Squats are arguably the most fundamental movement in your training repertoire. When done correctly, the back squat recruits every muscle of the posterior chain, takes your hips and knees through their full range of motion (ROM), and can be performed by anyone who can sit down in a chair. So whether you are a quarterback or a cross-country skier or Beyoncé or my mother (who recently did her very first set of back squats!), you will benefit from squatting heavy and often. It’s science. Got squats on your docket today? Try these three easy tips to squat deeper, heavier, and with more confidence—right now!
1. Foam-Roll Your Glutes and Quads
I'm a broken record when it comes to foam rolling, but good advice bears repeating: buy a foam roller! Buy it. Use it. Love it. Get one for your mother for Christmas—I know I did! Using a foam roller to mobilize your glutes and quads right before squatting is an easy way to squat better fast. Not only will you notice an immediate improvement in your range of motion, this mobility will later translate to more weight on your bar and bigger PRs. Foam rolling is great for the whole body, but you will see significant squat results just from hitting your glutes and quads, the two major muscle groups driving the squat movement.
Here's how: after your regular warm-up, open up the hips to get into your glutes with your foam roller. By crossing one ankle over the other and sitting into the opened hip, you can better access the tissues of the glutes. Find a yucky Spot and sit in it for up to 30 seconds, then hunt for a new one. Keep your motions controlled and slow, but also relatively light—you don't want to tenderize your tissues right before you demand high force production from them. Spend about 1-2 mins rolling each side, and save your rehab rolling for a rest day.
Then spend some time on your quads. I like to focus especially on the upper portion of the vastus lateralis, as it works overtime during ascension from the bottom of the squat position. Aim for 5-10 slow passes from your hip to just above the knee and back, sitting in any Spots you find. If you come across a particularly nasty one, sink into it and kick your heel to your butt a few times—you should feel it loosen quite a bit. Spend 1-2 mins total on each quad. Do this as part of your pre-squat warm-up to free your muscles from fascial restrictions, and you'll find yourself squatting deeper and easier than ever before.
And remember: the only bad rolling sesh is the one you didn't do!
2. Mobilize Your Ankles
Ankle dorisiflexion is key to a proper deep squat. In order to maintain a neutral spinal position at the bottom of your squat when your hips are below your knees, your ankles need major ROM. If your ankles aren't mobile enough get into a good angle, your body will compensate for their lack of mobility by placing more stress on your knees and low back. No bueno!
Not sure if your ankles need TLC? Try this simple test: stand with the toes of one foot 2-3 inches away from a wall, and see if you can bend your knee to touch the wall—while keeping your heel flat on the ground. If your heel comes off the ground, your ankles need more range of motion.
Taking care of tight calf and shin tissues will help feed slack to the ankle joints. First, stretch your calves (both the gastroc and the soleus - for more info, see my post about Calf Talk). Then, hit both the calves and shins with a foam roller. A few light passes should make a world of difference to your ankles' ability to dorisiflex deeply enough to support you in your squat. If that's not enough, try rolling the bottom of your foot on a golf or lacrosse ball—in addition to improving your ankle mobility, it might just make you cry!
3. Warm Up with a Squat Primer
After you've addressed any soft-tissue tightness, it's time to warm up with some hip-opening movements to prime your body for squatting. After all, you don't just load your bar with 300 lbs. off the bat, right? (Right, Mom?!) Starting with a few reps of bodyweight prisoner squats, banded lateral walks, curtsy lunges, and lateral lunges, will help "wake up" the hip and leg muscles needed for heavier squatting.
For best results, try our Volt Squat Mobility Primer. It cycles you through 12 quick bodyweight or light-weight exercises, most for 6-12 reps, to get your muscles activated and your hips oiled up and ready to squat. You can find our Squat Mobility Primer by accessing the 'Pre-Workout' page on your Volt account and finding 'Primers' in the drop-down page.
After you’ve foam-rolled your quads and glutes, stretched out your calves and ankles, and activated your squatting muscles with some bodyweight reps, you are ready to get under the bar! Try these three tips before squats today—and if you’re not squatting deeper and easier, I’ll eat my foam roller!
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Learn more about Christye and read her other posts | @CoachChristye