Watch almost any young child squat down to pick up their favorite toy, and you’ll see they have perfect squat form.
Squatting is a natural movement pattern that the human body is designed to perform. However, as we grow up, most of us lose our natural ability to properly perform it well. The reasons are endless, but for most of us the big one is sitting all day. So many of us are either “tied” to a desk all day at the office or we spend long commutes in our cars. For some of us, it’s both the desk job and the long commute! All this extra sitting leads to physical adaptations (like stiff hip flexors and hamstrings, and weakened glutes, for example), which result in faulty squat patterns. Squatting requires mobility in the hips and ankles and for most people this pattern can be regained through mobility drills.
I’ve put together five such mobility drills that you can add to your daily or weekly training routine to improve your squat movement pattern and mobility. Keeping form is essential to maximizing your results and minimizing your risk of injury.
Watch the video, then read the cues and tips I’ve included below the video before trying the mobility drills for yourself. Also, testing your squat depth before and after doing each of the drills can help you determine if you need to focus on some drills more than others. As mentioned earlier, “rock-bottom” squats require mobile feet, ankles, hip flexors, and adductors. Without testing each you will not know which one is causing you to stop short in your squatting pattern.
1. Foot Mobility Triad
It’s easy overlook your feet, but they play an important role, not just in the squat, but in any movement skill. Start with the toes, then the arch, then proceed to the ankles with toe pulls, point/Flexes (assisted with hand), ankle circles as I show in the video above.
2. Ankle Prying
Starting in a half-kneeling position, hinge forward with a neutral spine and grip your front foot. Place your opposite hand over your toes and cup your heel with the other hand. Push your knee forward toward your third and fourth toes. While maintain a relaxed breath, continue to push forward, increasing your arch and ankle dorsiflexion (the opposite of pointing your toes), but preventing the heel from coming up off of the floor. Switch sides and repeat this process.
3. Hip Flexor Stretch
Stay in the half-kneeling position from the ankle prying, but now place the load over the back leg and hip. Squeeze the glutes of the back leg and tilt the pelvis posteriorly (so your hips “tuck” under just slightly), then push forward through the hip of the same leg. This is a very small movement and should not cause your low back to hyperextend. Strive to maintain a tall spine.
Start by taking a fairly wide stance (well past shoulder-width distance). Load the right leg and hinge at the hip while keeping the left leg straight. The depth of the cossack will vary depending on your current flexibility, but the goal is to increase the depth range over time. This drill will loosen up the hips and allow you to get closer to the floor, with the eventual goal to reach all the way to the ground. Once you have found your current depth, switch back and forth from leg to leg. Maintaining a relaxed breath, continue to pry the hips to increase the depth. Tip: Pointing the toes of the straight leg toward the ceiling will allow you to open your hips with greater range.
5. Tactical Frog
Start on the ground on all fours (quadruped position). Maintain a relaxed breath and slowly shift your hips back, past your knees. As your hips loosen up, widen the knees out into a frog stance with the goal of eventually getting your hips to the ground. It is important as you pry deeper into the frog position that you maintain a flat back (neutral spine) and keep your ankles dorsiflexed. If you feel discomfort in your knees place a mat underneath them for cushioning. Gently press your hips back and add pressure with your elbows on the ground for a bit of assistance. Tip: If you are fairly mobile to start, you may work at straightening out your arms and laying your belly and chest on the ground.
NOTE: If squatting feels uncomfortable or unstable, or if you feel pain when you squat, you should see a doctor or physical therapist. However, if your doctor says, “Well, if squats hurt, don’t squat!” I recommend that you get a second opinion. Being able to squat is a necessary and normal movement for all humans, so stopping altogether isn’t the wisest advice, in my opinion. Even if a “rock-bottom” squat is not in the cards for you, a reduced-depth squat can still be performed regularly and will be beneficial to your overall fitness.