Perfect Your Squat
From tight feet to weak thighs, how to fix 5 problems that plague even the fittest athletes.
Squats are one of the best exercises for the lower body (and really the whole body, when you consider the core work involved). But, as with any multi-joint exercise, there are plenty of places things can go awry, says Leandra Haynes, Tier 2 trainer at Equinox Flatiron. “Surprising limitations could start from as low as the feet,” she says. “Tight muscles and lack of joint mobility are prime causes of squat downfall.” Here’s what could be limiting your squat, and how to fix it.
Roll your feet and calves
If it feels like your arches cave in when you squat, the issue could be in your feet or in your ankles. “It can be calf tightness causing the lack of ankle mobility to have a proper dorsiflexion range of motion when lifting,” Haynes says.
The fix: Do some pre-workout foam rolling. “You will be surprised to see the improvement from rolling the balls of your feet and all the way up the calves with a lacrosse ball or golf ball,” she says.
Move in all planes of motion
You’ve probably heard it’s important to keep the knees from caving in, but it’s likely weak abductor (outer thigh and glute) muscles that aren’t pulling their weight.
The fix: If you notice your knees often fall on an inward trajectory, integrating more lateral work (like side lunges and mini-band walks) into your weekly routine may help.
Loosen your hips and ankles
One common reason for a shallow squat is tightness around the hip and ankle joints.
The fix: Traditional stretches can help to lengthen the hip flexors (like low lunges) and calves (like heel drops). But also: “Remember the ankles and hips are supposed to allow for 360 degrees range of motion and not just the flexion and extension motions of walking in the sagittal plane,” Haynes says. She suggests adding ankle and hip circles to your warm-up routine.
Consider a low-bar squat
Your height, or really, your leg length, can impact your squat. Having longer “levers” (in this case, your femurs) can make it more challenging to both move more weight and get as deep a range of motion. “Very simply put, the shorter the femur, the less distance needs to be traveled during a squat to hit depth,” Haynes says.
The fix: One way to improve matters is to change how you load. Consider trying a low-bar back squat, with the bar resting on your shoulder blades (just a couple of inches below where it would be on your scapula for a high-bar squat).
“Some fear falling backward when squatting and lean too far forward,” Haynes says.
The fix: To train your brain for better squats, she recommends starting with box squats (in which you squat back toward a box or bench), then progress to goblet squats—”holding a weight in front of you can counter the feeling of falling backward”—before you back-load. The progression may take a few weeks for the good-form habits to develop (and your brain to get over the bad ones), but it’ll be worth it.