The Squat - How Low To Go?
The squat is arguably the king of all exercises. Very few movements out there require the same degree of strength, stability, and mobility needed to go A-to-G in a heavy squat.
For most healthy and injury-free individuals, the value of this exercise goes up as the range of motion increases, and this means one thing: going deeper. A deeper squat promotes better muscle recruitment, development, and even burns more calories.
But be careful with this information. This does not give everyone a free pass to automatically drop deeper into their squats for better results. The fact is that most people do not have enough mobility and/or strength to squat deep safely. Doing so could cause you to compensate by rounding the lower back and pelvis, leaning over excessively, or caving the knees in - all of which could result in serious injury.
To improve your squat, the first step is to find the range of motion that is appropriate and safe for you right now. The rule to determined this is very simple: squat as low as you can without pain and compensation:
Feet should remain straight
Knees must remain directly over your feet
Pelvis and lower back should be level without any arching or rounding
The angle of your torso should always match the angle of your lower leg
Shoulders must remain retracted and depressed
Head should stay in line with your torso (don't look up)
Now if you are not happy with the depth of your squat, there are steps that you can take to improve it. The most common area that restricts squat depth is the calf. Tight calves limit ankle dorsiflexion and knee mobility, preventing these joints from moving freely at large ranges of motion.
Try starting your leg routine with some mobility work for the ankles. First, use a foam roller to apply pressure to any sensitive "trigger points" along the calf. This will allow it to relax and stretch. Hold pressure for 30 seconds on any parts that hurt (don't worry, you won't get injured).
Next, perform 30-60 seconds of static stretching on each calf to increase its range of motion. Make sure you feel constant light tension in the muscle during the stretch. If the tension goes away during the stretch, go a little deeper to continue feeling it for the full 30-60 seconds.
After completing these two steps, your ankles should be able to move more freely, adding extra range of motion to your favorite lower body exercise!
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