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I've noticed when reaching my upper limits on squat, I start to get some impingement around the ankle and upper foot area. I've learned that this can be caused from weakness of the ankle and foot muscles. I try to keep these areas flexed throughout the movement.

I've read that barefoot running is a great way to improve foot and ankle musculature. I'm wondering if there is any evidence of carryover to squats.

Would barefoot running (or running with barefoot shoes) help keep my squat form from breaking down in the ankle and foot region during max effort lifts?

Edit:
I should mention I'm using olympic lifting shoes and am not a beginner: I am 6'2", 195 lbs, and am maxing in the low 300lbs range with full range olympic-style back squat. As I mentioned in the comments, I feel that "clutching" the ground with my foot provides the most stable base when squatting, and would like to strengthen that musculature.

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why barefoot running anyhow? Try one legged squats, with the front foot on a cushion, or better, those round inflated plastic discs used in physiotherapy. Even both feet if you can manage. Your ankles will work hard balancing out the entire motion. GL –  anaheim Jul 16 '13 at 16:14
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4 Answers 4

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Will barefoot running help your squat? Possibly - but not in the way you think.

Barefoot running is a contentious issue, with

Proponents of barefoot running claim many benefits, such as improved performance and reduced injuries, whereas detractors warn of the imminent risks involved.

Unfortunately, I found no evidence to suggest that barefoot running will build strength in the musculature of the ankle. Common sense suggests this may be the case, given that there is minimal external support the muscles supporting the ankle must work harder. However, this is conjecture and there is nothing to support (or refute) this claim.

However, I did find an article that indicates that barefoot running "could also enhance the storage and restitution of elastic energy at ankle extensors level". The ability to store and release enegry throughout the ankle and calf would certainly have a benefit for squats at the low point, so this is certainly a positive point.

Also of note is the measured increase in torque at the knee and hip generated by shod runners versus barefoot suggesting "relatively greater pressures at anatomical sites that are typically more prone to knee osteoarthritis". As such, if you were going to run while doing a squat based program, barefoot running may offer some preventative protection against knee damage when compared to shod running, by reducing the torque and pressure on the joints.

On a precautionary note, barefoot runners may keep their muscles stiffer during running to minimise heel impact. As such a proper warm-up and cool down program with stretching should be followed to ensure that the leg muscles are kept limber.

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Sorry for the downvote but your answer sounds smart but says nothing. I feel like others are wasting their time reading it. I bet you if we had 100 people and 50 did barefoot running 4 times a week for 30 mins and the other 50 squatted during that time... hmmmm... which group do you think would have the better squat? When you find data on the web about a topic and transform it to something this vague and useless you hurt the misinformed. –  DMoore Jul 30 '13 at 5:17
    
@DMoore Obviously if you had 50 runners and 50 squatters, the squatters will have a better squat. But would someone who squats and runs have a better squat than just a regular runner? I'd be curious to see the results, but based on articles the above, it may help. –  Lego Stormtroopr Jul 30 '13 at 5:22
    
Yea but you can't write a "right" answer for something without really knowing. Right? –  DMoore Jul 30 '13 at 5:24
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OK first of all the ankle/squat article he read... have to see this. Also he didn't say he was a runner. He said would barefoot running help his squats. My answer - NO WAY. Because you could use that time/energy to squat. Have you seen the guys who go for the squat records? Do you think they are barefoot running? More than likely their bodies would fall apart after 30 feet. –  DMoore Jul 30 '13 at 5:46
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@DaveLiepmann - thanks but I upvoted aaronman's answer. His first line was sufficient to me. My comments here were because it was an accepted answer that basically said nothing. So I felt that the community should understand other opinions behind it. I am not even sure what this answer says other than detail links to barefoot running studies that have nothing to do with squats or the main muscles used in squats. Also there are assumptions made that are contradictory to common practice of athletic trainers/doctors. –  DMoore Jul 30 '13 at 20:49
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I got the opposite effect: barefoot running is awesome and I prefer it, but it builds up my calves and can temporarily make them quite tight. Squats require a mobile calf and ankle.

It may help with ankle stability and I wouldn't avoid barefoot running for this reason, but I don't think it helps with my squats.

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Dave, I think that might be the effect I'm looking for, so long as I can continue keeping my ankles mobile. –  Doc Jul 10 '13 at 3:13
    
@Doc After reading your updates, that certainly seems plausible to me. –  Dave Liepmann Jul 10 '13 at 13:18
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Sorry I do not believe that barefoot running will help

But I definitely have advice for improving your squat.

  1. Some exercises that can help

  2. Know your weakness

    • If you tell us where your failing so you can do the right exercises
    • some sources for increasing ankle mobility ANKLE MOBILITY FOR BETTER SQUATS – BRYCE LEWIS, ankle mobility, you can easily do a google search for more, sorry non mentioned running.
    • if you want to avoid the ankle mobility coming into play you can do box squats, just don't rely on them
    • try sitting on the bottom of your squat with lighter weights to get used to having the ankles in that position
  3. A cool way to improve just your max is to improve your nervous system

    • Take a weight significantly more than your max, 10-20kg more, and step out with it and breathe for 20-30 secs
    • Always increase intensity, if you don't challenge yourself you can't improve

One last piece of advice: watch john broz's channel. This helped me realize how weak I was. Broz advocates squatting everyday — heavy. It's not for everyone and you will be sore, but if you eat and sleep right and are dedicated, it can give ridiculous gains.

BTW: my advice comes from a 315 squat at 155 so hopefully you won't think I'm talking out of my ass :), specifically I think that the front and overhead squats can help because they really make you perfect your form as opposed to a back squat.

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The bounty specifically asks for "empirical information on the subject" while there is some helpful information in here, you haven't provided any evidence for your claim that you "do not believe that barefoot running will help" –  Lego Stormtroopr Jul 16 '13 at 1:50
    
@LegoStormtroopr if the OP doesn't think my answer is helpful he can tell me himself, I don't think my type of answer is what downvotes were intended to be used on, in addition every other post here starts by saying barefoot running wont help, why you chose to single mine out is beyond me –  aaronman Jul 16 '13 at 1:56
    
This doesn't attempt to answer the question. –  Doc Jul 16 '13 at 17:46
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I have been a heavy user of stackexchange since its inception. I am concerned of the answer quality on this site. It seems that there is more of a need for "scientific" links than there is for common sense and things that actually have to do with the answer. The fact is there is hardly anything studied (accept for affects of drug usage) in the field of fitness that we could directly relate to a question. There is also widely accepted evidence that different people can react drastically different to different training methods. –  DMoore Jul 30 '13 at 5:52
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The short answer should be they have nothing to do with each other. The fact that the community accepted and upvoted something like the answer above makes me think that this site might never catch which is too bad. Lego is a smart guy but the point of the site is to give the best answers not to write a term paper that will get the most votes. –  DMoore Jul 30 '13 at 6:06
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I highly doubt that running (barefoot or otherwise) will help your squat. If you suspect ankle mobility or general calf/foot weakness you're better off addressing that directly with specific stretches or exercises.

I've found these exercises to help greatly with my ankle mobility. Another option is to invest in a pair of weightlifting shoes with a raised heel. You can get a pair of VS Athletic or Wei Rui shoes for pretty cheap, if cost is a factor.

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Hi maxywb. Thanks for the input. I've been high-bar olympic squatting for about 5 years now and don't have any mobility issues. I believe the impingement issues I'm having stem from my arch collapsing at high loads (for my tall and lanky physique, it's right around 300lbs). I'm wondering if there's a fun/novel activity -- such as barefoot running -- that could help improve this weakness. –  Doc Jul 9 '13 at 20:42
    
I doubt it, one thing you should definitely try first is taking a couple 2.5lbs plates and raising your heels on them while squatting. It will be awkward, but I suspect it will help. Also it sounds like you aren't holding your weight properly. When squatting you should feel all the weight on your heels, not your mid-foot. –  maxywb Jul 9 '13 at 20:46
    
I've used oly lifting shoes for a few years. While you are correct that the weight should be on the heels, arch still needs to be maintained for proper ankle ROM. This is why foot strength is still an issue, and why (correct me if i'm wrong) power lifters use ankle braces when squatting. I believe I can find a KStarr video explaining this if you are interested. –  Doc Jul 9 '13 at 20:52
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That is interesting. You're the first person I've heard of who's arches collapse like that. The reason I'm so skeptical is that there is minimal musculature in the foot itself and anything that running would do would be equally well accomplished by something simple like calf raises. However another possibility is to add in some dynamic work like box jumps or depth jumps (and for any serious squatter this should already be part of your routine!). –  maxywb Jul 9 '13 at 21:00
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Good timing. Here's the video that describes weighting the foot when squatting, also some ankle impingement studies: youtube.com/watch?v=nZ_b5TNIbPI -- I should mention I still don't think it's a mobility issue since I don't have this problem with lighter sets. Really looking to strengthen that whole "ball of the foot to ankle" chain. I feel like "clutching" the ground with my foot provides the most stable base when squatting. –  Doc Jul 10 '13 at 1:03
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