concave. Differences should also be noted where the articular surface of the tibia’s medial plateau is longer in dimension than that of the tibia’s lateral plateau thus allowing for rotation to occur. So what does this all mean?

    During closed chain knee extension (i.e. ascent in the squat exercise), the femoral condyles of the tibio-femoral joint (knee) roll anteriorly and glide posteriorly upon the fixed tibial plateaus. There is also an associated medial rotation of the femur during the last 20 to 30 degrees (depending upon who you reference) of knee extension (ascent) due to the differences in the aforementioned tibia’s medial plateau vs. lateral plateau dimensions. This is known as the screw home mechanism of the knee and is considered to be a key element to knee stability in the standing (full extension of the knee) upright position.

    During open chain exercise performance (i.e. knee extensions); the tibial plateaus roll and glide anteriorly upon the fixed femoral condyles as during the last 20 to 30 degrees of knee extension, an associated lateral rotation (also due to the longer medial condyle) of the tibia occurs to conclude in screw home.

    Internal rotation of the femoral condyles upon a stable tibial plateau or external rotation of the tibial plateaus upon the stable femoral condyles both result in the same proper anatomically positioned knee joint surfaces in the locked full knee extension “screw home” position. With reference to the tibia, this proper knee joint screw home surface congruity is with the tibia externally rotated upon the femur in the upright standing position. Since this is the initial starting position for squat exercise performance, this is the reason why the athletes I both rehabilitate and train, externally rotate their feet to an appropriate position that is most comfortable for them based on structure, pathology, etc… during the initiation of squat exercise performance.

    Just my opinion

    Rob Panariello

    • Rob Panariello says:

      My apologies for the error in paragraph 3 the statement “also due to a longer medial condyle” should state medial “plateau”.

      Rob

    • Bret says:

      Awesome post Rob!!! Makes perfect sense. So for knee joint biomechanics and safety, a foot flare is well-advised.

      Lots to consider for squat mechanics – ankle mobility, knee biomechanics, hip biomechanics, etc.

      Thank you very much for posting this! I was thinking about the screw-home mechanism last week and how it applied to this but couldn’t wrap my head around it.

  • freddy says:

    Hi Bret,

    Thanks for the article. I’ll try both options on the deadlift. How do you feel about screwing your front foot into the ground during single leg lifts such as lunges and split squats? I feel it really helps with stability. Maybe you can put out another article.

    Freddy

    • Bret says:

      Hi Freddy, I don’t think screwing the foot is a valuable cue or tactic for single leg exercises. Just push through the entire foot and make sure the knee tracks over the feet. But if it helps you, then by all means keep doing it.

  • Mike says:

    Brett, Kelly writes and talks about an 8-12 degree foot angle being ideal, I don’t think he recommends completely straight ahead for anyone. You might want to correct that in your post as it kind of misrepresents what he’s saying.

    • Bret says:

      I’ve heard him talk in videos about keeping the foot straight. To me, straight means straight ahead. If it means 8-12 degrees to Kelly then that’s another thing.

      But this post wasn’t intended to single Kelly out – I’ve heard other experts mention this and I just wanted to share an alternative viewpoint based on my knowledge and experiences.

      Prior to Kelly, I always recommended a 30 degree foot flare for most lifters (unless hip anatomy prevents this). Since he’s become more popular, he’s open my mind to a more straighter foot position, but I still think that what’s ideal is dependent on the lifter and that a range of 0-30 is acceptable.

  • Mike says:

    Brett, another thing is that Kelly talks about the rotational torque tightening up the joints of the knee and hip which provides more stability, similar to a torniquette but with the joint capsule and ligamentous tissues around these joints, creating tighter and better joint congruency. Was hoping to see this addressed. I think you made some good points in this article but I kind of got the feeling you haven’t actually fully watched or read all the way through one of Kelly’s books or webinars between not addressing this and mis-representing the foot angle he recommends as completely straight.

    • Bret says:

      Mike, I know that he’s said this. I’ve always advised lifters to make sure their knees track over their feet. However, Kelly takes it a step further and advises a more aggressive outward knee flare and screwing action.

      I’m aware of no research examining the biomechanics of Kelly’s style versus just making sure the knees track over the toes.

      We can speculate as to which style is healthier for the various joints or more beneficial to long-term performance, but at the end of the day it’s just speculation.

      Does it tighten up the hip joint? Sure. Is there a point of diminishing returns? Probably.

      Should everything we do in strength training follow these suggestions? Should we produce maximal external rotation torque when we bench, military press, push-up, pull-up, and row? How about when we squat, front squat, deadlift, sumo deadlift, good morning, and hip thrust?

      Methinks not. A little is good, but too much is overkill.

  • JR says:

    Thanks for the info! Great post as always!

  • Raptor says:

    What if you can’t push your knees out in the squat? Where’s the flexibility culprit in that case?

  • Andrew Graham says:

    Hey Brett

    I’ve been watching your stuff on glute work and have also been researching the effects on glute strengthening and efficiency in regards to elleviating mechanical problems like lower back pain, quad and hamstring dominence etc. I’m studying physio therapy at the moment and your site has helped me tromendously and i thankyou!

    However, in this article,I feel you’ve misinterpreted the point to kelly’s teaching on torque production. For starters, He goes into the squat much deeper than the way you did….Kelly states in his book that if the squat is loaded (i.e not being used for mobility drills) then the feet should be between 5 and 12 degrees anything more than that and the lifter most likely is missing length in the external rotators. When we mobilize the squat we want the feet in neutral because it tells us what state the persons body is in before adding weight….what use is adding weight if you are unable to master your own body?!…I personally feel that people argue so much about the ‘best squat’ position because it was never meant to be a position for gaining weight…the squat is a position of rest. As far as the torque solution goes, Kelly also agrees with you on the dead lift options….this whole article seems like you have heard a couple of comments in the wind by Dr. Starrett and then tried to rammed them down his throat. I mean the guy is a genius! His book is incredible (even better if you know your anatomy) and he has revolutionized the way athletes gain their NATURAL mobility back….Most gym instructors and so called fitness professionals i’m sorry to say are VERY undereducated in anatomy and physiology not to mention spotting poor movement mechanics in clients.

    hope this doesn’t sound to brash!

    cheers

    • Bret says:

      Hi Andrew, no offense taken. I recall a couple years back posting on my website a video of Kellie along with a note informing my readers to subscribe to his channel and follow his work. He’s certainly incredibly brilliant. I’ve enjoyed listening to his videos and learning of his methods.

      That said, I remember watching a couple of videos where he specifically pointed out that the feet should point straight ahead. That’s what I’m going by. It seems that he might have changed his stance now and softened on that viewpoint? Anyway, I’m glad that it seems that we’re now in more agreement.

      And there are some folks who don’t do well even when squatting with bodyweight in a 5-12 degree foot flare due to their hip anatomy. With these folks, this isn’t a reflection of tight hip external rotators, it’s anatomical. I don’t know what percentage of individuals are in this category but I have a couple papers on hip anatomy, FAI, etc. so I’m sure that the information is out there. Maybe it’s 5%, which isn’t a lot but still noteworthy as those individuals will keep trying to force a square peg into a round hole by attempting to squat with feet forward. And I think he does encourage lifters to screw the feet during the deadlift, to my knowledge. I could be wrong about this.

      If I had Kelly’s email I’d ask for clarification. I’m sure he’s been forwarded this blogpost, so if he wants to respond it would be welcome. This is nothing personal and wasn’t meant to be an attack on Kelly, I have a lot of respect for him too.

  • Dan says:

    Flat feet respond really well to external rotation. Screwing your feet into the ground can quickly restore the main arc of the foot. It is easy to get into the habit of relying on the passive stability of the ligaments around the ankle rather than actively holding the whole foot in an upright (externally rotated) position. The ankle can deal with forces at the limit of is range very well, so it is more likely that pain will start in the knee than the ankle. Limited dorsiflexion can force the ankle to roll inwards and this wrenches the knee, particularly when squatting.

    So I would say, that if your ankles are collapsing when squat (or at any time really) then it is well worth trying out the external rotation cue.

  • Rob says:

    When you had stated bringing focus on something other than pulling the bar up when talking about trying to screw the feet into the ground during the deadlift this popped into my head.

    http://www.washington.edu/news/2013/07/09/biceps-bulge-calves-curve-50-year-old-assumptions-muscled-aside/

    I know you are a research guy and probably came across this but would that “torque” possibly help with force developement levels as the muscle contracts becuase of the increase in muscle recruitment. Or, is a heavy deadlift just going to reucruit enough muscle fibers do to the nature of the movement (its not going to recruit more).

    As you where talking about this my thoughts where that you would be possitive on the torque for deadlifts for this reason, but when you went another way I took pause.
    Or am I way off?

    Thanks for your time
    Rob

  • wickets says:

    Thanks for the article…i found your site via tnation which is where (i think) there was a recent story about screwing your feet into the ground to help your squat by another author(?)…..i’m gullible and decided to give the technique a try. I’m a novice, girly weight squatter and this might all be my imagination, but same stance with the ‘scew in’ has definitely made my squat a lot easier to do…..i feel more mobile into / out of the hole, and more than anything a lot more stable which in turn makes me feel stronger.

    Again, thanks for good article

  • Sol Mandel says:

    Bret,
    I am not sure what you mean by “screwing your feet into the floor”. Would you please explain?
    Thanks,
    Sol

  • Greg Mikolap says:

    Bret, I like your blog but here you are contradicting on yourself a little and you have few things wrong.

    You wrote: When you initiate the pull in a heavy conventional deadlift with proper form, the primary torque production by the muscles (ignoring grip associated torques) will be scapular retraction torque, thoracic spinal extension torque, lumbar spinal extension torque, anterior pelvic tilt torque, hip extension torque, knee extension torque, and ankle plantarflexion torque.

    MY ANSWER: I would say it is posterior pelvic tilt not anterior, unless you mean the position of your body before the lift starts. Anyway this makes no sense, because you compare a transverse plane for scapular and sagittal for knees, so don’t really understand it.

    When you lock out a heavy conventional deadlift with proper form, the primary torques will be scapular retraction torque, scapular elevation torque, thoracic spinal extension torque, lumbar spinal extension torque, posterior pelvic tilt torque, and hip extension torque.
    MY ANSWER: I would say scapula will be depressed not elevated and thoracic is still flexed.

    Do I Have to Screw my Feet into the Ground to Create Torque?
    No, you don’t. As I mentioned directly above, pulling a conventional deadlift will elicit all sorts of torque production at the various joints.
    But again, in order to be biomechanically accurate, you must specify the torque. There are hip and lower limb muscles than can create external rotation torque along the axis of the leg, so screwing the feet into the ground at the initiation of a deadlift could involve hip external rotation, knee external rotation, and foot abduction, all in flexed positions.
    MY ANSWER: Screwing feet into the ground would put hip into internal rotation and ankle would be adducted, not abducted.

    Do I Need to Create Hip External Rotation Torque When I Deadlift?
    I believe that beginners should indeed practice “screwing the feet into the ground” with submaximal loading to feel the glutes activate properly. I feel that performing some lateral band walks with band placement around the feet prior to conventional deadlifting could be valuable in this regard as well for glute activation purposes.
    However, once you achieve proficiency at feeling the hips and activating the glutes, I feel that directing muscle activation toward producing hip external rotation torque during the conventional deadlift is just wasted energy that would be better-spent elsewhere, perhaps for additional spinal, hip, or knee extension torque development. The conventional deadlift is an axial movement that requires vertical force development and sagittal plane torque development, and any torsional movement, lateral force development, or frontal/transverse plane torque development is not necessary or optimal for maximal performance. I have some very strong powerlifting friends, and none of them actively screw their feet into the ground while conventional deadlifting, nor do I.
    MY ANSWER: So why are you asking to do a frontal plane gluteus medius activating if he feels you don’t need frontal plane efficiency? And the reason why people feel their gluteus more while screwing their feet isn’t it because the femur goes into Internal Rotation and Adduction?
    In one sentence, this article doesn’t make sense.

    In your squat post as well you don’t explain why it makes a difference, it makes it because you get your hip into internal rotation which what should happen on a squat

    • Bret says:

      Greg – I’m unsure how to address your post. Are you here to learn something? Or to just tell me I’m wrong?

      You are confusing motion with moments. Gravity and loads interact with the body to produce external (resistance) torques, whereas muscles contract to counteract those torques.

      When pulling a maximal deadlift, the load will cause the scapula to want to spread apart, the spine to round, the pelvis to posteriorly tilt, etc.

      The posterior chain muscles contract to prevent these things from happening. The scapular retractors contract to produce scapular retraction torque, the thoracic extensors contract to produce thoracic extension torque, etc.

      Whether you hold proper position depends on maximal strength and the load. If you’re strong enough to hold these positions, then you stabilize the joints, but if you’re not strong enough then you resort to “energy leaks,” whereby the joints move into eccentric contractions.

      The internal muscle moments are the turning force or torques that the body creates when contracting to counteract external resistance moments.

      I suppose one could produce hip internal rotation to screw the feet into the ground inward, but I’ve never heard any expert recommend this. As I showed in the video, hip external rotation generates the outward screwing force into the ground.

      I recommend you take a biomechanics course before so confidently accusing others of being wrong.

  • Emile says:

    Bret-

    Stumbled across this looking for answers to a re-occuring problem I have seen. I am all for the “screw the feet” cue during squating… I get great results with it and the physiology makes sense. But during conventional deadlifting especially with near maximal loads, I have multiple examples of lowback and/or SI irritation when using this cue. Do you have any similar experience(s) and what mechanisms do you think are involved? I have some ideas but wanted to get your thoughts. Thanks!

  • Mike C says:

    What i dont understand is why Kelly thinks that rotating the foot outwards will produce a guaranteed collapsed arch. That seems to be what the Crossfit Kelly parrots keep repeating. In no way does the foots arch collapse if you’re actively shoving your knees out.

    What do you think about “spreading the floor” aswell during a squat as a cue. That’s, although different slightly, a good “stable base” as screwing the feet into the floor. Right?

  • Ryan says:

    I found myself doing this, mainly to make sure that everything was engaged before the weight left the ground

  • tom says:

    bret, I had hip impingement symptoms after screwing feet on squats. do you have any idea about what might have caused this? thanks!

  • Cliff graves says:

    Bret, I know long time ago but the internet pulled your article up. Can you help out here please. Have you heard of internal torque via Julien pineau’s Strongfit?….they swear by it. Instead of external torque they reckon you should internally torque during deadlifts etc

  • […] down all this information on their own, wondering time and again why nobody taught them about grinding their feet into the ground on squats to increase torque until they’re 31 and nearly too old to care. Then again, perhaps for me and […]

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