Few things are as shameful in the weight room as as squatting too high. Unless your squat depth is low enough so your thighs are parallel to the ground, you're missing out on many of the strength and power benefits of squatting. Squatting lower lets you build bigger, stronger legs and hips, which help you sprint faster, jump higher and hit harder.
But it's not as simple as saying, "Squat lower." Some people cannot squat that low no matter how hard they try. The shape and depth of your hip sockets ultimately determines how low you can squat. Some people have such shallow or oddly shaped sockets, they can't squat low without grinding bone on bone. These people are better served doing other lower-body exercises like Deadlifts or Hip Thrusts.
But for most people with poor squat depth, it's a matter of a lack of mobility.
If there's no motion at some joints (like the hips and ankles), your body makes up for it at other joints (like the knees and lower back). This leads to problems like rounding of the lower back (i.e., "butt-winking") and the knees caving in, which can limit the amount of weight you lift and increase your risk of injury.
Improving your squat depth requires your muscles and joints to move in harmony so that you stay in a strong, safe position throughout the entire movement. A proper warm-up can ensure mobility where you need it most, leading to a stronger, safer Squat.
Check out these five must-do mobility drills to improve your Squat depth.
1. Core-Engaged Hip Flexor Mobilization
First and foremost, a deep Squat requires proper pelvic position. If your back is arched too much and your pelvis is tipped forward into anterior pelvic tilt, your femur (upper leg bone) won't have room to move in your hip socket. But the body is pretty smart, so to make room, it tucks your pelvis underneath your hips to make room for your femur, leading to the dreaded butt-wink.
Rounding your lower back with a heavy bar across your shoulders is a recipe for disaster. You need to learn to flex your hips with your pelvis in a good position. This requires you to use your glutes and abs, which is exactly where Core-Engaged Hip Flexor Mobilization comes in.
Unlike a normal hip flexor stretch, this drill uses a band to turn on your glutes and abs, locking your pelvis in place. Try this:
- Loop a band around a power rack at eye level.
- Facing away from the rack, hold one end of the band in each hand.
- Get into a half-kneeling position with your front knee directly over your front ankle and your back knee directly under your back hip.
- Reach your arms out straight and pull the band tight until your arms are parallel to the ground.
- Flex your abs, squeeze your back glute and dig the ball of your back foot into the ground.
- Gently lean forward to stretch your back hip.
- Slowly rock in and out of the stretched position, keeping the band tight and your abs and glutes squeezed.
2. Kneeling Glute Mobilization
Now that you've opened up the front of your hips, it's time to mobilize the back of your hips (i.e., your butt) to make sure the femur has plenty of room to glide in the socket as you squat. The Kneeling Glute Mobilization stretches your posterior hip while letting you control the position of your pelvis and lower back.
- Get on all fours with your hands under your shoulders and your knees under your hips.
- Cross one ankle behind the opposite knee, driving the knee of the crossed-ankle leg into the floor (you can kneel on a mat to protect your kneecap).
- Slowly sit your butt back to your heels, keeping your arms straight and abs tight (imagine pushing yourself away from your hands).
- Sit back until you feel a stretch in your glute on the crossed-ankle side, then return to the starting position.
- Don't arch your lower back or rock your hips side to side.
3. Lateral Mini-Band Walk
We've mobilized the hip in two directions. Now it's time to get the glutes firing so we can control our knee position during the Squat. The Lateral Mini-Band Walk is a simple but effective exercise to feel exactly how the glutes should function while squatting.
- Wrap a short mini-band just above your knees.
- Stand in an athletic position with your feet shoulder-width apart and your hips and knees slightly bent.
- Put your hands on your hips to help you move only from the hips.
- Keeping your feet straight ahead, try to break the mini-band as you take a long, slow step to the side
- When your foot lands, imagine screwing your foot into the floor without letting it turn out (you should feel your glutes and hips working hard.)
- Perform all steps in one direction and repeat in the opposite direction.
4. Wall Ankle Mobilization
With the hips taken care of, we need to attack an area that's often so tight it severely limits our Squat depth—the ankles. The ankles need plenty of dorsiflexion (imagine pointing the foot up toward the ceiling) to facilitate a proper Squat. If the ankles are locked up, your heels may pop off the floor, or your back may round, so good ankle mobility is a must for deep Squats.
- Assume a split stance with your front foot a few inches away from a wall.
- With your hands on the wall for balance, drive your front knee forward until you tap the wall.
- Keep your heel flat and your knee out over your pinkie toe.
- If you can easily touch the wall, move your front foot away from the wall a few inches until you feel a stretch in the back of your calf and ankle.
- Return to the starting position until your front leg is straight. Repeat.
5. Squat to Stand
Time to put it all together. This exercise synchs up all the movements of the legs and hips to help pull you into a deep Squat. If you can get into a good position during this drill, you'll know the previous four drills worked.
- Stand with your feet just outside your hips and your feet turned out slightly.
- Keeping your legs straight, bend at the waist and grab under the front of your toes with your hands.
- Pull your hips down and drive your chest up to help you squat as low as possible.
- With your arms inside your knees, gently push your knees out with your elbows.
- Keeping your fingers under your toes, push your hips up and back to straighten your legs and stretch your hamstrings.
These five drills fall nicely into a full-body, pre-Squat warm-up that will improve your depth and strength.
- Foam Roll: upper back, glutes, quads, hamstrings, calves – 30 seconds each
- Thoracic Extension on Foam Roller – 10 reps
- Medicine Ball Dead Bugs – 5/side
- Core-Engaged Hip Flexor Mobilization – 10/side
- Kneeling Glute Mobilization – 10/side
- Lateral Mini-Band Walk – 10/side
- Forearm Wall Slides – 10 reps
- Wall Ankle Mobilization – 10/side
- Squat to Stand – 10 reps
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