Deep Squat For Mobility

Todd Sabol, MS, AT

Many times I see people in the gym squatting, trying to reach the proper depth, but as they descend, their heels pop up off the ground... a tell-tale sign of poor ankle mobility. In our everyday lives, many of us tend to develop tight posterior ankle capsules over time. As they get tighter and less mobile, our gait pattern then become less efficient and we don’t transfer our weight entirely through our foot because our toe-off becomes too early, our heel pops off the ground too early and a poor movement cycle ensues. The muscles that act on the posterior ankle include musculature from the superficial and deep compartments of the lower leg. The superficial compartment includes the muscles you always hear about: the medial and lateral heads of the gastrocnemius (upper calf muscle), and the soleus (lower calf muscle) which becomes continuous with the Achilles tendon. The deep compartment includes the tibialis posterior, flexor digitorum longus and flexor hallicus longus, which lay beneath the previous muscles we talked about, and they also act on the foot. The lateral compartment also has musculature that acts on the foot and this includes the fibularis longus, brevis and tertius. This is simply pointing out that many structures play a role in how your foot and ankle work, but today we are only focusing on the posterior aspect of the ankle and lower leg. So how do we work on it?

You can work around poor ankle mobility by wearing “lifters” or putting a plate under your heels, BUT THAT IS NOT ADDRESSING THE ISSUE. There are one thousand ways (not an exact number) to work on your ankle mobility that are active or passive. Today we are focusing on a great, passive way to work on your ankle mobility for the squat, and that is….. to squat! One of the people I have learned a lot from and is a master of mobility is Kelly Starrett. He talks about this quite a bit and is something I have incorporated into my daily routine for many months now. The movement is a deep bodyweight squat, and the kicker is you need to hangout in this position for a total of 10 minutes per day. Whether you can only do it for a minute at a time, 5 minutes at a time or even the full 10, it all depends on what you put into it. I personally have tight adductors and ankles, so I sit in a wide deep squat for the 10 minutes, but if you feel tighter in a different position, do that one! This is a nice intervention because you can move around, see what feels good and make adjustments as you go. People who normally have trouble with their gait, or squat can have problems stemming not only in their ankles, but commonly are struggling with their hips too. If the hips are not firing properly, whether that is from being overworked, too tight or inhibited from a previous injury, that can cause poor movement down the kinetic chain all the way down to the ankle and foot. That is why I like this so much because it works on so many different areas of the body at once.

If you struggle a lot at the beginning like always feeling like you are going to fall backwards, hold onto something in front of you, or load it with a kettlebell or dumbbell. Regardless of what you do, just get into the position and hangout, it will be uncomfortable, but usually when we do things that are, we get better. I challenge you guys to work up to do the full 10 minutes without a weight or holding on to anything, but the important thing to remember is don’t make it an ego thing, if your posture is poor and thoracic spine is rounded a lot while doing it, don’t hold a compromised position for 10 minutes. See what you can do and use it as an opportunity to learn more about your body! There is a reason body squats are a great evaluation tool, because they reveal so much, take the information and use it to your advantage!

I will do this during the day whenever I know that I will have 10 minutes where I won’t be interrupted. Whether that is in the morning while I’m watching the morning news, after my workout and I want to cool down, or even at work when I know I’ll have a 10-minute break of treatments. The biggest key is to squat down and be patient, you may not notice a difference in a day, a week or even a month, (I doubt it will take that long) but it will continue to improve your positioning and your body will thank you later on! Give this a shot for a day and always remember to #HealByMoving.

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