Squat Form and Flexibility
Squat Form and Flexibility
If you found that you have some limitations in your squat assessment from Part 1, check out this article to improve your flexibility before your squat.
So you’ve finished your assessment and found that you have some limitations in your squat pattern and you want to improve them before moving on to lifting heavy weights. Congratulations, you recognize your deficiencies and are willing to get better! This is more than can be said for most of your peers. Corrective exercises can be tedious, but doing the little things now can lead to big results down the road.
There are tons of exercises that could be considered “corrective” in nature when it comes to improving your squat. Instead of inundating you with many exercises, we’ll turn our attention to five basic corrective exercises that, when applied regularly, will provide the fundamental qualities to regaining perfect squat form. Before doing any of these exercises, begin your session with specific soft tissue work on the lower body, specifically the posterior leg (calf area), hip flexors, and adductors (groin area).
1. Thoracic Extension with Tennis Ball
This is a great exercise I stole from Mike Boyle, an east coast based performance coach and legend in the field. Basically it’s a tool to increase the extension capability of the thoracic spine. The thoracic spine (t-spine) makes up the middle segment of the vertebral column, extending from the base of the neck to the bottom of the rib cage.
Having adequate t-spine mobility allows you to maintain a more erect posture as you descend into the squat, helping you to avoid excessive sheering stresses (think loaded spinal flexion) at the lumbar region. The execution is described below:
Perform 3 reps per segment, working from the thoraco-lumbar junction to the base of the cervical vertebrae.
2. Wall Ankle Mobilization
The way we deal with injury risk in athletics is very reactionary, and nowhere is this more evident than in collegiate athletics. In order to limit the risk for ankle injuries in many athletes, they’re required to wear ankle braces. In addition to this, many athletes choose high top shoes to provide more stability to the ankle. So when we need range of motion at the ankle during many of the complex tasks that we perform in athletics, including a squatting action, where do we get this motion from? Considering the bracing, high top shoes, and the nature of most competitive athletics most can’t get it. So you’re forced to raise their heels (no!) and turn their feet out (ok to an extent – think 11 & 1 on the clock) in order to lower themselves into a loaded squat. So what is an exercise you can do to help restore your range of motion? The wall ankle mobilization, explained below:
Perform 2-3 sets of 8-12 reps per leg, holding for 3-5 seconds with the knee as far past the toes as possible. If there is an asymmetry, perform three times as many sets on the limited side to increase flexibility before you squat.
3. Supine Glute Bridge with Band
The glute bridge is an outstanding low-level exercise for restoring appropriate glute recruitment. Hans Straub has already talked about the benefits of glute strength in this article. Oftentimes, even athletes can lose proper glute function through poor repetitive movement patterns (too much sitting, bad squats with knees caving in and/or incomplete hip extension). Think of the glute bridge as a “reset” button to restore glute function. The exercise is described below:
Start with sets of 8-12 with 3-5 second holds at the top.
4. Core Bridge
We’ve already talked about the necessity for stabilizing the lumbar spine during the squat. The core bridge is a great exercise for improving midsection stability when done correctly which is huge when performing a total body exercise. However, in many settings it is used as a finisher or punishment, and instead of being a great tool for stability, it reinforces poor posture. Make sure you perfect technique before increasing time or progressing to more difficult stabilization exercises. The video below describes the movement:
Start with reps of core bridges. Hold for 10 seconds, rest for 10, and repeat for 3-5 sets. Begin to add time and decrease reps as technical proficiency is achieved.
5. Squat Stretch to Y
This is a great exercise to integrate the stability and mobility demands of the squat in a controlled manner. By working on the squat from the bottom up, it allows us to develop the pattern in the manner in which we originally did as infants. Its execution is described below:
It may be necessary to elevate the heels initially at first (start at 2” and work to ground). You can reach to a box rather than your toes if unable to reach your toes without excessive spinal rounding. And as I stated in the video, if you can’t extend the arms overhead without losing your balance, just keep the hands in contact with the feet until your thoracic mobility improves.
All of these exercises are simply drills to improve your squatting technique and increase flexibility, so once this is achieved, it’s go time. Look for Part 3 of the series where we go over different ways to load the squat.ShareThis
About the Author
Nate Brookreson is in his second year as the Assistant Strength and Condition coach at Eastern Washington University, working primarily with Men & Women’s Basketball, Women’s Soccer, Men & Women’s Track & Field, and Men and Women’s Tennis. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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