Ankle Flexibility and Squat Depth
Just because you can’t hit full squat depth today, doesn’t mean you won’t tomorrow. Progress can be made and is offered to those who persevere in particular muscle release techniques and strengthening exercises. The squat is a complex, multi-joint movement, and if one joint is uncooperative then depth can’t be hit. But you could also spend all your time stretching your glutes when in reality the glutes aren’t what holds you back. Today we will look at the tell tale signs of ankle inflexibility.
Do you cut yourself short of reaching full squat depth for any of these reasons?
Heels raise off the ground
Afraid you will fall backwards
Upper body leans forward too much
Front squat depth is worse than back squat depth, and overhead squat depth worse than front squat
Weight falls forward on overhead squat
All of these are signs of ankle inflexibility. This foundational hinge is essential in aligning the entire body properly. Let’s start from the ground up.
When I refer to ankle flexibility you can visualize the image on the right. The angle from the toes to the heel to the knee is acute.
Ankle flexibility allows the knee to track forward while the heel maintains full contact with the floor. If the flexibility is poor than the heel will come off the ground, putting a lot of stress on our knee, and limiting power output. If the knee does not track forward, then the butt is sent back, and if it is sent too far back then you will eventually fall backward. If the butt is sent back then you may find you can counterbalance by dropping the chest, which jeopardizes our ability to front squat and overhead squat as the chest must stay up to support the barbell. I’ve often heard, “I don’t have the shoulder mobility to overhead squat,” when in reality the issue is with the ankles.
Don’t just make your goal to squat below parallel. That is a good start, but the real endgame is the ability to rest comfortably in the bottom of a squat. We used to do it, all of us. Every toddler I have seen can squat beautifully and has no trouble sitting in a squat for many minutes at a time playing. Some cultures emphasize the squat more in everyday life so that even the elderly can still nail it.
Notice the heels.
A quick fix is weightlifting shoes. These basically allow you to squat with your heels “off” the ground, though still on a raised surface inside the shoe. But even with lifters, inflexibility can get in the way, and you won’t be wearing lifters at the park with your grandkids either.
So if you admit ankle inflexibility, check out this wonderful video walking you through a flexibility test as well as muscle release exercises.