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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

 

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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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admin I’m Mike Matthews and I’ve been training for nearly a decade now. I believe that every person can achieve the body of his or her dreams, and I work hard to give everyone that chance by providing workable, proven advice grounded in science, not a desire to sell phony magazines, workout products, or supplements. More about me.

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50 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:

      http://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…

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