Welcome back to part 2 in the squatting series. If you can remember back to my first article, I talked about the benefits you can reap from applying the squat in your routine and why I believe all women should be squatting. Despite saying this I do think you need to earn the right to squat first before jumping straight into it.
As I mentioned in my last article, not everyone has the ability to reach the full range of movement required for the squat or, while reaching their full range they end up putting certain parts of their body under too much strain as they may lack the mobility or flexibility needed. But why is this?
First it's important to establish the differentiation between the use of the word mobility and flexibility. While colloquially, flexibility and mobility may sound the same, they are different concepts with important impacts on your health. I think Tony Gentilcore, Co-Founder of Cressey Sports Performance, put it most succinctly:
• Mobility = how a joint moves
• Flexibility = length and range of a muscle
This range of motion around a joint, can refer to ligaments, tendons, muscles, and bones. Full range at a joint is the ability of the joint to move freely in all planes of movement available to that joint. During our daily routines e.g sitting at our work desks or standing with incorrect posture for long periods of time, we put our muscles, ligaments and tendons under stress. This can cause those muscles, such as the hip flexors, calves, hamstrings and back muscles to tighten up, therefore decreasing their ability to reach their full range.
Now their are many areas of the body that can contribute to the lack of range you may have in your squat, but the most common contributors I see with the squat are either tight hip flexors, tight calves/lack of ankle mobility and tight hamstrings. Your hip flexors are used for hip flexion (bending at the hip) and are situated below your abdomen inside your hips (picture below) and your hamstrings are situated at the back of your thighs.
What causes each muscle to become tight?
Essentially, think of mobility as an umbrella covering a range of factors that may affect the range of motion around a joint. One of these components is flexibility – it’s difficult to move a joint if the connected muscles around it don’t stretch far enough to allow it. For example, your hip flexors can become tight from long periods of sitting or overuse. The calves can also tighten up from either long periods of walking or running and also long periods of standing. This is particularly evident in women who work in the corporate world as high heels and stilettos place the calves in a shortened state.
Lastly the hamstrings can become excessively tight if you have an anterior pelvic tilt (when the hips are tilted forward causing an arch in the lower back).This is commonly caused by tight quads and weak abdominals; a recipe for back pain. But there are other considerations that come into play as well, like not having the strength to perform the exercises, soft tissue damage (e.g. inflamed tendons), and even problems with other joints in the same chain of movement. So while an adequately stretched muscle may, in theory, be conducive to a greater range of movement around a joint, it’s basically useless if your mobility is constricted by other factors.
How does this affect my squat?
Tight hip flexors can cause excessive leaning forward during the squat. This can put extra strain on the back and can prevent you from sitting deep into the squat. Tight calves/lack of ankle mobility can cause you to lift your heels off the ground while trying to reach the full range, causing the weight to transfer to your toes instead of your heels. Lastly tight hamstrings are one of causes of what fitness professionals call the ‘butt wink’. This is when the hips and glutes tuck under the body at the bottom of the squat causing rounding of the back putting the vertebral discs under too much strain especially under heavy loads. This is shown in the picture below during a barbell back squat.
So, if you are finding yourself squatting with some of these bad habits or issues then the squat may not be for you quite yet. But don’t dismiss it, as most of these traits can be rectified or it may just be a case of finding the right type of squat for you. You can learn all about how to improve your mobility along with different variations and progressions of the squat in my next article.
If you can’t wait until my next article then here at Hall Training Systems we take each client through a movement screen before writing their programmes. This helps us detect the mobility/imbalances each client may have, which helps us decide whether they are ready for the squat, and if so, which squat will suit them best. If you are interested in the the squat then take advantage of our complementary training consults - book yours today and discover how strength training can change your life for the better!
About Becky Hodgson
As a successful 800m runner for Oxfordshire Athletics I have a strong postion on evidence based training and application. Strength training is my passion, passing my knoweldge of lifting on to help other women like myself to see both the physical and practical benefits that strength training has to offer.
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