Squatting properly requires quite a bit of hip, ankle, and shoulder flexibility/mobility. Good balance is also needed.
The squat is an incredibly effective exercise for training your entire lower body and core, but only if it’s done correctly. Many people don’t realise that doing it correctly isn’t necessarily easy.
In fact, many people lack the flexibility to squat properly. They struggle to do a single perfect rep even if they wanted to. This is especially true for people that have been squatting incorrectly for long periods of time. A prime example would be half-repping, this would be a case of reduced flexibility and range of motion, and ingrain poor movement patterns that are hard to change.
Would you like to being able to squat properly and comfortably?
We’re going to look at the mechanics of the squat and how it should look, and how to use hip and ankle flexibility and mobility exercises to overcome common obstacles that prevent people from squatting like they should.
Let’s start with what a good squat actually looks like.
What a Proper Squat Looks Like
The most common squat mistake we see is the partial squat.
This is where people don’t get enough range.
Ironically, the partial squat does have valid uses, but are most relevant to strength training programs and are never used exclusively.
The majority of your squatting should be either of the parallel or full variety.
Here’s what the parallel squat looks like:
As you can see, the legs are reaching (and going a little deeper than) the parallel (to the ground) position, and this requires a fair amount of hip and ankle flexibility to do properly.
Here’s what the full squat looks like:
As you can see, the legs break the parallel plane and the bottom comes to within a few inches of the floor at the bottom of each rep.
This requires significant lower body flexibility to do safely.
Are parallel or full squats better?
In terms of working your legs, the deeper you go, the more effective the squat, so the full squat is technically the best for building lower body strength and size.
That said, it also requires a large amount of lower body flexibility to do correctly. So much so that I generally recommend that people master the parallel squat first and then gradually work their way into the full squat.
If you never get to full squatting, there’s nothing wrong with that.
If your goal is simply to build a strong, muscular lower body, you don’t need to full squat. In fact, I’d say that it probably won’t even get you to your goal faster. Parallel squatting will get the job done just fine.
How to Improve Hip Flexibility and Mobility for Squatting
Lack of hip flexibility is probably the most common problem that prevents people from squatting properly.
The big problem many people run into has to do with hip flexion, which is the technical term for a decrease in the angle between the thigh and pelvis (as your knee rises, hip flexion occurs).
There are several small muscles involved in hip flexion, and if they can’t move through a full range of motion, you are going to have a lot of trouble squatting correctly.
Fortunately, there are several stretching exercises that you can do to improve hip flexibility. Here are my favourites:
Banded Kneeling Hip Flexor Stretch
This is one of the best stretches for releasing hip flexor tightness.
Psoas Quad Stretch
The psoas major is a pelvic muscle that plays a key role in hip flexion. When this muscle is too tight, squatting can be a nightmare.
Here’s a great stretch for releasing the psoas, which looks simple but can be quite uncomfortable if you’re lacking flexibility:
You perform this stretch by assuming the position, and then driving your knee into the ground and leaning forward, getting a good stretch, followed by releasing.
Perform this drive and release pattern for 2-3 minutes for each leg.
Your Weekly Hip Flexibility and Mobility Routine
If you do those stretches as described 3-4 times per week, you should see improvements within a few weeks.
How to Improve Ankle Flexibility and Mobility for Squatting
Ankle flexibility can affect your squat? Yes, it certainly can!
If your heels want to lift off the ground as your descending toward the bottom of the squat, or if you tend to shift the weight forward onto your toes, then your ankles are probably tight.
Loosen them up and you're likely to find that you can drop into the bottom of the squat much easier, with the weight solidly on your heels and your spine in a neutral position.
To improve your ankle flexibility and mobility, stretch the tissues of your feet, ankles, and calves.
Here’s a few different ways you can do this:
Banded Ankle Distraction
Soft Tissue and Trigger Pointing
Your Weekly Ankle Flexibility and Mobility Routine
Complete the ankle routine shown above several times per week (in addition to your hip work), and the improvements should be noticeable within several weeks.
How to Practice Proper Squat Form
As you improve your hip and ankle flexibility and mobility, you’ll find it easier and easier to squat properly.
In order to get the squat form down so perfectly that you don’t even have to think about it, I recommend you do the following squat drill at the end of each of your flexibility and mobility sessions.
It will teach you proper squat form through repetition and also show how much the stretching exercises are helping.
The wall squat is a simple but effective way to assess and improve your squat form. Here’s how it works:
Face the wall about a foot width away, with your feet shoulder width apart and turned slightly out.Fully extend your arms above your head and place your palms against the wall, arms parallel with each other.Push your hips back and lower yourself down into a full squat position (or as low as you can go), with your hands remaining on the wall. Don’t allow your head, knees, or torso to touch the wall.Focus on keeping your knees in line with your toes (pushed out), and your chest up. Keep your spine in a neutral position (no pronounced rounding or arching).If your head, knees, or torso touch the wall, stop at this point, fix your form, and hold the position. Move around a bit to get a good stretch.
The Bottom Line on Improving Flexibility and Mobility for Squatting
Squatting with good form isn’t as easy as it looks.
It requires above average lower body flexibility, good balance, and a fair amount of kinesthetic awareness. It is, in many ways, an acquired skill.
One of the biggest obstacles to acquiring that skill is tight muscles, ligaments, and tendons, which, unfortunately, don’t necessarily get better with more squatting.
That’s why many people should be doing special exercises like those outlined in this article.
So if you’re having trouble with the fundamentals of the squat, like reaching proper depth, keeping the weight on your heels, or preventing your knees from buckling in, start doing this mobility routine and you should see a rapid and dramatic improvement in your squatting.