The Facts

  • If one joint is limited it will steal mobility from another.
  • Ankle flexibility can play a huge part in your ability to squat deeply.
  • Soft tissue techniques and passive stretches don't give lasting results fast enough.
  • A mobility drill is only useful if it's integrated into the movement you're trying to improve in the same session.

Ankle Issues, Not Hip Issues

Most people that can't squat deeply will stretch their hips into oblivion. Problem is, their hips are often actually okay to begin with. Their limitation is coming from their ankles.

Your base of support should be one of the first things you check. Just watch how taking away one range of motion can cause a dramatic upstream effect into the entire squat:

There are a million different techniques out there that claim to increase ankle dorsiflexion and I've spent time with a lot of them. The famous "banded distraction" ankle technique and smashing your calves with a foam roller are not the best, and for many people an absolute waste of time. Do this instead:

1 – Movement

This slow Prowler or sled stretch almost looks like you don't know how to push a Prowler... or you're incredibly weak. On closer inspection though, you'll notice that the focus isn't on the pushing but on foot placement and stretching the calf.

To make the magic happen, aim to feel the stretch and engage the front of your shin (tibialis anterior) as if you're trying to pull your toes up towards your shin. Drive the weight forward while maintaining the stretch feeling, then transfer the weight to the other leg.

Any time you lengthen one side (like one calf) think "activate" on the other side (the shin). This will teach the body how to create range of motion through its own strength. You can also play around with the direction of your feet.

2 – Integration

Since we're trying to improve our squat, a drill that resembles the squat is a good idea.

The kickstand squat is a great place to work from because you can focus on getting one side correct at a time. The raised foot is there for assistance so you can start to work your knee further in front of the toe of the planted foot.

3 – Strengthen

Any time you make changes to your own flexibility, pick a good exercise to build volume up and strengthen the new and improved range of motion. It doesn't have to be overly heavy. Control throughout the movement is the main objective. The calf raise is perfect for pairing with dorsi flexion work. If you don't have access to a seated calf raise machine then you can get creative with plates.

Putting It All Together

Rotate through these stations for 20 minutes:

  • 4 slow Prowler stretch lengths
  • 10 kickstand squats, each leg
  • 15 seated calf raises, each leg
  • 10 squats or goblet squats

Take photos before and after to see improvements. Do this as either a warm up or cool down at least twice a week when dorsi flexion is your main goal. Once you start to notice a change in your squat, you'll require less frequency. But it's a good idea to still hit this workout once per week.

If you're coming from a pure powerlifting squat background, then strip your numbers down a bit and get accustomed to your new deeper squat before testing yourself again. Taking the extra time now will mean greater progress long term.

Remember, no matter how strong you are, if you've never been to a certain depth before it'll take time to control it and own it.

Related:  The Top 3 Mobility Exercises for Lifters

Related:  A Powerful New Way to Squat