Ask any group of serious, well-educated weightlifters what the most important lift is, and they’ll likely all tell you the same thing: Squats. Of course, it’s dumb to rank one compound move over the other. You need all of the big moves for function and balance. But squats hold a special place in the gym (alongside deadlifts).
Squats hit you all over, from your back to your calves. It’s about as close to a true “full body” exercise as you’ll get without stringing together several moves, like a clean and press or a burpee. So it should go without saying that squats require good mobility from head to toe. If you find yourself unable to get to parallel, mobility is bound to be your issue.
To fix it, you need to approach mobility like you would training a muscle, with diligence and consistency. I’ve put together some of the basic drills you should be doing before you step up to the squat rack. Do them every time, and you’ll see those legs start loosing up, your squat depth improving a ton and you’ll notice a lot less pressure on your lower back.
While most people absentmindedly swing their legs before a set, you don’t see many talking about the importance. This isn’t so much of a mobility drill as it is a warm up, but cold muscles and joints are no good.
After a light cardio session, which should be kept under 10, grab on to something for support. Shift all of your weight onto one leg, lifting the other slightly off the ground. Swing the free leg forward and back, hitting the full range of motion on that plan. Then do it across the body. Switch legs, and repeat the process.
This is what’s called a dynamic warm up. Cardio is all well and good, but you need to get blood flowing to the right areas.
If you’ve ever had a professional sports massage, you know all about breaking up tight knots in your muscles. Afterwards, you feel way more flexible, and ready to take on the world.
Foam rolling does the exact same thing, but on your terms. It will never replace a knowledgeable massage therapist, but you should be breaking up some of those points before every workout. It can also help engage inactive muscles.
For squatting, the two spots to make sure you hit are your glutes and your calves. Our glutes tend to be a little under-active in our squats, and calves are just tight little suckers that can ruin your mobility.
For glutes, sit on a roller, and move back and forth. If you feel any trigger points, stop there and roll back and forth until it releases. Do it for both sides.
For your calves, put one leg on the roller, and throw the other one on top for extra pressure. Again, look for trigger points.
Now we’re finally getting into the big mobility drills. If you’re familiar with yoga terms, you’ll find this pretty similar to the Lizard Pose, but your toes are pointed back, and you stay up on your hands.
Take your left foot and step forward as far as you can. Lower your body until the angle of your knee is a little less than 90 degrees. Place your right hand down, and then place your left hand down just inside of your front knee. Hold it for a minute and switch sides.
While this looks like the lizard pose at first, you want to progress it towards a pigeon pose. Do it gradually as your mobility increases. This is going to open up your hips for a painless negative and a strong drive to the top.
Hip Flexor Stretch
Now that it’s opened up a little, we need to work on hip flexion. That’s the act bringing your upper leg forward, hinging at the crease between your quads at pelvis. That’s obviously key in getting a deep squat, so it’s important to keep it loose.
Get down on both knees, with your body in line from knee to head. Lift one leg up and place it in front of you, with that need at a 90 angle. While keeping your back straight, lean forward on that front knee. Try to use your glutes push the motion.
With this, and a regular post workout stretching program, you’re going to be ready to rack some serious weight. If you don’t have the mobility, not only are your weights going to stay stagnant, but you’re also going to be that dork hogging the power rack to do half-squats. Don’t be that guy. Get those hips ready to move.