In our last post we discussed why squats are so important. This post is to highlight the required flexibility and mobility to accomplish squats safely.
We’re going to look at the major joints involved, how much mobility they each need (depending on body type and shape), and what you can do to improve the mobility in that joint.
First up is the feet/ankle. A lot of people don’t give a lot of thought to the feet, but if you really think about the foot and the fact that it is the only part of the body that is in contact with the ground pretty much all the time then you’ll understand how important that is. The foot is not just a block at the bottom of your leg, it should be strong. It has muscles that need trained the same as anything else. If you have feet problems, orthotics and arch supports are NOT the answer. They are a band-aid to alleviate symptoms, but they don’t fix anything. Buying thicker, cushier shoes is not the answer. You need to go the other direction to force the muscles in the foot to work and strengthen.
Mobility test. If I can keep a foot flat, and push my knee straight forward passed my toes 2-4 inches, that’s pretty good range of motion. But, the foot must maintain some arch off of the floor and NOT flatten out completely. If I draw a straight line from your middle toes to a wall, can you keep your arch up and push your knee in the same direction as that line? If not, there’s an issue.
To increase the mobility in the foot, a simple exercise is simply to do the mobility test repeatedly for stretching. You also need to strengthen them, so do things barefoot and try to “grab” the floor like a monkey would grab a tree branch they’re standing on. Buy more flat, minimalist style of shoes.
Next joint we look at is the hip. A healthy and mobile hip can move in several different directions, planes, and ranges without much issue or pain. An easy test is to sit on something so that your hips and knees are bent at 90 degrees each. Can you sit up tall with good posture, and lift one knee up close to 45 degrees from the starting point? If not, you lack hip flexion which will push your chest down when you squat making you bend over more than you want.
Can you sit in that starting position, lift the knee slightly, and rotate your foot outward at all? Anything close to 45 degrees would be ideal, less than that will do, but if you’re almost unable to do that then there could be issues arise if they haven’t already.
Again, same with the foot/ankle mobility test, this hip mobility test is a great exercise to strengthen yourself into these better ranges of motion.
But where’s the stretching? In my experience, and a lot of research done by people much smarter than myself, doing stretching really has very limited benefit. Typically a flexibility problem is a strength problem. There are usually two muscles that have opposite jobs, like the bicep and tricep. One bends the elbow, the other straightens the elbow. Well, when one of them is really weak the elbow can’t move as much and gets “stiff.” You could stretch the stronger muscle and that might work a little bit, but a better long term solution is to strengthen the weaker muscle.
We incorporate this concept into our training heavily, and can help someone if they have unique issues. You can stretch until the cows come home, but that doesn’t make you stronger or more able to complete a task. It weakens a muscle that is strong, thus making it easier to get injured later on. Stretching isn’t bad, it’s just not the only or maybe not the best answer to someone’s flexibility issues.