The squat is a great exercise for developing your lower body and core strength, given that it is performed correctly. There are various ways of doing it wrong and what people don’t realize is that the movement path of this exercise is not as easy as it looks.
Unless you proactively work on your flexibility and mobility, you likely struggle with tight muscles. Besides that, it can create discomfort and stiffness in your day-to-day activities, and it can adversely affect your range of motion when doing squats.
If you find it difficult to lower down until your thighs are parallel to the ground, or your heels rise when doing a squat, concentrate on lower body stretching and mobility before and after your squats can significantly improve your depth.
For the majority, the main culprits are ankles and hips mobility. Let’s explore mobility drills for you to be able to get into a squat safely and comfortably. We’ll dive into the mechanics of a squat and its correct form and utilize ankles and hips mobility drills for improving squat depth.
What a Proper Squat Form Looks Like
One of the most common mistakes when doing squats is half repping, this means the movement does not have a full range of motion. According to research, you should go down as far as possible, at least bringing your thighs parallel to the floor.
Your squats should be either parallel or full range of motion, otherwise known as “ass to grass” (ATG squats). Here’s how to do a squat correctly:
- Stand tall with feet flat on the floor at shoulder-width with your knees and hips in a neutral position. Your spine is upright with reservation of its natural curves. Brace your core and look straight ahead.
- Inhale as you descend by shifting your butt backward to shift your body weight to your heels and lower until your thigh is at least parallel to the ground or further until your hip joint falls below the knee joint. Your torso remains upright and your feet remain on the ground. Keep your eyes looking forward.
- Exhale as you ascend with the extension of your knees, hips, and ankles until you return to the starting position.
Typically, the deeper you go the more effective the squat will be because of a greater range of motion, which is ideal for strength and hypertrophy. With that said, this requires a high amount of lower-body flexibility, so I highly recommend beginners to master parallel squat first.
There’s nothing wrong with ATG squats either. You can gradually progress onto that as your strength and mobility improve. In fact, you can develop strength and hypertrophy just fine without full squats. Parallel squats will help you to achieve your goals and get the job done.
Squat Warm Up
With correct warm-up involving muscle activation and mobility, combined with light repetitions can increase blood circulation to the working muscles, improve range of motion in hips, ankles, and knees. This will prime you up for the training. Below is a list of what you can do before your session:
- Foam roll for 5 minutes
- Squat sit for 30 seconds
- Walking lunges for 12 reps
- Frog pose for 30 seconds
- Cross hack squats for 10 reps per leg
- Mountain climber stretch for 30 seconds on each leg
Squat Mobility Exercises
The frog pose is a deep stretch that opens up your hips and groin muscles around the pelvic area. This exercise will also target the muscles in your adductors, core, and lower back. This could be a game-changer for your squat depth.
- Begin on all fours with shoulders on top of your wrists and hips on top of your knees.
- Slowly widen out the knees, keeping your knees bent and big toe on the floor. You should feel this stretch on your groin and hips.
- Rest on your forearms with elbows underneath your shoulders.
- Sit back and breathe deeply, focusing on relaxation for 30 seconds. You can also rock back and forth under control for additional 10 reps for additional stretching.
Kneeling Hip Flexor Stretch
This is a great stretch that helps with the mobility in front of your pelvis. It is a beginner-friendly stretch that alleviates pain and tightness in the hip flexors, knees, and psoas muscles. Be sure to rest your knees on a soft surface such as a yoga mat or carpet.
- Kneel on a soft surface with your right knee forward and the right foot flat in front of you. Your left knee is on the floor. Keep your hips squared facing forward and your torso upright.
- Place both hands on your top left thigh and shift your body weight forward until you feel the stretch on your left hip flexors.
- Hold this position for 30 seconds, followed by repeating on the opposite leg.
Psoas Quadricep Stretch
This stretch will allow unrestricted, pain-free movement of the hip and upper leg. It targets the quadriceps, hip flexors, iliacus and the psoas muscles, which are responsible for hip flexion.
- Start in a lunge position in front of a wall with your left leg forward and your right knee on the ground with your shin and ankle against to wall. Use a a soft padding underneath your left knee.
- Place both hands on your left thighs and lean forward until you feel a stretch in your hip flexors and quadricep.
- Hold this position for 30 seconds followed by switching sides.
The 90/90 stretch is similar to the pigeon pose as it externally rotates your hips. This is great for improving your hip and glute mobility. During this dynamic movement, you will rotate one hip internally and the other hip externally, which allows your legs and pelvis to manouvre more easily.
- Sit on the floor with your right leg in front of your body and your knee bent at 90 degrees and your hip rotated out.
- Do the same with the other leg behind with your hip rotated inward. Both legs are approximately 90 degrees. Keep your torso upright and ankle neutral.
- Hold this stretch for 30 seconds followed by switching sides.
- Repeat this for 2 reps.
Goblet Squat Dorsiflexion Stretch
The goblet squat dorsiflexion stretch will improve your ankle mobility, knee flexion, hip flexion, and hip rotation. It is important that you breathe into this stretch and get comfortable in this position.
- Stand tall with legs shoulder-width apart and feet pointing slightly outwards.
- Slowly lower down into a squat as low as you can while keeping your feet flat on the ground. Leep your torso straight and stable.
- Hold this position for 30-60 seconds. You can hold on to a weight at the centre of your chest to deepen the stretch.
This is a dynamic exercise that will help with your depth in getting lower when squatting. It will release tightness from your calf muscles and ankles that may have shortened over time.
- Begin in a kneeling position with your right leg forward and left leg back with the left knee on the floor.
- Place your hands on your right thigh and lean your body forward to transfer your bodweight to your right foot. Flex your ankle so the knee goes past your toes. Hold this position for three seconds.
- Lean back to the starting position.
- Repeat this rocking motion for 10 reps.
Wall Calf Stretch
The wall calf stretch is a low-impact drill that can increase the range of motion to the ankle and reduce the risk of injuries when walking, running, or squatting. This will stretch your gastrocnemius and soleus.
- Stand facing a wall with your hands placed on the wall at around eye level. Step your right leg forward and your left leg back, keeping your toes facing forward.
- Bend your right knee and gently bring your hip and chest towards the wall. Press through your right heel until you feel a stretch in the calf on your rear leg.
- Hold this stretch for 30 seconds.
- Repeat on the opposite side.
The Takeaways on Improving Flexibility and Mobility For Squat
Squatting with good form is not as simple as it seems. It requires lower body flexibility that is greater than average. It’s for this reason that you should regularly train your squat mobility. The only way to make strong progress in your legs without injury is to get rid of tightness in the muscles, ligaments, and tendons of the lower body
This is why you should practice these exercise drills in order to achieve proper squat form. If you find it hard to squat properly with enough depth while keeping your body weight on your heels, or you find it hard to keep your knees from caving in, start doing this mobility routine twice a week.
If you are looking for a step-by-step plan to rapidly improve your strength, health and transform your physique over the upcoming months, check out our calisthenics programs. They offer you a personalized plan to become happier with your body while learning cool, new fitness skills.
I’m Pat Chadwick, a qualified Level 2 and Level 3 calisthenics coach and athlete from London, England, with six years of experience. I’ve competed in various UK competitions, including the Kalos Stenos Championships, where I achieved third place in the lightweight category. My passion is highlighting the beauty of calisthenics as an authentic and pure form of body expression. I believe that everyone has the potential to become a champion of their body and mind, and that calisthenics opens the door to personal empowerment.