If there is one thing we need to know about the human body, it’s that we are all built differently and therefore we all move differently. The human body comes in a wide variety of shapes and sizes. When it comes to the squat movement, many different aspects of the body must be focused on in order to find proper form and mobility. I mention this simply to say that there are countless options for mobility and activation exercises that can be selected based on the athlete’s needs. However, we will stick to five entry level movements that will help athletes of any level increase their squat mobility for a better, more effective squat.
*Disclaimer: If you are unsure about performing any of these exercises, make sure to consult with your physician beforehand. If you feel pain beyond the typical discomfort that you would associate with a usual stretching exercise, back off, modify or discontinue the exercise. You do not want to end up with a hip injury. Especially if you already have a weak back; any major injury could turn serious and even though you can safely undergo robotic assisted anterior hip replacement surgery or similar procedures (worst case scenario!) and heal yourself, better to avoid that route.
The Why: As I stated in the previous exercise, sometimes we must look beyond the hips when diagnosing squat mobility issues. After assessing the ankle, we look at what’s going on above the hips. Another typical area I see issues is in the thoracic, or posterior rib cage area.
Coaching Tips: Place yourself in a crouching position. Place your hand where the back of the neck meets the shoulder blades. From here you will rotate your elbow down towards your opposing hand,
pushing into an uncomfortable stretch, and hold. Then you will rotate the same elbow up towards the ceiling, pushing into an uncomfortable stretch, and hold. Maintain an extended elbow position on the posted arm. Be sure to inhale on your way up, and exhale on your way down. Hold for 5-10 seconds on each end, and complete 5 reps on each side.
The Why: The squat is a compound structured movement. That means that we use the entire body to create the movement. Therefore, when diagnosing squat immobility, we must look beyond just the hips. A lack of mobility of the ankle may be the culprit breaking your squat form short of depth.
Coaching Tips: First off, the exercise should be done in bare feet, socks, or as minimal or footwear as possible. Bring the active leg’s foot (the front foot) away from the wall 2-4 inches. It does not matter what the back leg
is doing, keep the focus on the active leg. Slowly drive the active leg’s knee towards the wall as you will begin to feel a pull in the back of the lower leg. If the knee touches the wall without feeling the pull, or if your heel comes off the ground before your knee touches, simply adjust the foot’s distance to the wall to find the sweet spot. Slowly drive into a slightly uncomfortable position and hold for a designated amount of time. Come back out, relax, and then push back in a little farther each time. A good starting point is 3 rounds, 20 seconds each round.
The Why: This exercise is fundamental in opening the external range of motion of the hip socket. It is also a good stretch for helping in lengthening of the hip flexors. This allows you to better open your hips when performing the squat. Which translates over time to a deeper squat.
Coaching Tips: Act like you’re creating an arrow with your legs pointing away from you. Place the active leg across the front of your body with your knee and toes facing forward. The non-active leg is extended out behind you. Keeping your spine straight with your shoulders and hips square, lean your body in towards the top of your knee.
Lean in until you feel an uncomfortable stretch on the outside of the hip and leg. Hold for 20 seconds and then release. Repeat this for 3 sets on each side. This stretch may also be done from an elevated position such as a bench or plyometrics box.
The Why: This movement is excellent for building squat mobility. It does this through stretching the flexors and adductors of the legs simultaneously. This allows us to push range of motion bilaterally (both legs), which is a better indicator of overall hip mobility for the squat movement.
Coaching Tips: Start out on both your elbows and knees while keeping a straight back from head to tail bone. Make sure your feet are facing away from each other and away from your body. Once this position has
been secured, begin to rock back and forth through range of motion. As you drive back into the squat position, push uncomfortably into the stretch while keeping posture. Hold for 10-20 seconds and then release coming back to the starting position. Repeat this for 5 reps.
The Why: This is a great movement for opening and stretching the flexor muscle group, as well the quadriceps group. Because we find ourselves in a sitting position in both professional and personal aspects of our lives. Tight flexors are one of the most common issues I see amongst athletes in all age and fitness levels. This stretch is the perfect starting point to counter this issue.
Coaching Tips: When attempting this stretch the upper body must maintain a neutral position through the movement. That means shoulders, spine and hips are all in line with each other. Place the back leg that is to be stretched up on a chair or bench behind you. Drop your hips straight down, driving the rear knee in a vertical direction towards the floor while in a modified lunge position. You will feel a stretch in the front of the hip and the quadricep of the rear leg. Push into this position until you feel an uncomfortable stretch. Hold for 20 seconds and then release the stretch. Repeat this 3 times on
About the Author: Eric Sweeney @pbd_fitness has been the owner-operator/head coach of the company Power By Design Fitness at Metroflex Gym Fargo for six years now. He has a degree in Exercise Sicence from NDSU, is a certified speed coach CSAC and a certified nutrition coach PN1. Eric coaches multiple faces of fitness including your and adult athletics, group classes, combat sports, military prep, competition bodybuilding, power/strength, functional movements and general population.