Squats are a movement that feature in pretty much all training programmes whether that’s a crossfit programme, bodybuilding, strong man, rider specific training, squats feature a huge amount!! Even though squats are one of the most fundamental movement patterns & probably one of the first movements you’ll be coached through when you start your fitness journey they are actually a pretty complex lower body movement.
In order to achieve good squat depth, with correct technique maintaining safe posture you need to have a good amount of foot stability, ankle & hip mobility, hip strength & lower body strength for you to be able to safely move through the phases of the position.
9/10 times I see riders or people training in my gym squatting with poor form or improper technique. It’s normally small things that could be corrected through cues or working on a particular part of the lift, say in a squat working on the isometric hold in the bottom to build your stability.
But the problem comes when form isn’t quite spot on, you then start to load the movement with external resistance such as a dumbbell or barbell & pretty soon your skill breaks down before your strength & what this means is that you’re putting yourself at risk as you’re holding poor form under a heavy load.
And this is when injuries & accidents can happen. As a coach my no 1 focus is getting clients moving well & safely. Safely moving comes through having a good range of mobility & strength but also a clear understanding of the movement & feeling that mind muscle connection as you move.
This is where slowing down the exercise through tempo training is really beneficial as it will help you to feel what muscles are working & build better technique. Squats are a brilliant exercise for riders as they are a compound movement working multiple muscles & joints at the same time. The squat works all of our leg muscles we use when riding as well as our core so is a fantastic functional movement for riders.
It replicates the 2 point position in the saddle when we’re galloping or going cross country perfectly so is something you really want to work on strengthening. If you find your stamina is weak out of the saddle or you tend to end up leaning on your horses front then adding in some squats & isometric work to your training should be a definite!
So in order to have the best squat here are my top mobility tips;
So it makes sense to start from the ground up! Your feet are the first point of contact with the ground & the body is a kinetic chain so if you have instability in your feet & with your contact to the ground the rest of your body is going to become an unstable structure moving upwards.
Lack of foot stability can look like heels lifting off the floor in the bottom or lowering of a squat, toes coming off the floor or feet collapsing inwards. What then happens is that this may cause your knee to collapse inwards (valgus) or instability in the hips which will massively affect your squat.
Working on your foot stability for riders is a must, your ability to maintain a strong foot in the stirrup is key so this is going to benefit you in all areas of your riding & training! As we age our foot stability or lack of can also be a big factor in staying balanced & having falls so it’s something we should all be mindful of to improve.
Start with no shoes & just focus on that connection with the floor. Push the ground away under you, think of a bird clawing his tallands down. Be mindful not to let your feet roll inwards & maintain contact with your big toe, outside of the foot & ball of the foot throughout. Adding a resistance band around the arches of your feet in warm ups or squat drills can really help too.
Restrictions in ankle mobility are a big limiting factor in squatting. Often those who have been training for some time & find they are stuck at reaching a certain depth with their squat or adding more weight to the bar may fail to realise they’ve neglected their ankle mobility.
Immobility through the ankles often leads to your knees pushing forward over your toes in a squat excessively. This is not necessarily always a bad thing & some of us who have longer femurs may find naturally the knees slightly push forwards however over time you’ll probably find this causes you some pain in your squat.
If you struggle to flex your ankle joint you’ll struggle to get low in the squat but you may also find that you feel very unstable or wobbly during a squat especially the lower too as you’re unable to really stay upright & sit deep. Heels lifting off the floor is often a sign of limited ankle mobility. Dorsiflexion is what we want for squats so that’s if you were sitting on the floor flexing your toes towards you.
Performing drills such as knee to the walls can really help to improve ankle mobility & dorsiflexion. I would add them into any squat warm up as well as a daily mobility movement if you know your ankle mobility needs work! The more mobile your ankles are the better you’re going to be able to maintain a strong heels down in the stirrup too therefore making you more stable riding!
Give this a go;
When squatting we want stability through the knees, the squat is a knee dominant movement pattern primarily working the front of the leg muscles. If you’re knees are unstable you may find they collapse inwards as you squat. This will cause you to feel wobbly & lack balance but more importantly in time this will really cause damage to your knees as you apply extra pressure & load to them & you could find yourself struggling with pain.
Adding a band above your knees can be a really good drill to help you to think about physically pushing your knees out & not letting the band push them in. Feet firmly pushing the earth away & rip the band apart are good cues to remember!
To build your stability too & hep your confidence in the movement start with box squats. This will stop you going too low & help to build your stability. When you squat also thinking about sitting into your heels & making your hips work. This will also really help you to feel more stable through the knees.
If you find you struggle with your knee stability or knees constantly roll in it would be beneficial to spend some time working on your single leg strength & stability. Movements like single leg box squats can really help to identify & even out imbalances & strengthen your glute & leg muscles whilst building your knee stability
Despite the squat being a knee dominant movement you still need a good amount of hip mobility to achieve a safe and deep squat.
In the bottom of your squat the ideal position we are looking for through the hips is a 90° angle from your hip to knee and then about a 45° line from your hip to your shoulder. If your hip mobility is weak or lacking you’re probably find you really struggle to hit this depth & maintain an upright torso.
Often hip mobility can be due to glute weaknesses and this can really impact good technique. Having good glute control and strong glutes is absolutely key to be able to have proper movement through the squat as the glutes are a prime mover of hip extension.
Hip extension occurs as we rise out of the squat, so if you find you're tipping forward then it may well be that you need to work on your glute strength before your squats.
Tightness through your hip flexors and your quad muscles can also be a impact of hip mobility during squats. If you know that your thighs are tight then maybe adding in some foam rolling pre-squat would be a good drill as well as working to loosen off the front of your hip flexor muscles.
If your thoracic spine mobility is limited you’ll find this has an impact on your squat even though it’s a lower body movement, lacking upper body mobility means that your lumbar spine may end up compensating during a squat. If your lumbar spine has to move during the squat when it should be stable then you’re going to find that this may well end up causing pain in a squat.
As you progress into more advanced movements such as back squats or front squats with a barbell making sure you have adequate thoracic mobility is absolutely essential to lift safely.
Adding in some goblet squats when you hold a load up your chest during a squat can really help to improve your thoracic mobility.
It will help you to encourage to push your hips back rather than tipping forwards or overflexing through the spine as your frontloaded. The counter balance of the weight at your chest is really going to help you to engage your core and stay upright too.
Squatting safely and well comes down to making sure you have an adequate balance of mobility, stability and strength. It’s not a simple as just grabbing a bar and going for it and at the end of the day squatting with safe and good technique will keep you injury free and progressing for the long run & that is what training is all about!
I hope these mobility tips help you and if you’re ever struggling with your squat then please feel free to reach out. Good luck with your training & keep squatting!