Identifying and addressing squat mobility issues is a huge deal when increasing weight on the bar is your primary concern. In past articles, I have mentioned that the most common “sticking point” that I see for the squat is somewhere around 245-275 lb. Your legs can easily handle more weight, just look at the leg press. But due to mobility/stability problems, most new lifters cannot get through this sticking point without compromising safety. As a result, their hips, knees and back all take an unnecessary beating. In this post, we are going to shine light on the most common squat mobility issues so you can start adding weight to that bar.
Flat Feet/Collapsed Arches
Starting from the bottom, I have to say that of all of the movement problems that athletes have to deal with, this is by far the worst one.
A collapsed arch results when the muscles that support the arch, mainly the tibialis posterior, become weak and atrophy. As a result, an athlete will lose their arch and will have flat feet. Now most people would not think that this is a big deal. THEY ARE WRONG!
Flat feet are a HUGE deal, especially with the squat.
If your foot is flat, it sets off a chain reaction that goes all the way up to the shoulder. First, the ankles get tight and loose mobility, then the inside of the knee experiences pain. From here the problem zig-zags across the body. So if you have a collapsed arch in your left foot, then your left knee will experience pain and then the movement dysfunction will zig-zag to the right hip and left shoulder. Crazy, believe me I know.
So of all the squat mobility issues, fix this one FIRST. You can do all of the ankle mobility work in the world, but if you have a collapsed arch, then it will do you no good.
Moving up the ladder, the ankles are next. Most athletes stretch their ankles like marathon runners. I am not being a critic, I’m glad to see that they are stretching and doing something other than bicep curls. But a more sport specific type of ankle mobility is necessary to address squat mobility issues.
Ankle dorsiflexion, in particular, is what we want to target. Dorsiflexion is a fancy way of describing when you lift your toes up off the ground.
To improve dorsiflexion, you need to stretch your calves and achilles tendon as well as mobilize the tibialis anterior; which is the muscle responsible for dorsiflexion. You could also cheat a little and buy yourself a pair of lifting shoes.
By improving ankle mobility you are one step closer to improving your squat.
Our lifestyles are literally killing us, both in life and in the gym. Sitting down for long periods of time ruins our bodies. We adapt a kyphotic posture and our hips become dysfunctional.
In particular the glutes are the biggest squat mobility issue in the hips. When we sit down for long periods of time the glutes start to become less active. As a result, they get weaker and stiff.
The glutes are the most powerful muscles in the body. So it is of vital importance that you restore proper function and movement to this muscle group if you want to squat big weight.
The first thing to do is to get physical with some soft tissue work, this can be done with a foam roller. But it is best done with either a lacrosse ball or a massage ball. Spend some time on this (at least 5 minutes). This will help loosen up the tissues and reactivate the musculature.
Also, the hip flexors should be stretched as well. There is something called reciprocal inhibition, which inhibits one muscle group when another one is active. This is done to protect joint integrity.
When the hip flexors are active, the glutes become passive. A good deep stretch, like this one from Kelly Starrett should do the trick.
Poor Thoracic Mobility
The last one of the squat mobility issues that we are going to cover is thoracic mobility. Thoracic mobility is a usual culprit of poor shoulder mechanics, but it is also a culprit for a bad rack position in the back squat.
If the thoracic spine is always in a kyphotic position, then when you try to squat low you’re spine will round forward. Unless you have some kind of titanium alloy spinal cord, then this is probably not good.
The spine must remain as close to neutral as possible with some extension in the lumbar spine. This protects the spinal cord and the intra-vertebral discs. When the spine rounds forward you are loosing force from the hips to the bar. The hips are the primary engine for the squat, if force is lost during the exercise through the spinal column, then the spinal erectors try to compensate. As a result, unnecessary pressure is placed on the discs.
Spinal health is vitally important if you want to live a healthy and productive life. Earlier, I mentioned that fixing flat feet is the first of the squat mobility issues that you should fix. I’m still standing with that statement, but I would also like to say thoracic mobility should be fixed second.
Spend some time in extension while lying down with a roller or pvc pipe on the upper back for a couple minutes a day and you will be well on your way to a better spine. Front squats will also add mobility and strength to the thoracic spine, consider adding them to your training program.
This list could go on for several more pages, however, I chose to include only four squat mobility issues for the readers sake. I find that if too many options are presented to the reader, only frustration and confusion are the result.
Are there more problems to address, yes, but these four will cover most of your bases for the time being.
So to recap:
- Focus on fixing flat feet first
- Correct thoracic mobility second
- Ankle mobility should be done as often as possible
- Focus on reactivating the glutes and pacifying the hip flexors
Although you won’t gain the attention of female gym goers with exercises like these, your squat will get much better. If your serious about your training, then this should not even be a second thought. Get mobile and get huge!