The barbell squat is a pretty standard movement in the strength training and bodybuilding world, and with the increasing popularity of strength training through the likes of Crossfit we’re seeing more people getting under the bar than ever before.
There’s plenty of reasons to squat regularly – it develops strength throughout the legs and core, with the quads, glutes, hamstrings, calves and lower back all involved in what can be a fairly complex lift to get right. Unfortunately, many people lack the mobility in their hips and ankles to really get the most out of the lift by getting into a good deep squat.
Tight hip flexors can be caused by various things, but the most common is b the amount of sitting we do every day. Between our time on the sofa at home, our drive to work and sitting at a desk all day, there’s plenty of opportunity for our mobility to be affected.
Having tight hip flexors can cause various issues with the squat, but the most common are the rounding of your lower back and your knees collapsing inwards during the movement. Rather than your glutes bearing the load of the weight, you end up using your knee joints and lower back. Not only does this reduce the amount of weight you’re able to lift, it can lead to injuries pretty easily.
There are a few useful stretches for opening up the hip flexors and improving mobility.
This movement will help stretch the Rectus Femoris
Stretching to loosen the hip capsule
External rotation stretch
The other common area which affects your form during the squat is your ankle mobility. With stiff ankles you compromise the stability of your foundation during the squat, and as you lower the body your heels come up and your pelvis tilts forward to compensate for the lack of a solid footing.
By working on the mobility and flexibility of the ankles you’ll allow for a more stable foundation, increasing the amount of weight you can move and the depth you can get in your squat.
Foam rolling can be extremely useful for both recovery and improving flexibility through myofascial release, and can be beneficial when working to increase mobility. You should also be looking to improve ankle dorsiflexion mobility through a variety of static and dynamic stretches.
This video provides a simple routine that can be followed to help improve your ankle mobility
When Should You Start?
If you’re struggling with squat depth, then you need to start taking mobility seriously as soon as possible. It may be a bit of a hit to the ego to drop your weight right down to work on your form, but in the medium term you’ll see tremendous improvements as your mobility and depth increases.
As for the actual time to do the stretches, I’d stick with spending 10-20 minutes before your squat session working through the movements and loosening up the hips and ankles. While it has been shown that performing static stretching before weight training can reduce your strength levels during the workout, the added mobility will enable you to squat with a greater range of motion.
Even though you may need to drop the weight initially, if you’re planning long-term the benefit of better form while be worth the initial ego hit! Better mobility will allow you to go deeper and engage the glutes more, which will allow you to move more weight than before as your strength levels improve.
The sad fact is that the longer you train with a limited range of motion the harder it will be to fix the issues you’re having, so the best time to start implementing these changes is now! Get to work on the stretches and drills, take some weight off the bar and start making the changes you need to start getting a deeper, fuller squat.