The squat: Which stretches will quickly improve my squat?
By Jasper Remmerswaal
Can’t do a deep squat? You should. In this article I will give you 3 quick tips on how to improve your squat. I found that these stretches work incredibly good for people who are learning to squat, but don’t have adequate mobility yet.
What is a deep squat?
First let me define the deep squat: The deep squat is the deepest squat you can achieve with your individual anthropometry, and yes, this differs a lot per person. For some people this will be just an inch below parallel, while other people can literally sit their ass on the ground.
Performing a (deep) squat is hard for a lot of people who just start squatting. The issues are often (well actually, most of the time) related to technique, but in this article, this won’t be the focus. Let’s assume your technique is decent, but you still can’t manage to break parallel on your squat. What should you work on?
The problems people run into while squatting, can roughly be categorized into two different mobility problems: problems in the hip region and problems in the ankle region. I will give you a few quick stretches which you can use to improve problems in these regions. If you don’t know where your problems lie: just do all of them. Most people who have mobility problems should just do all the stretches. However, if you really want to specifically assess yourself or you want to know how to asses people that you train: at the end of this article I will give a few ways in which you can assess mobility. Sidenote: there are 10.000 technical cues and stretches to improve the squat. This list will just give you the stretches that I think you should do if you would be forced to just pick a few. If there are anatomical terms in this article that you don’t understand, don’t stress. The important thing is to know which stretches can help you and not whether you understand their anatomical functions completely.
The (ilio)psoas muscle is often shortened because of our sedentary lifestyle. The psoas is responsible for hip flexion, amongst other things. A shortened psoas has numerous consequences, about which I could write an entire article. I will leave that for another day and just state that when you are not flexible in this region, your squat might suffer from it.
The arrow shows in which way you should direct the force in the stretch. You really want to push your hips forward and sort of down. I always put my hands on my ass and push my hips into the direction of the arrow to get more of a stretch. Stretching this region is probably the most important of all the mobility work you do. The body of evidence on how long you should stress is not conclusive. My suggestion is to do it as much as you need it. If you don’t notice improvements, do it some more. I take at least 30 seconds per stretch (but for example the straddle can be done for 20 minutes while watching tv), but that doesn’t mean that stretching for 20 seconds doesn’t do anything. A general rule is more stretching → more flexibility
The straddle position stretches the adductor muscles. These muscle lie on the inside of your leg. The function of these muscles? Adduction of the leg! This stretch will help you when you experience trouble pushing the knees out in the squat. As an added bonus, you can pull your toes towards you, stretching the calf muscles too. Advice: build this stretch up gradually. I actually ripped a tendon when I wanted to show someone this stretch. Ripping a tendon hurts. Really bad. On top of that, you can imagine that physical therapy gets awkward real fast when you ripped a tendon situated 3 cm next to your junk! Better have a smokin’ hot therapist then.
3. The squat stretch
The third stretch is a stretch which I just refer to as the ‘squat stretch’. You basically sit in the desired position, and use a power rack (or anything else) to keep you balanced. Try to achieve a perfect position while doing this. Don’t go deep for the sake of going deep. Try to keep a nice flat back, like in the picture to the left. The picture below should only be used as a resting position and nothing more than that. You can also do this stretch a little more dynamically, bouncing up and down a bit, as opposed to the first two stretches, which are more static.
4. Ankle dorsiflexion stretch
The last stretch is an ankle stretch and I must say that it is brutally effective. This has literally made people able to squat deeply within a matter of a few minutes. If ankle mobility is a big issue, this works like an absolute charm. The downside: it hurts a bit.
Load a bar with some weight, deadlift it, slowly go into the squat and put it on the end of your thighs. Now just sit in it for two minutes. After these two minutes, you will probably already be able to squat deeper. Doing this on the regular will ensure that the gained mobility will stick
Quick bonus: assessing mobility (on yourself or clients)
Be aware of the fact that there are multiples ways of assessing mobility in different muscles. If you have always done this in another way, that’s perfectly fine. Also realise that the stretches themselves also functions as an assessment. If you can’t do a stretch nearly as good as other people, those target muscles are obviously tightened. So, without further ado:
Functional assessment of the iliopsoas muscle can be done through the Thomas test. In this test you simply lie on a table, flat on your back. You then pull the knee towards the chest and check whether your lumbar spine (so the lower back) and your straight leg are still in contact with the ground. You will need someone else to place their hands under your spine and hamstring to check whether change occurs. When the body needs to compensate (so there is room between the table and the body), your psoas could very well be in a shortened state. However, if people walk around with a shortened psoas, this can be easily seen from their posture. There will probably be a whole different article on this later.
Again, you need someone else for this. Lie straight on your back and point the toes upwards. When testing the left leg, the person testing you should fixate your pelvis on the right, at the S.I.A.S (Google is your friend, the SIAS is easy to spot). The guy in the picture does not do this, but you should. The testers start turning the leg outwards. What he must look for is movement in the pelvis (look at the S.I.A.S) on the side of the leg that is tested. When movement in this point occurs, it means that the pelvis has moved. The body has compensated for limited range of motion in the adductors. If people can’t get to 45 degrees of range of motion, then that is generally considered to be tight.
Ankle dorsalflexion assessment
Stand with your feet against the wall (quiet corner time). Take a small step back with the leg that you want to test. Half a feet (so your own feet) distance is about right. Put a dot on the floor so you can compare both ankles with each other. Then take a big step back with the other leg. You’ll end up in the position shown in the picture.
You ankle dorsiflexion should at least be good enough to allow your knee to hit the wall. Repeat this process with the other leg to see if there a differences between both ankles.
I hope this article has provided you with some quick and easy to use tools. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to contact me!