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How to Improve Flexibility and Mobility for Squatting

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How to Improve Flexibility and Mobility for Squatting

Squatting properly isn’t as easy as it looks. It requires good balance, and quite a bit of hip, ankle, and shoulder flexibility and mobility.

 

The squat is an incredibly effective exercise for training your entire lower body and core, but only if it’s done correctly. Half-squats don’t count.

And while it’s common for gymgoers to sneer at others that squat incorrectly, what they don’t realize is many people simply lack the flexibility to squat properly. They couldn’t perform a proper rep even if they wanted to.

The fact is learning proper form for the squat is tough regardless of your current condition, and the longer someone has been half-repping, the harder it will be for them to correct their form. (Repeatedly training a muscle with a limited range of motion reduces flexibility.)

Well, in this article, we’re going to talk about what a proper squat looks like, and how we can use hip and ankle flexibility and mobility exercises to help us improve our squatting.

(In case you’re wondering about shoulders, they got their own post! Check out how to improve shoulder flexibility and mobility.)

What a Proper Squat Looks Like

There are two “acceptable” forms of squatting if you want to get the most out of the exercise:

  • The parallel squat.
  • The full squat.

Anything else is just cheating. (If you’re not too familiar with the squat, or are afraid that doing either the parallel or full squats will lead to a knee injury, I recommend you read my article on squatting and your knees.)

Here’s what the parallel squat looks like:

As you can see, his legs are reaching (and going a little deeper than) the parallel (to the ground) position.

This is the parallel squat, and it requires a fair amount of hip and ankle flexibility to do properly.

Here’s what the full squat looks like:

Here, the legs break the parallel plane and the lifter’s butt comes to within a few inches of the floor at the bottom of each rep.

This is the full squat, and it requires significant hip and ankle flexibility to do properly.

Now, before we move on to the flexibility and mobility stuff, I want to quick address a question that many will wonder:

Which of the two squats are best?

Well, in terms of working the muscles, the deeper you go, the more effective the squat. So the short answer is that the full squat is the ultimate lower body exercise.

That said, the full squat is significantly harder to perform than the parallel squat simply due to the amount of flexibility it requires. While everyone can benefit from including the full squat in their routine, I would first recommend that you really master the parallel squat, and then gradually work your way into the full squat.

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. This is a matter of hip flexion.

What’s that?

Well, hip flexion is simply the technical term for a decrease in the angle between the thigh and pelvis. As your knee rises, hip flexion occurs:

hip flexion

There are several muscles involved in this action, and if they lack enough flexibility, you will not be able to squat correctly.

Fortunately, there are simple stretching exercises that you can do to improve hip flexibility and mobility and thus eliminate the problem. Here are my favorites:

Kneeling Hip Flexor Stretch

This is one of the best stretches for improving hip flexibility:

Work on this for 2-3 minutes per leg, and then move on to the next stretch below.

Psoas Quad Stretch

The psoas major is a pelvic muscle that plays a key role in hip flexion. Here’s what it looks like:

Psoas_major_muscle11

 

When this muscle is too tight, squatting properly is basically impossible. I ran into this problem years ago when I finally fixed my squat form, and I had to do a lot of psoas stretching in addition to regular squatting to finally handle it.

One of the stretches that helped is a simple psoas quad stretch. Here’s how to do it:

It looks simple, but it 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

Do the above stretches as described 3-4 times per week.

How to Improve Ankle Flexibility and Mobility for Squatting

Ankle tightness can prevent you from being able to properly drop into the bottom of a squat, with the weight solidly on your heels, your chest up, and spine in a neutral position.

If your heels want to lift off the ground when you’re squatting, or if you tend to shift the weight forward onto your toes and have trouble dropping your butt down to the parallel position or lower, then ankle tightness is likely the problem.

To improve your ankle flexibility and mobility, you can mash up and stretch the tissues of your feet, ankles, and calves. Here’s a great video from MobilityWOD showing how to do it properly:

As you can see, you’ll need a lacrosse ball for this (size 1 or 2), which can be used to perform quite a few great mobility exercises (if you want to know more about this, I recommend you pick up a copy of Becoming a Supple Leopard).
lacrosse ball

 

Your Weekly Ankle Flexibility and Mobility Routine

Do the above routine 3-4 times per week, either before or after your hip work.

How to Drill In 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 not only teach you proper form through repetition, but show you how much the stretching exercises are helping.

Wall Squat

The wall squat is a great squat form drill. It’s very simple, but can be quite a challenge to do properly:

  • 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 (don’t over-arch nor round it).
  • 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.

Here’s a video on the wall squat (in this video she does them with her toes touching the wall and hands at her sides, which is a more difficult variation):

If you start doing a weekly flexibility and mobility for your squatting, you should see a rapid and dramatic improvement in your workouts.

What do you think about this flexibility and mobility routine? Have anything else to add? Let me know in the comments below!

 

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81 Comments
  • Kate

    I’m super excited to try these! I didn’t realize I was just above parallel until my husband videotaped me. Seemed as hard as I tried I couldn’t go any lower and when I tried it hurt pretty badly. Very frustrating. Looking forward to increasing flexibility and finally getting a** to grass :)

    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks Kate! Let me know how it goes!

  • James

    I sometimes find it very difficult to go down as far as the guy doing the full squat. However, I see that in both videos they are wearing weightlifting shoes which makes the back of their feet higher off the ground. I sometimes use some small weight plates underneath my heels to achieve the same effect but remember asking mike about this before although he did not recommend it. But is there a major difference between using shoes or small plates?

    • Michael Matthews

      Proper shoes definitely help. You want your feet flat on the ground. The only reason to raise your heels would be if you lack the flexibility to squat properly with your feet flat on the ground. But it’s better to correct the flexibility issue.

  • rayray

    Really great article. It has a great range of exercises helping to mobilising for a technically better squat :)

    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks! Glad you liked it!

  • Shanna Reinhardt

    Would it be more effective to do full squat or paralell squat when you can only have about half the weight for a full?

    • Michael Matthews

      I actually like to do both in my workouts. You can start with full squats, and then do parallel squats, followed by 1-2 more exercises.

  • Gilberto Gil

    OMG it is like you read my mind…which by the way is blown. I have been struggling/looking to improve my form on squats. This was a tremendously helpful and valuable.

    • Gilberto Gil

      PS tried the hip flexor stretch and it is MONEY!!!

      • Michael Matthews

        Nice!

    • Michael Matthews

      Haha thanks Gilberto. This should definitely help. Let me know how it goes!

      • Gilberto Gil

        Noticing a lot of improvement with my range. Getting to parallel is a lot easier now. w00t w00t.

        • Michael Matthews

          Awesome! Keep it up!

  • António Alves

    This definitely comes in handy, since I feel I really need to improve the flexibility of my legs!
    By the way, I noticed this guy wasn’t using any clamps when he was squatting. One of the gyms I used to go they didn’t even have a squat rack ( only a smith machine), but for the bench press, they always used clamps. In my new gym, I have only seen people use clamps when performing bicep curls. I would like to use them more often, but I just hate those “spring” clamps if that’s what they’re called. Its horrible to take em’ out! Nevertheless, I have been doing my lifts without clamps, I haven’t hurt myself and neither has anyone else, but what do you think of this? Should clamps always be used?
    Thanks!

    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks!

      I like to use clamps on my squats and curls. Never had an issue of losing balance but might as well I guess. You don’t have to use them if you don’t want to though.

  • Bad Z

    Great article, I don’t suppose you could do one for lunges too?

    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks! It would be the same really.

  • Derrek

    This is just a suggestion but it would really be nice to have videos of the exercises with proper form. It is easier if I can see someone doing it. Thanks.

    • Michael Matthews

      There are videos embedded in the article…

    • Derrek

      I appreciate that. Thanks. I’m just talking more in regards to the exercises in your program. Like the Romanian deadlift, and some others that you don’t go over the form in detail. Its just a suggestion. Thanks and have a great rest of your day!

      • Michael Matthews

        YW! Oh okay. Did you download the bonus report? There are links to videos for each exercise in the program. Hope this helps!

  • Derrek

    Does it cost anything and if not, how do I access it?

    • Michael Matthews

      Sorry?

  • Derrek

    For the bonus reports and how to download them.

    • Michael Matthews

      There are links in the back of each book.

  • Tom

    Do an article on running faster

    • Michael Matthews

      Not a bad idea. :)

  • Ahmed

    You should write a book on streching/flexibility!!!!!

    • Michael Matthews

      I really like this one! Hard to do better:

      https://www.muscleforlife.com /recommendations/books-recommendations/becoming-a-supple-leopard-by-kelly-starrett/

  • Josey

    Great article, Mike! I think the majority of us forget to stretch anyway! :P

    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks Josey! Yeah I know, haha. I’ve been guilty of that!

  • Eirik

    Wow! Great article! I am a third year physio student trying to teach fellow students how to do proper squats and this just gave me a completely new and great perspective! You have a new follower!

    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks Eirik! I really appreciate it!

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  • Kirstie

    Hi, is it better to squat with less weight fuller range of movement or heavy weight /smaller range of movement? I have been squatting with about 30 kg but watching this not sure I’m going low enough? Also is 40kg a reasonable weight for a 5ft 1 female? I’m not sure what I should be aiming for

    • Michael Matthews

      You want to make sure you reach parallel at least, so if you need to drop weight, that’s totally fine. Yeah, 40 kg is great!

  • chris w

    Hey Mike,do you sell your nutrition supplements in thenUK?
    Chris w

    • Michael Matthews

      Yup we ship to the UK!

  • chris w

    Hey mike do you sell your supplements in the Uk?

  • brolol

    you seem to completely ignore the fact that the antagonist to hip flexion are the hip extensors and tightness of these are the limiting factor when it comes to deep squat ROM limitations.

    • Michael Matthews

      The hip extensors consist of the glutes and hamstrings, which are adequately stretched in the flexor stretch.

  • Dave

    Do you recommend any exercises to help the muscles activate while squatting, especially the glutes?

    • Michael Matthews

      Not really. If you’re squatting with proper form you can’t help but involve your hams and glutes…

      • obhealth.com

        try hip clams with a thera band above the knees done on your side separating knees in steady motion or and even band above knees and light squatting keeping knees over toes- both with aid in training glute med thus add to hip stability in squatting.

        • Michael Matthews

          Good tip!

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  • halevi

    Thanks Mike. I’m having terrible problems with hip flexibility that I didn’t have when I originally read this article. I keep inventing new stretches in a desperate attempt to stretch out my hips, but nothing works well enough. I’ll try out these exercises.

    • Michael Matthews

      Definitely try these. I think they will help.

  • Trace

    Hey Mike, I’ve been lifting for over a year and was pretty happy with my increasing squat weight and range. I follow your articles and they have helped me so much. I’ve recently returned to the workforce full time which now requires a majority of my working day sitting at a computer… Disappointed in myself for not realising that my posture and the prolonged sitting would affect my weight training – especially in my lower back… I’ve since researched ways to help protect my lower back from possible injury (pinched nerves etc) but it wasn’t an easy task… What I’m getting to is that this would be a major problem for a lot of people wanting to do weights but are afraid to hurt themselves because they have immobile jobs- yes we get instructed to maintain good posture and usually neck and wrist stretches – but no one really knows of the why or other helpful exercises to concentrate on, even days prior to ‘leg day’…. Hoping that you may have an article tucked away in there for the typical office worker?

    • Michael Matthews

      Awesome! I’m glad to hear it.

      I totally agree. I’m actually careful to keep proper posture all day while I work and I stand up and stretch my legs and hips every 30 minutes or so.

      Would make a good article. On the list it goes. :)

  • ls

    Hi Mike, I’ve been training for many years. I like the muscular endurance workouts. I am now pregnant. Is it Ok for me to still do Squats? I noticed I had to drop my weight to half of what I used to do. I’m careful with my stretching and I’m a big fan of the foam roller. I love weight training and I really would like to keep it up. Is it safe for me to do it?

    • Michael Matthews

      Cool! Congrats on the pregnancy! Yes you can still squat, but I do recommend you find a trainer that specializes in training pregnant women. He’ll/she’ll be able to keep you working out all the way through your final trimester.

  • Joel

    I was looking for an “I Want This” button under Sarah Grace.

    • Michael Matthews

      Hahah

  • Andrew

    Hey Mike, I’m noticing that at the bottom of my squats and even when dropping into deadlift starting position, my pelvis rotates inwards towards my stomach, creating a lot of stress on my lower back (specifically on the right side). Are there any specific stretches I need to look into performing?

    Thanks!

  • Giorgio

    Great article! Just one question. I squat three times per week, and wanted to know when would be the best time to do this mobility/flexibility routine in relation to my work outs. Should I do them right before I work out? On off days? After a work out? Any help is appreciated!

    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks! Good question. I would do them after workouts personally.

      • Giorgio

        Thanks for the quick response. I also appreciate your shoulder flexibility/mobility article as well!

        • Michael Matthews

          YW and great! :)

  • Alan

    Hi Mike
    In a couple of the videos demonstrating the parallel squat the guy shown is doing pretty impressive squats with his head looking down. Is head position important?
    Regards
    Alan

    • Michael Matthews

      Lot of opinions here but a neutral position seems to be most commonly recommended.

  • saveourskills

    Just noting that in first 2 videos these guys step outside the safety bars… weird

    • Michael Matthews

      True :)

  • Dan

    Thanks very much for all your articles on proper squat form, I’m really trying to perfect this exercise with the aim being to do perfect full squats eventually.

    I’m planning on doing this flexibility routine at home, separate from workouts (although perhaps before squatiing), and was wondering if a short warmup should be done before the stretches, and if so what would you recommend? jumping jacks perhaps?

    Also, I did the routine for the first time just now and when doing the wall squat, i can go to parallel with my arms by my sides but when i have my arms raised my hips feel tight just above parallel and i feel myself falling backwards if I try to push further, any thoughts?

    • Michael Matthews

      Thank you!

      Yeah something to bring some blood in and raise body temp would be fine.

      It sounds like you just need to work on the position and flexibility. That’s a good sign. Easy to fix.

      • Dan

        Thanks very much for replying, I’m doing the routine every couple of days now.

        I’ve only been squatting correctly (to parallel) for a couple months now, doing 3 sets of 6 with 70kg after my warmupsets. Would you recommend sticking at this weight and gradually squatting lower – if my aim is to do full squats – or would it be better to stick to parallel, or just below, and increase the weight for a bit longer?

        cheers.

        • Michael Matthews

          Personally I don’t ATG because it requires a LOT of mobility and I don’t really see a reason to. You can make great gains with a parallel or slightly lower than parallel squat.

          • Dan

            Hi Mike,

            Thanks again for your reply, I’ll stick at slightly below parrallel and see how I get on. Today I again went with 70kg with the aim to squat slightly lower than parallel, doing 3 sets (as per the Bigger leaner stronger workout) at 7,5,4. While I could do the reps nicely below parallel and could move up weight on the first set next week, I noticed a bit of an issue.

            On pushing up, I noticed in the mirror that my hips slide slightly to the right, I thought perhaps this is due to the left hand side being slightly weaker? I’m a bit hesistent to up the weight next week if this is something I need to work on and resolve at a lower weight first.

            I was hoping you could give me some advice.

          • Michael Matthews

            I’ve had this happen before and it was usually because I simply wasn’t paying enough attention to keep everything stable–I was just blasting up as hard as I could, haha.

          • Dan

            haha well hopefully it’s just a concentration thing, making sure i’m doing everything right. Cheers.

          • Michael Matthews

            Cool LMK :)

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  • Stuart

    wow that wall squat is magic. it took me 6 months to figure out the squat by myself, and this drill forces a quality squat instantly. thank you for writing this article.

    • Michael Matthews

      Thanks Stuart! It’s definitely a great drill that everyone should do.

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