Squat Therapy Part 1 - Mobility
by Grace Lin
The all-powerful air squat. One of the most important fundamental movements in CrossFit. The air squat translates into a myriad of more advanced movements, like the clean, snatch, thruster, pistol, etc. So, having a strong squat foundation is imperative to your fitness journey. If an athlete’s air squat is not mechanically sound, then the other movements that stem from the squat will also suffer. There are two main components that play into a proper squat: mobility and motor control. In part 1 of our squat mobility series, we will talk about mobility in relation to the squat – focusing on the hips and ankles.
Hips: Do you have a hard time keeping your chest up when descending into the bottom of a squat? Do you find that your knees cave in as you descend? If you answered yes to these, then the most likely issue is tight hips, mainly your hip flexor muscles. The hip flexor muscles are located on your anterior side (the front side of your body) and stretch from your knees to your abdomen. These muscles contract when you flex (or bend) your hip, and are relaxed when you’re fully extended with your glutes squeezed. In other words, your glutes and hip flexors are opposite muscles. Opposite muscle groups work together to create body movement. So, when one group is contracted, the other is relaxed.
Many people with office jobs are sitting at desks for most of the day. When we are sitting, the hip flexors are in a constantly contracted state, and so they become shorter resulting in tight hip flexors. To combat this, there are several mobility exercises you can do:
Couch Stretch – Target area: quads and hip flexors. In the couch stretch, start in a kneeling position and bring one foot up against the wall. Then step into a lunge position with the other leg. Bring your torso upright, tighten your abs, and squeeze your glute on the same side as the leg with the foot against the wall – this will stretch your quads. Piece 2 of the couch stretch will focus on the hip flexors. From the same position, step out slightly further with your foot and push your hip to the ground. Again, tighten your abs and contract and relax the glute to get a deeper stretch.
Banded Distraction – Target area: hip flexors. Strap a band to a pole at about mid-thigh. Place one leg in the band and hike it up to your butt cheek. Face the pole and take a big step back with the leg in the band and bring that knee down into a lunge position. There should be tension in the band that is pulling your hip forward toward the pole. From here, similar to piece 2 of the couch stretch, push your hip to the ground, and contract and relax your glute. For added pressure, press down on the band to increase tension against your leg.
Hip Smash on KB – Target area: hip flexors. Choose a heavier kettlebell (don’t worry, you’re not swinging it). Place the crease of your hip on the KB handle so it sits in the hip crease. This should feel like your digging a lacrosse ball into your hip. Find the tight spots and camp out – make sure you hit the inside and outside areas too.
Ankles: Do you turn your feet out as you descend into a squat? Do you sometimes fall backwards when squatting if you don’t dump your chest forward? Do you have trouble keeping your heels on the ground? If you answered yes, then you may have tight ankles. The ankles are often missed when diagnosing squat mobility, but they do play an important role in proper squatting. Any sort of squat requires some degree of ankle flexion in conjunction with hip flexion. Imagine doing a pistol with your shin perpendicular to the ground. It would be pretty much impossible. The degree of flexion in the ankles allows our knees to track over the toes so the hip has room to descend toward the ground.
If you are a female who wears heels on a daily basis, you have a higher chance of falling victim to tight ankles. Wearing heels puts your calves in a constantly contracted state. Tight calves result in tight ankles and decreased ankle flexion. Here are some ankle mobility exercises to combat tight ankles:
Banded Distraction – Target area: calves and Achilles. Strap a band to a pole at ankle height. Place one foot through the band at your ankle. Now face away from the pole and step out with the foot that’s in the band until there is significant tension. From here, bring your knee forward, closing the angle between your shin and the floor, while keeping your knee over or on the outside of your big toe. For increased ankle flexion, you can place a light kettlebell on your quad. This is one of my favorites stretches when prepping for pistols and front squats.
Calf Smash on KB – Target area: calves and Achilles. Take a heavy kettlebell and place one foot on the handle. Start close to the heel of your foot and move your foot side to side, like a windshield wiper. After a few swipes, inch up your calf and repeat. For added pressure, place the other foot on top. And for fire breathers, bring your butt off the ground for even more pressure.
Try out those mobility drills before/after class! We have done all of these drills in class, but if you have any questions, feel free to ask a coach. Remember, mobility is just as important as strength when it comes to fitness. You’ve often heard that you can’t out-train a bad diet; Well, similarly, you can’t out-train bad mobility!
"Fight Gone Bad"
3 rounds of:
60 seconds at each station
wall balls (20/14#)
sumo deadlift high pulls (75/55#)
box jumps (20")
push press (75/55#)
row for calories
rest 1 minute between rounds
A. Every 2 minutes for 16 minutes:
clean + hang clean + front squat + jerk