Before you hail to the king of all exercises, you must un-funk your junk box. The internet is almost filled to its digital, fiber optic brim with squatting tips, programming, anti-squatting rants (Don’t go to that part of the internet. Everyone is crazy there), and just a general insanity category of squatting information that leaves you asking yourself “what the hell did I just read?” Well, it is safe to say that if you have found your way to Elitefts you are pretty savvy when it comes to coaching cues. “Hips back, spread the floor with your feet, knees out, chest up, back tight, abs tight, try to touch the top of your ass to the back of your head, etc.” Am I the only one that uses that one? It does get me a lot of funny looks when I am screaming it at someone in a really crowded weight room.
The tricky part of squatting technique comes after you become well read with some experience under your lever belt. At this point, if you find yourself feeling awkward/out of a good position when you implement all of these form cues into your training or into your clients/teams training, it can be tough to figure out exactly what is going wrong. I can say from experience that nothing is more frustrating as a coach than when you give clear directions for something to someone and the immediate response is “I can’t do that.”
Well, I lied. Nothing is more frustrating than being frustrated with someone who says “I can’t do that,” then, after convincing them to do the movement, seeing with your own eyes that they can’t do the movement. For some reason, the squat seems to be the brunt of the technique massacre that occurs across the rusty iron landscape that encompasses barbell strength training.
So, how can we better our squat positioning and smash weights like a meat fueled human forge? The answer is simple. You can’t. So, just quit. Just kidding. Here are three awesome mobility drills that I have seen make immediate and ridiculous improvements in squatting.
1. Ankle Hyper Dorsi Flexion in Traction:
Along with this sounding like something Scottie would scream while the Star Trek Enterprise was being blown to pieces by some weird fore headed alien race, this drill corrects numerous common loading pattern errors in the squat, as well as pretty much every other ground based lower body exercise/movement. The set-up is easy. All you need is a band to pull some posterior traction on the ankle joint and something to prop your foot up on (into dorsi flexion). Just make sure the object being propped up on allows you to keep your heel in contact with the floor. Closing the kinetic chain on this exercise will significantly increase the torque that can be achieved in the ankle. Once you are in this position, just move through whatever range of motion your mobility will allow. Alternate between several seconds of straight leg and bent leg movements and shoot for two minutes or until you feel a significant change in mobility. Or if your foot explodes off the bottom of your leg. I guess you could stop then too.
2. Pulverize the Popliteus:
Consider it a victory if you can get through this one without chewing your tongue off. Just like everything else in life that is good for you, the act of actually performing this drill is an exercise in sheer misery tolerance. Setting up is pretty simple. The only equipment you need is a lax ball and a happy place to send your mind/soul to for a couple minutes. I suggest doing this seated on the floor with your back resting against something. This accomplishes two things:
- You can achieve more pressure/stretch/movement during the drill
- Escape is much harder when you are trapped against something
Once in position on the floor, keep one leg straight and bend the other so that your knee is pointing straight up at the ceiling. Take the lax ball and jam it into the lateral aspect of your knee join (the outside of it). Close the knee over the ball by putting your hands on your ankle and pulling your heel into your butt. Keep your foot on your working leg flat on the floor. Now, if you haven’t yelled “eff this” at the top of your lungs and thrown the lax ball through a window, take both your hands, wrap them around your tibia (big shin bone), and gently rotate back and forth. Your lower leg should be capable of some external and internal rotation. When there is an absence of these qualities, all kinds of screwed up stuff happens. Collapsed arches, knee valgus, and crappy feeling squats to name a few mal-effects of poor tibial turning ability.
My only advice for this: try not to get sucked into a wormhole that pulls you into world built completely out of insanity inducing, nightmarish pain. Unless you are into that kind of thing.
3. Unfunk Your Junkbox
This is without a doubt my most favorite lower body mobility drill ever. Your junkbox (the muscles that are responsible for adduction and hip internal rotation) is probably all funked up. This drill will violently eject the funk. Setting this one up is easy. All you need is an Onyx band and something to attach it to that isn’t going to flip over and crush you to death. Choke one end of the band low on a rack or weight tree or whatever. Take the free loop of the band and step into with one leg. Pull the band as high up into the front your hip as you possibly can. Take a few steps away from where the band is choked and get a pretty significant amount of tension for this one. From here, you are going to preform 10-20 Hassock Squats (these have about a million different names, but this one is the most fun to say). Your goal for this one is to be able to get into a perfect squat (neutral lumbar, foot flat, weight on heel, chest up, ass in the basement, don’t die, etc.) on the banded leg WITHOUT using your hands for support (you cheater). This will not be a fun experience, but it will help your squat tremendously.
These three drills can very easily be added into your warm-up and can be done as nauseam on off days. Personally, when I find a problem or a tight area, I will work on it 2-3 times a day every day until movement increases or pain decreases.
Here is a video showing how to set-up and perform all three drills:
Now, there is no reason to walk around with a funked up junkbox anymore. Leave a comment below and let me know what worked, what didn’t work, if you split in half, or if you now hate me for making you jam a lax ball into your knee hole.
Sprint. Kill. Eat.