5 Tips To Improve Your Squat Depth
Squatting with a good depth requires a good balance and hip/ankle flexibility and mobility.
So why is proper squat form difficult for so many people?
The simple answer is that many men and women have muscle imbalances, movement inefficiencies, or flexibility issues that inhibit proper squat depth to maximize strength and minimize injury. Those with poor hip flexibility tend to struggle with getting the depth in their squats which means that the muscle groups don't work efficiently and you won't get the best results. This poor range of movement often comes from tightness of the muscles within the hip flex, tightness in the calves, and all over body strength, which can be easily fixed with stretches, and specific exercises to maximise your mobility.
Below are 5 of the most common issues that inhibit squat depth, an exercise test to determine if you need work on a given area, and possible solutions to rectify these issues. In time, hopefully you will learn how to increase squat depth, and get those muscles firing correctly.
Problem 1- Core muscles are aren't activating correctly
If the muscles in your abdomen aren’t stimulated, then you don’t have a strong support system to get enough depth, and may in time cause injuries which can be hard to fix.
Even if you do a lot of crunches, that doesn’t mean the deep core muscles are engaging correctly, it simply means that your outer abdominal muscles may be well developed. The outer abs muscles are made of different muscle fibers that fatigue fast under a load, which means they are useful for explosive movements, like throwing, or jumping. However you’re going to hold a weight on your back for a longer period of time, the deeper core musculature must be firing correctly to keep you upright and sturdy.
The Test: Hold a plank for as long as you can with good form. Note where you first feel pressure. If it’s in your lower back as opposed to your abs, then more than likely, your deep core muscles aren't firing correctly.
Possible Solution: Pall-off press & Single Leg Lowering. Both of these exercises “wake up” your deep core musculature.
Problem 2: Tight Calves
Often people neglect small muscles such as the calves, and often it’s the small muscles in your calf that will inhibit you from dropping to a proper depth and will make you unstable.
The Test: Put an empty bar on your back and see how far you can squat. Then place one plate under your each foot. If you can go down further this second time around then your calves are limiting your depth.
Possible Solution: Foam rolling for calves and calf stretching.
Problem 3: Tight Hip Flexors
Due to either lots of sitting or not moving for excessively long periods of time, our hip flexors can become tight. Hip flexors are the muscles right above the front of your thighs and on the side of your groin that when tight will inhibit other muscles from firing correctly and from achieving proper squat depth.
The Test: Stand in front of a squat rack or pole. Grab the pole at about waist height and perform a squat, going as low as you can go. This should help stabilize your core. If you can’t or if you can’t move out of the bottom position then your issue is probably tight or inactive hip flexors. Alignments which possibly show tight hip flexors are round of the back and the torso with begin to lean forward during the squat.
Possible Solution: Hip flexor stretches like crescent lunge
Problem 4: Upper Back Tightness
You upper back (thoracic spine) can lose its flexibility due to improper posture, lots of sitting, or a focus on chest exercises, which forces chest muscles to tighten and upper back muscles to weaken.
The Test: Perform a squat with no weight and your hands in front of your chest. See how low you go and when or if your back rounds at the bottom. Now perform the same movement, except this time bring your hands overhead, interlock your thumbs and mark how low you can go and when or if your back rounds. If your back rounds at a higher position or you can’t go as low without feeling like you’re going to lose your balance, then your thoracic spine extensibility is most likely the cause.
Possible Solution: Foam rolling, and chest stretches
Problem 5: Glute Medius & Minimus Not “Firing”
Your glute medius and minimus, help maintain balance when standing on one foot. They are the muscles that fire as we walk so we don’t cave in and fall over. There are two main causes of improper firing of the glute medius/minimus; one is that your adductors are tight (your inner thighs) and the other is that those muscles are weak
The Test: Perform 10 bodyweight squats. Look at where your knees are going. Are they slightly caving in when you squat down or are they following the midline of your toes? If they’re caving in (no matter what the rep number) then stop the test and work on the solution.
Possible Solution: Foam roll your inner thigh, side-lying “clam” exercise, X-band side walking.
These exercises will take time to develop your squat. Work hard and stay consistent and the results will come.