What you need to know:


Lack of mobility is associated with low strength levels as well as higher risk of injuries.

Ankle mobility should be addressed when deep squatting if you want to get stronger and remain injury-free.


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Squatting is recognised as one of the most important movements within the fitness and strength and conditioning community. Whether you want to lose fat, gain muscle, improve your strength, stamina or mobility, it is an exercise we almost all should be able to do (providing you do not suffer from an injury).

Unfortunately, since most of us spend many hours sitting on a chair on a daily basis, our ability to perform this basic movement has become more and more compromised. From a lack of strength to mobility, it is important to address what is limiting your squat depth.

The relationship between mobility and strength when squatting

When attempting to perform a full squat or an “ass to grass” squat, it is crucial to improve your mobility first in order to lift heavier.  Above all, being able to squat heavy greatly depends on someone’s ability to remain stable when performing the squat.

Stability cannot be created if you do not have the necessary mobility to keep your centre of gravity right between your feet. Even though you might be able to do that by rounding your back or taking off your heels from the floor (see pictures below), it is undeniable that these patterns will more likely lead to an increase risk of injury rather than a strength increase.

bad squat

Compensated squat position

The relationship between mobility and risks of injuries

We have all heard stories from people advising you to stay far away from this exercise. From knee pain to back injury, the deep squat is always the exercise to blame!

However, the truth is that most of the time one of the things that holds people back from being injury-free is their level of mobility.

Did you know that low ankle flexibility can be the reason why your knees collapse inward when squatting? Thus increasing the risk of ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) tear.

Of course, no bold statement can be made here as our level of mobility also depends on other intrinsic factors such as  hipbone and femoral head anatomy. (Ever wondered why some people can perform a split more easily than others?).

The relationship between mobility and muscle building

As seen above, a lack of mobility can prevent you from getting stronger but can also prevent you from using your muscles properly. A perfect match for staying weak!

For instance, it has been proven that the less flexible your ankles are, the less likely you will be able to contract your quadriceps muscles properly.

Improve your Ankle mobility to improve your squats

One of the main limiting factors to squatting correctly is your ankle mobility. Indeed, it is important to address it even before your hip mobility if you want to squat properly.

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Notice the angle contrast of the ankle between these 3 positions: In the first two pictures the angles formed by the ankle are higher and do not allow the knees to go forward enough. In these cases you have to compensate your squat position by either taking off your heels from the ground or rounding your back in order to keep your centre of gravity between your feet and not fall back.

However the last position displays a good ankle range of motion allowing you to keep your back straight even in the lowest range of motion.

The test: 10 min bottom squat position
To know if your ankle flexibility is limiting your ability to squat properly, a single test may be used. Stay in a low squat position for 10 min.

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You will need to work on your ankle mobility if you encounter any of the following during this test:

  • Your shins become sore after a couple of minutes.
  • Your toes flare out excessively.
  • The arch of one or both of your feet touches the floor (your ankle collapses inward).
  • You cannot stay in that position for 10 minutes and fall pathetically on the floor.
  • Your heels lift off the ground.

10 minute Ankle mobility exercises to do before squatting.

1. The dynamic mobility exercise (1 min each leg)

stretch

In a controlled manner, perform little circles with your knees, make sure your foot remains flat and stable on the floor. The focus of the exercise should be kept on bringing your knee more and more forward for every circle you do.


2. The active stretch: targeting the soleus
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Front leg bent, front knee in line with toes.

 The idea is to stay in this position for at least 2 min per leg.

 Contract: press your toes strongly against the wall for 10 sec.   Make sure your position hasn’t changed and your heels stay in   contact with the floor.

 Stretch: Stop contracting and drive your front knee even further   forward until you feel a stretch.

 Maintain the stretched position for 30sec.

 Repeat this protocol 3 times in total. Make sure you maintain this   position the whole time. Your goal is simply to drive your knee   more and more forward after each contraction.


3. The active stretch: targeting the gastrocnemius
gastrocnemius stretch.jpg

Back leg straight, back foot flat on the floor.

 The idea is to stay in this position for at least 2 min per leg.

 Contract: Press the toes of your back foot strongly into the ground   to engage your calf muscles. (Your heels should not lift off the   ground).

 Stretch: Stop contracting and drive your hips toward the floor   while keeping your back leg straight.

Maintain the stretched position for 30sec.

Repeat this protocol 3 times in total. Make sure you maintain this position the whole time. Your goal is to simply drive your hips lower and lower after each contraction.

NB: To optimise these stretches, it is important to maintain these positions long enough as calf muscles are probably one of the hardest muscles to stretch and relax. Think about it, you contract your calves every time you do a step. In addition, if you spend most of your time sitting, your calves will have most likely been shortened as a result.

I feel that my ankles  do not allow me to squat properly even after stretching… What should I do?

As master Yoda said: “Patience! You must have my young Padawan!”. Improving your ankle mobility does not happen overnight. Keep stretching and mobilising before every squat session and you will eventually develop a good range of motion.

In the meantime, you can use weights under your heels in order to compensate for your lack of ankle mobility. Therefore allowing you to squat in a safer position. You will be surprised of how much more you will be able to feel your quadriceps!

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Use weights under your heels to compensate from your lack of ankle mobility.

NB: Alternatively you can also use weightlifting shoes to mimic this effect by choosing its height according to your ankle flexibility.

Happy squatting! 


References:

Bell DR, Padua DA, Clark MA. Muscle strength and flexibility characteristics of people displaying excessive medial knee displacement. Arch Phys Med Rehabil. 2008. (link)

Macrum E, Bell DR, Boling M, Lewek M, Padua D.Effect of limiting ankle-dorsiflexion range of motion on lower extremity kinematics and muscle-activation patterns during a squat.J Sport Rehabil. 2012 May;21(2):144-50. Epub 2011 Nov 15.
Narelle Wyndow, Amy De Jong et al. Foot and ankle mobility and the frontal plane projection angle in asymptomatic controls J Foot Ankle Res. 2015; 8(Suppl 2): O43.

1 Comment on “Improve your ankle mobility to squat deeper

  1. Thank you for sharing this and it is very helpful. I’m also doing some workouts with the Probar and I recommend it to any one because it is very big help and please refer to this link: https://www.probarmobility.com

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