Improve Your Squat Depth
Squats are one of the most common and important exercises in any fitness or rehab program. A proper squat requires significant mobility throughout the body in order to achieve maximum results. Let’s look at ways you can improve your squat depth and performance.
STEP 1: FOOT PLACEMENT
Squat stance is not a one-size-fits-all position. Optimal positioning depends on body proportions (leg length compared to torso length), joint structure, and joint mobility. Adjusting your squat stance is one of the simplest ways to improve squat depth and performance. Each individual must experiment with different setups and find what works best for their anatomy and current joint mobility .
To find the best squat stance, play around with stance width, amount of toe out, and how far to push the knees out. Finding your optimal squat stance can rapidly improve depth and decrease pain. The quadruped wall squat can help determine where to position your feet and knees in order to maximize hip mobility and squat as deep as possible. Try out this quick assessment tool to identify what stance width allows for the most hip flexion and depth of your squat.
Position yourself on your hands and knees with feet against wall. Start with a narrow stance positioning your knees about hip distance. While maintaining a flat back, press your hips back to your feet. When you start to feel any limitation, stop the test. It’s critical to maintain a flat back not letting your spine round or arch as you sit back. You may want to use a partner to provide feedback on spinal positioning.
Continue repeating the test playing around with different feet and knee positions. You will find that your hips feel tighter in some positions than others. Once you find a position that allows for maximum depth (i.e. you are able to press your hips back closest to your feet while maintaining a flat back), stand up and replicate this stance with a squat.
STEP 2: JOINT MOBILITY AND LIMITATIONS
What’s limiting your squat depth may not always be obvious. There are a variety of joints that can limit how deep you are able to squat
- Dorsiflexion – tightness of the calf muscle and Achilles tendon can prevent the knees from being able to move forward. This creates a hip dominant movement pattern with a forward trunk lean and limited squat depth.
- Knee flexion – pressure or tightness around the kneecap as the knees bend may prevent you from squatting to or below parallel. Pressure or tightness may be caused by swelling, inflammation, or patellar/quad tendinosis.
- Hip flexion – posterior capsule tightness in the hip joint can cause the femur to prematurely come in contact with the pelvis as you lower into hip flexion. This can limit your squat depth and cause pain in the front of your hip.
- Hip rotation – Limited hip internal rotation can also contribute to anterior hip pain and decreased squat depth. Limited hip external rotation can decrease your ability to push your knee out. This can also create a hip dominant pattern characterized by sitting your hips back instead of sitting straight down. This compromises squat depth and increases forward trunk lean.
Stay tuned for future blogs on how to address these areas of tightness. If you have pain in any joint limiting your squat depth, seek guidance from a physical therapist for evaluation and treatment.
STEP 3: SQUAT DEPTH DRILL
Assisted Squat Lowering with Isometric Holds
Position yourself in your squat stance in front of something sturdy. A squat rack, cable column, or even a doorway will suffice. Upper body support will decrease strength and stability requirements and allow your joints to move through their full available range of motion in the squat pattern. Slowly sit down and stop at desired squat depth. Remove your hands and see if you are able to maintain this position for 3-5 seconds. If you immediately fall forward or backward, stop the squat a few inches higher and try again. Ideally you want to find the sweet spot that is lower than you are able to squat on your own but high enough you are able to maintain the position for a few seconds after you remove your hands. Repeat the assisted squats with isometric holds building strength and endurance in the bottom squat position.
Squatting is an essential part of daily life. Having a strong, mobile squat can maximize fitness gains and quality of life. If you experience significant pain and limitations while squatting, seek guidance from a qualified physical therapist.
Written by Hannah Sweitzer, DPT, OCS, CSCS