Squats have been a part of exercise routines for over 100 years. The original squat was reserved for bodybuilders and performed in a crude fashion. Thankfully, they have evolved and are no longer reserved for only heavyweight lifters. Squats are now considered a fundamental movement pattern that can benefit people of all ages.
Today, we see squats integrated into almost every strength and conditioning routine. Whether attending a boot camp class, participating in CrossFit, or being part of a senior fitness class, you will likely be asked to squat. Although a squat is a functional movement our bodies have done since we could move, it isn’t always easy to perform.
Over time, our bodies adapt to our lifestyle and physical environment. Sometimes, this aids in our ability to squat, but most often, we develop various movement patterns that can make squatting quite difficult. In this article, I’d like to help make the squat easier for you.
Why Mobility Matters
As a movement specialist, I have found myself lost in the nuances of perfecting a person’s ability to squat. I have also seen people struggling with the overwhelm of finding their optimal form. It’s easy to get hung up on all the details. But, I’ve found that two areas of the body can limit your ability to squat with good form no matter how hard you try.
These two areas with limited mobility are your hips and ankles. When either or both of these joints are restricted, you can’t achieve a quality squat, no matter how hard you try.
Hip Mobility Needed to Squat
When you squat, your hips need to move in two major directions. First, your hip must flex as your thigh bone (femur) descends toward the ground. During this hip flexion, the “ball” of your hip socket (femoral head) glides downward. When your hips reach a 90-degree angle, the femoral head (& femur) must rotate inward to maintain joint congruency.
When either of these motions is limited, your body compensates. Typically, you will see an excessive forward lean of your torso, a posterior tilt of your pelvis (known as a “butt wink”), or a limited squat depth.
Ankle Mobility Needed to Squat
One of the most commonly overlooked joints when squatting well is the ankle. Ankle stiffness is typically a combination of tight calf muscles and limited joint motion. This stiffness occurs for various reasons, including past injury history, overuse, and general deconditioning.
To squat well, your lower leg bone (tibia) must move forward over your ankle (known as ankle dorsiflexion). Research has shown that limited ankle dorsiflexion can lead to knee compensations when squatting at the foot and the knee. This may cause your foot to flatten and your knee to fall inward, creating stress in both places.
How to Improve Your Hip and Ankle Mobility
One of the best ways to improve your hip and ankle mobility is first to have each of them assessed. At Juniper Physical Therapy & Fitness, we measure these motions in various ways. This information can help you focus where you need it most and is helpful to determine if the exercises you are doing are helping you to progress.
Once you know where to focus, you can start practicing your specific mobility drills or exercises as a warm-up before your usual workouts. It will take time to gain mobility in your joints, but with consistent performance of these drills, you will begin to see gains in your squat depth.
If you want a little boost in mobility for faster results, undergoing a complete physical therapy evaluation and treatment at Juniper will help. We can determine if your mobility loss is related to muscle, joint, or both. During your treatment, we utilize techniques such as dry needling, soft tissue, and joint mobilization to reduce muscle tension and improve joint mobility.
Hip and Ankle Mobility Exercises
There are several ways to gain mobility in your hips and ankles. Here are two of our beginner exercises to get you started.
Hip Internal Rotation Mobility
Ankle Dorsiflexion Mobility
If you would love to have one of our physical therapists assess your squat mobility, AND you are local to Manitowoc, WI, we offer complete Mobility and Injury Risk Assessment Evaluations. To get started, click HERE to schedule your free phone consultation. We will answer all your questions and help determine if this is a good fit for you.