In this blog, we will explore some possible physiological and structural restrictions to squat depth and provide some strategies on how to improve.
It can sometimes be confusing to understand why you are struggling to hit depth, and there is no shortage of non-specific generalized information out there on this subject. I have wrestled with this issue for years and am always striving to better myself with more mobility and stability in the squat. In this article, I take a hands-on lifter’s approach to these types of issues whilst looking at things with an anatomical and biomechanical perspective to ensure we understand the whole picture of what’s going on.
It’s very common to run into issues with movement + muscle dysfunction when we don’t take the time to move correctly and frequently. We tend to experience problems with our anterior musculature based on the way we move or lack of movement throughout our day to day lives.
In this day and age, having the ability to move ‘freely’ is a privilege and one you have to work for. Just like all the other aspects of training, becoming mobile does not just happen overnight. Over the last few decades, humans have become complacent and comfortable with being immobile.
As our obesity rates go up, our mobility rate goes down.
As our office hours go up, our mobility abilities decrease.
We are currently living in a world where many people have forgotten what its like to move and move freely. We are spending more and more time at our desk, in the office, on the couch, in the car or on the train and we suffer the mobility consequences.
We are forgetting HOW TO MOVE.
You are probably wondering what this all has to do with squat depth? Well, poor movement is a result of muscle weakness, tightness, overcompensation or dysfunction.
A few common issues that are a result of poor daily movement patterns are:
You cannot undo 8 hours of poor posture habits with 10 mins of foam rolling – this is not a correct approach.
When a muscle is weak, tight, overworking or aggravated you can lose correct function of the muscle and the range of motion. People tend to take a reactionary approach to movement and mobility, meaning they only fix it when they feel something is wrong and do very little preempted work to reduce the possibility of injury or restrictions. If you find yourself saying yes to the examples above; click over and explore the modalities in my article that can help you move better: ‘Mobility’.
BLAME THE PSOAS?
Your Iliopsoas is primarily responsible for hip flexion with other secondary and tertiary roles such as lateral femur rotation, pelvis stabilization and maintaining proper posture when in the supine position.
The take away here is that the Psoas is the key hip flexor that flexes the hip or brings the femur towards the body; in the bottom of the squat, our psoas is in flexion. You may have perceived tightness due to some type of dysfunction but it’s unlikely the psoas is physically stopping you from squatting to depth. The psoas is required to contract and shorten when you squat as we are in hip flexion and relative external rotation and hip abduction, the psoas does not have to lengthen or be stretched, meaning that it’s “tightness” likely does not play a direct physical role in inhibiting your squat depth.
Now it’s more likely that your body is shielding itself from allowing that muscle to reach its end range of motion neurologically due to some type of dysfunction… similarly to how the muscle spindles interact with your central nervous system detecting changes in muscles length or how your Golgi tendon organ interacts with your proprioception system as a sensory receptor organ to detect changes in muscle tension – more than just physiological things at play here. We also have to consider the Length-Tension relationship of the muscle, understanding the muscles strongest position is not fully flexed or in full extension, rather in the middle of the two. In these situations using stretching/foam rolling & deep tissue release may increase the stimulation on the sensory input and allow your body to move into these ranges of motion that the muscle is responsible for in a safe and controlled way. Long term you want to correct the movement dysfunction of reoccurring pattern that’s causing the problem.
Wait, so what can physically inhibit use from squatting? Let’s have a look below!
WHAT IS CAUSING THE PROBLEM?
Well, all 3 of your hamstring muscles (semitendinosus, semimembranosus, and biceps femoris) are biarticulate muscles, meaning they not only extend the hip but also flex the knee. In the bottom of the squat, our hamstrings are lengthened at the hip and shortened at the knee, meaning they are not in a maximal stretch and it’s unlikely they are inhibiting your squat depth.
The Calf muscles?
The ankle joint interacts with the acetabulum femur joint to allow us to perform the full range of motion in the squat. It’s very common for those big posterior calf muscles (Gastrocnemius/soleus) to inhibit dorsiflexion and restrict our ability to flex the foot which from a functional standpoint allows the knee to travel forward over the foot or toes in the squat. This CAN restrict the ability to achieve depth in the squat and you will want to mobilize the ankle and the appropriate muscles to function optimally.
Above we discussed the Iliopsoas and it’s very one dimensional plane of movement, being flex + extend. To further understand what could be limiting the squat depth we need to understand what else is at play due to the anatomical nature of the squat. The femur is interacting with the acetabulum in many different ways making the movement more complex involving flexion, abduction and external rotation. A less common candidate would be the Adductors, more specifically the Adductor Longus, Adductor Brevis, and Adductor Magnus which all draw the femur into the midline of the body. A tight or dysfunctional set of adductors can, in fact, inhibit healthy hip abduction which is necessary for the deep squat. Throwing in a mobility drill to warm up or stretch these prior to squatting is a good idea.
The Internal Rotators?
Carrying on from the above thought process where we touched on varied movement and interactions happening between the femur and hip during the squat; we now need to take a look at the internal rotators. Healthy femur and hip external rotation are needed when performing a healthy squat and if femur external rotation is needed the opposite may have the ability to inhibit that movement if tight or not function properly. The primary internal rotators are going to be Tensor fasciae latae, Gluteus minimus, Anterior fibers of Gluteus medius, Adductor Longus and Adductor Brevis. We tend to see a lot of tightness created in the glute med & min due to nonfunctional banded abduction warm-up techniques; this can lead to causing the opposite of what the athlete is trying to achieve. It’s essential we train the gluteus muscles in a muscle function modality as opposed to simple muscle activation, as these muscles have secondary and tertiary roles than alter the result you think you are getting.
Joint or Capsule Restriction?
Well, we have looked at the key musculature that is responsible for moving the hip through its varies planes of movement, we only have one last thing to consider… Joint restriction. When it comes to the hip joint, the femur and pelvis make contact at the proximal side of the femur bone; this is a ball and socket joint (the femur head into the acetabulum). Although this socket joint has incredible freedom to move with a great deal of potential movement it can become “stuck” when faced with muscle tightness, tension or dysfunction.
The femur head can be drawn or “pulled” laterally or anteriorly when the relative muscle group is tight. Having tight anterior hip musculature can draw the femur head anteriorly into the hip socket making it difficult for the femur to glide and move within that socket during a movement like the squat. When the surrounding structures or soft tissues are tight and dysfunctional the hip joint can also experience large amounts of compression. The hip joint is a Synovial Joint, meaning it contains fluid that acts as a lubricant between the two surfaces of the joint allowing for effective movement; the constant compression can reduce the fluid within the joint which leads to a joint with no space. So how do we fix it? Well, you want to release the surrounding tissues that are causing the compression and restriction to start with. Then you deal with the joint itself, working on movement and range of motion and mobilizing the capsule restoring fluid to the joint.
A great way to create some extra movement within the ball and socket joint is to run some joint distraction drills. By running a firm band around the top of your femur and using the direction of force to oppose where the tightness is. For anterior hip tightness, you could set up bands with a posterior glide, meaning they are pulling your femur backward into the socket as you perform your lunges or squats. See this video for more on Joint Distraction:
Well, if you’ve made it this far – thank you! We have taken a comprehensive look at what is likely to be the culprit in inhibiting movement and depth in the squat. I hope you’ve gained some insight into what is required to squat freely, safely and to depth! With this in mind, I’ve included my top 5 favorites an effective mobility drills to help YOU achieve better squat depth. Enjoy!
MY TOP 5 SQUAT WARM UP DRILLS:
1# Around the world hip dynamic rock:
Putting the hip into external rotation, extension, and abduction
Prescription: 3 sets around the world per leg
2# Frog Static Stretch
Putting the hip into external rotation, abduction.
Prescription: Deep stretch 3 sets of 1 min
3# Adductor Wall Stretch
Putting the hip into Abduction
Prescription: Deep stretch 3 sets of 1 min
4# Banded Joint Distraction
Putting the hip into external rotation, extension, and abduction
Prescription: 2 sets of 1 min per leg (retest to confirm an increased in ROM)
5# Deep Ankle/Gastrocnemius/soleus stretch w/ Kettle Bell Squat
Putting the hip into external rotation, extension, and abduction + putting the Gastrocnemius/soleus into extension.
Video (from 8:18):
Prescription: 1 set of 2 mins
For people that have a chronic lack of mobility, perform this routine 4 x a week.
I hope this blog has been informative and helpful and thanks again for stopping by.
As always, feel free to contact me on @BroganSamuelWilliams or firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions.
blog, Brogan, Featured, powerlifting, squat, Strength-Prescription
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