Squat Mobility: Get a Deeper Squat Today
Squatting is undeniably one of the most effective exercises. It can be done with just your bodyweight, or loaded with barbell or kettlebells. For some, a squat is easy to perform, it can be done anytime, anywhere. For many, it’s just is not that natural. Your heels come up, your back rounds, you have to lean forward too much. You might think your body is not made for the squat, but we’re here to help!
For the squat to be most effective, you should be able to get you thighs parallel to the ground with your feet shoulder width apart and pointing forwards or with a slight turn out. If are unable to get this low or you have to take a very wide stance, point your feet right out to get there then it is likely that you are limited by your range of mobility.
The way we live and work today makes natural movements like the squat more challenging than it was for our ancestors. Squat difficulties most commonly arise from the mobility of 2 areas: i) the calves/ankles and ii) the hips. Both the must have a good range of motions to allow you to get “ass to grass” and working these 2 areas should get you into a better squat position. If you can already squat well, this will help you get deeper.
We’ll give you some simple methods to check your mobility and see what might be a limiting factor for you as well as exercises to improve each.
Fix Tight Ankles
How to Check Ankle Mobility
There is a simple test for ankle mobility: the wall test.
Take your shoes off, stand in front of a wall, put a flat palm against the wall, and measure about a palm-width (4-5 inches) distance between the wall and the tip of your big toe.
Place your foot flat on the ground, so that your big toe is planted at this spot, and try touching the wall with your same knee. Make sure that your heel stays on the ground and your shin and knee do not cave in.
If you can't do it, or only just managed it, great news – we might have figured out one of the limiting factors to your squat. Take a look at the calf mobility drills below, which will help you fix it.
If you can touch the wall easily, good for you! Your ankle should not be a limiting factor for your squat. If you just managed to touch the wall then you might want to try those drills anyway!
Ankle Mobility Drills
Some of the best ankle mobility drills from The Bodyweight Warrior, Tom Merrick:
1. Stick drill. This is a soft tissue exercise to work your calves (and a little bit of your hamstrings) To perform it, you will need a stick. You can use anything: a gym stick, a broom handle.
Kneel down on the ground and wedge the stick right behind your knees. Sit back, as far as you can, while keeping the stick wedged at the back of your knees. Pause for a moment, then move the stick slightly lower down your calves.
Repeat until you have moved the stick all the way down to the base of your calves.
The whole exercise should take you about two minutes.
2. Dynamic calf stretch.
Stand on a step or another elevated object that can support your weight. Put the front of one foot on the edge of that object and lower the heel. As you are lowering the heel, your knee will strengthen; as you lift it, your knee will bend.
Perform about 10 reps, then hold the heel down (knee straight) in a static stretch for about 20–30 seconds (up to 1 minute).
Switch the legs.
Important: Do not let your knee cave in: it should remain right above your big and second toes.
3. Weighted ankle dorsiflexion. Dorsiflexion is the fancy anatomic term for the flexion permitted by your ankle to allow your knee to come forwards over you foot (keeping your foot on the ground)
For this stretch, you're gonna need a weight (e.g. a kettlebell).
Get into a full squat position. Then, place one knee on the ground, with your foot behind you, and its toes planted on the ground. Place the weight on top of your front knee. Hold it there for a few moments.
To get into a deeper stretch, think of trying to actively lift the toes of your front foot from the ground. Keep the tension for about 10 seconds, then relax the foot for 10 seconds. Repeat. After each repetition, try to "sink in" deeper into the front kneeling position.
Perform 3–4 reps per leg.
Important: as you do this stretch, don't let your front knee cave in: your shin should stay aligned with your foot. Do not let your front heel come off the ground.
If you've been looking for the places to invest your precious time, here they are: your mobility. Integrate those drills into your workout routine, and your squats will shoot ahead, while your discomfort and injury risks will fall far behind.
Fix Tight Hips
How to Check Hip Mobility
The hips are an amazing joint and they permit various motions and rotations, here are some exercise to see where you’re at and what might help.
1. Keeping the heel on the ground during squat. If you have tested your calf/ankle mobility (as above) and you still are struggling to keep your feet on the ground throughout the squat whilst getting thighs parallel to the floor, then the next likely culprit is your hip mobility and we suggest working through the hip mobility drills as well.
2. Lying knee-to-chest test. If you feel like your knees might be a limiting factor then there is an additional quick test which might be able to help you decide.
Lay flat on your back, lift your knees towards your chest, grab your shins and pull them towards your body. Are you able to touch your chest with your thighs? Are you able to simultaneously touch the back of your thighs with your calves?
If you cannot perform this flexion, try pulling on your thighs instead of shins. From this position, if you cannot touch your chest with your thighs, you are lacking hip mobility. If you can touch your chest with your thighs but cannot simultaneously touch the back of your thighs with your calves, you might be lacking knee flexion mobility.
Hip Mobility Drills
If you’re hips are a limiting factor, this can lead to discomfort during squatting, inability do it or worse, making you do it with poor form which can cause injury and strip you of bigger gains.
Here's a few hip mobility drills from GMB Fitness – to set your hips free.
1. Lying hip rotations.
2. Lay on your back. Bend one leg at approximately 45-degree angle and plant your foot on the ground. Bring your other foot across your planted leg and place it over its knee. Slowly move the knee of the upper leg inward and outward – to unlock your hip – about 10 times.
Then use your hand to gently push on the knee – to keep it in a static position for about 20–30 seconds (up to 1 minute) and unlock the hip even more.
Switch the legs.
As you get more flexible, pull the foot of the planted leg closer towards you.
2. Side stretch of the glutes.
3. Lay in the same position as for the first stretch. Then relocate your planted foot slightly to the side and cross your upper hip fully across the hip of your planted leg. Grab your upper knee with your hands and pull it towards your opposite shoulder.
Perform about 10 dynamic reps, then hold the knee pulled towards your shoulder in a static stretch for about 20–30 seconds (up to 1 minute).
Switch the legs.
Sit down on the ground. Bend your knees and put the soles of your feet together – so that your legs form the "wings" of a butterfly. Move your knees up and down about 10 times.
Then, push your knee down with your hand, one at a time, and hold it in a static stretch for about 20–30 seconds (up to 1 minute).
Stand on your hands and knees. Bring your knees as far apart as you can (but do not overdo it: you must still feel comfortable, not in pain), spread your feet out and plant your heels. Slowly rock back and forth.
Perform about 10 dynamic reps, then sit back and hold that static stretch for about 20–30 seconds (up to 1 minute).
5. Kneeling lunge.
Get into the low lunge position: one knee and foot down on the ground behind you, the other leg bent in front of you. Rock in and out of the position by shifting your hips forward.
If you are flexible enough, grab the foot of the rear leg with your opposite hand.
For the start, you can perform half-pigeons. To do it, place one bent leg in front of you, with your heel pointed towards the opposite shoulder. The sheen should be at about 90 degrees in relation to your hip (if you are not flexible enough, a smaller angle will do). Bend the rear leg. Keep your chest up. Roll your weight from your front leg towards the rear leg.
Perform about 10 dynamic reps, then sit up tall and hold that static stretch for about 20–30 seconds (up to 1 minute).
If you are flexible enough, perform a full pigeon: stretch the rear leg all the way back.
7. Traveling butterfly.
Sit down on the ground with your legs straight, feet together and palms planted at your hips. While keeping your feet and palms planted on the ground, lift your hips and push them forward: into the butterfly position. Then, push the hips back: into the starting position.
8. Hip internal rotations.
Sit down into a full squat. Keep your feet planted on the ground. From here, lower one leg inside, until its knee touches the ground. Perform 10 reps per leg, then switch the legs; or alternate the legs.
At the end, sit down into the full squat and stay in this position for about 20–30 seconds (up to 1 minute).