I’m so glad you guys enjoyed the first post in my series about common squat problems! As promised, here is the second and final post. If you missed part one, which discusses the fundamentals of a squat as well as the problems tight hip flexors can cause, check it out here.
First up, let’s look at some of the other muscles that can cause problems if they are too tight. When warming up before a squat session, most people stretch their hamstrings, quadriceps and maybe even their hip flexors if they read my previous post! Too many people skip over the calf muscles. Although they are a smaller muscle group, they play a huge role in achieving proper squat depth. It is so important to stretch and foam roll your calves before attempting squats. If your calves are tight, you need to stretch them every day. You can do this anywhere – I stretch mine while standing in lines, going up stairs or washing the dishes.
To keep the stretch dynamic in a warm up, I usually do a walking movement where I hold the below position for 1-2 seconds before stepping forward with the back leg to stretch the opposite calf.
When I teach someone how to squat for the first time, I generally teach them the movement with plates under their heels. This allows you to get extremely deep without the calves coming into play. If they can’t get as deep when I take the plates away, it means their calves are what is limiting their squat depth.
Another area which can cause significant problems for the squat when tight is the upper back. Like the hip flexors, upper back tightness is caused by prolonged periods of sitting, or poor posture in general. Many of your typical gym meatheads who only focusing on benching their brains out also suffer from tight chest and poorly developed upper backs, which translates into poor squats.
To determine whether your upper back is limiting your squat, try completing a normal bodyweight squat with your hands reaching straight in front of you. Provided your hip flexors aren’t interfering, you should be able to get below parallel while keeping your torso upright. Try the squat again, this time with your arms directly overhead. If you can’t squat as deep without remaining upright, your upper back is tight.
To fix upper back tightness, you need to regularly foam roll your upper back (I do so two or three times per day, purely because my back gets so knotted from sitting) and stretch out your chest muscles.
A weak core
Finally, not many people think of core strength when they are performing a squat. Most tend to focus on pushing through their legs and keeping their back straight. Some will consciously try to brace their core, but many do this the wrong way.
If your core musculature is not firing correctly, you will not be squatting as low as you could. Most sets of squats last 30 to 45 seconds at least, which places a lot of pressure on your core to keep your torso upright with a heavy weight on your back.
A good test to determine whether your deep core muscles are firing correctly is to perform a basic plank. Hold it for as long as you can. If you start to feel it in your lower back first, it means your core is not working correctly.
Many people assume that performing the compound lifts (squats, deadlifts, overhead presses, etc) are enough work for the core. The truth is that you already need to have a strong core to benefit from these exercises. Doing endless crunches won’t help much either, as that will only develop the outer abdominal muscles and do nothing for those deep core muscles that are utilised during squats.
Rather than performing crunches, try exercises such as the pallof press, single leg lowerings (above), woodchops, planks and glute bridges.
You should now be well on your way to achieving the perfect squat depth! Did I miss anything? Are there any other exercises you would like me to cover in this way?