Why Cant I Squat All The Way Down?
Squatting is one of the most functional and widely used exercises when it comes to sport- specific training, rehabilitation, or just general fitness. This foundational movement is the key towards developing overall lower body strength, improving hip and knee stability, and facilitating coordination between leg and low back musculature. Squatting can also serve as a means to prevent injury, decrease pain, and improve your ability to perform daily tasks. Although the squat is one of the most basic and most reliable exercises when it comes to lower body strengthening, the movement itself is very complex. A proper squat requires many different muscle groups to activate and stabilize during different phases of the movement. Additionally, the joints at the ankle, knee, hip, and low back all need to possess a certain amount of mobility that allows them to move through optimal angles. Here, we will address deep squatting specifically, and look at common issues that are associated with squatting.
Why does depth matter?
The optimal squat depth varies from person to person and depends on many individual factors. However, everyone can benefit from being able to perform a deeper squat. Proper squat form with deep squatting not only helps strengthen the muscles that influence performance in various sports, but increased squat depth can also improve your ability to perform daily tasks. Think about how many times you have had to stand up from a low chair, pick up a box off the ground, or sit down on a low toilet seat. All of these tasks require good squat mechanics at various depths.
Why can’t I get low?
Squat depth is influenced by two main factors: joint mobility and muscle length. Joint mobility refers to how much a joint can move. How much you can bend or straighten you knee is an example of your knee joint mobility. Muscle length refers to how much your muscles can stretch. If you have ever tried to bend down and touch your toes, you were testing the muscle length of your hamstrings, the muscles at the back of your thigh. Your ability to perform a deep squat depends on the joint mobility at your ankles, knees, and hips, and the muscle length of all of the muscles that surround those joints.
Ankle mobility: During a squat your ankle serves as a base from which the rest of your leg moves. Deficits in ankle mobility can greatly affect your ability to perform a deep squat. At the bottom of a squat your knees must shift slightly forward in order for you to get lower. This small shift at your knees is dependent on how much your ankle can stretch.
Pro tip: The next time you squat try elevating your heels by placing a book or a towel roll underneath your heels. If you can get lower with the heels elevated you likely have restrictions in ankle mobility – this can be improved with Physical Therapy.
Knee mobility: Unless you have had an injury or surgery at your knee, knee mobility is likely not a limiting factor in your ability to squat lower. However, knee stability can affect squat depth. Your knee should move like a door hinge when you squat. Any twisting or bowing at the knee is considered abnormal and can limit how far your knee can bend.
Hip mobility: How far your hip can bend is not only a critical factor in squat depth, but it also plays a role in taking load off of the low back. During a squat, limited hip mobility is often masked by increased bending at the low back. Compensations by the low back increase the risk of injury with squatting.
How can physical therapy help?
With so many different joints and muscles involved in squatting it may be difficult to determine which factors have the most effect on your squat depth. Fortunately, all of these factors can be improved with physical therapy. A trained physical therapist can work with you to find the most limiting impairments that are hindering your progression toward your optimal squat depth. Below are several ways in which a physical therapist can help with optimizing your performance of this fundamental movement:
Careful analysis of squat mechanics to identify joint-related restrictions and mobility deficits.
Muscle length testing to pinpoint any muscular impairments. Hands-on therapy to increase mobility at specific joints. Massage techniques to facilitate improved muscle length. Strengthening of muscles around your hips, knees, and ankles to promote stability at these joints.
For an individualized treatment plan, consult with one of our physical therapists by calling us at (872) 704-0628 or by scheduling an appointment online. Remember to also check out our Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter pages for more articles and helpful information!