Squat depth has become such a buzzword lately that it is almost nauseating.
Every four minutes there is a debate as to whether the squat depth in that YouTube/Instagram video was adequate or not.
It is also a quality that almost gets over-cued to an annoyance.
Just yelling things like “sit back” or “get lower” is not going to produce the results we are looking for.
Too often, people forget (or never know to begin with) that squat depth is influenced by a lot of different factors that two word phrases cannot fix.
My first on the fly assessment is whether or not the person can display a proper bodyweight squat. If they can then there are no structural restrictions that we will need to worry about.
Once the bar is on the back, most squats get iffy. The proposed culprit 9 times out of 10 is hip mobility.
Claiming that everything is hip mobility is a short sighted approach to cleaning up the pattern, however.
There are simply too many factors that affect the range of motion in the hip.
The following list contains ways that will improve range of motion at the hip as determined in a loaded pattern, like a squat. Some of these methods will also improve passive range of motion.
- Soft Tissue Work
If everyone would hop on a roller before every workout there would be significantly less issues to manage. Instead, people are often static stretching or doing 5 minutes on the treadmill as their warm up.
Soft tissue work or self-myofascial release can be performed on a roller, lacrosse ball, PVC pipe, golf ball, and many other specialized tools.
What we do here is put pressure on the tight spots of the body to rehydrate tissues and shut off any stretch reflex mechanisms. This is turn takes the e-brake off of our muscles, to put it simply.
When the muscles get overused and tight it can restrict movement and potentially cause pain.
Doing some tissue work cannot be skipped before a workout.
- Hip Mobility
Performing hip mobility drills is a good way to get these newly released muscles into a good range of motion.
Exercises like rockback, adductor rockbacks, kneeling glute mobility, and foot elevated hip flexor mobility are all ways to further loosen up the hips.
Now sometimes the hip mobility drills do not always provide the changes that some experience. Often the hip mobility drills might have to come after our third point.
- Core stability
It is rare that I will work with someone that I can confidently say has great core stability. More often than not it is someone that we could classify as having “old man strength.”
These are the people who maybe haven’t done a ton of great programming but are somehow still really strong. I cannot explain the phenomenon but it is what it is.
Back to the point, people need to train their core muscles to resist movement.
The muscles of what we call the core are responsible for stability of the low back/pelvic area. When this group cannot do their job, the muscles of the hip take over.
Instead of being free to move, they are now locked into place.
By performing anterior and lateral core stability exercises, we can unlock the hips. Planks and side planks are the two best examples of the types of stability that we need.
The only kicker is that being able to hold these two movements for more that 10-15 seconds means that you are not doing them correctly or at least not challenging hard enough.
This quality is specific to squatting. Failure to get into a deep squat is sometimes a factor of strength.
A lack of eccentric strength means that the muscles cannot handle lowering the weight to an appropriate depth.
Without a good base of strength the muscles are going to lock up. They would be unable to handle any more distance and would give out.
This happens more than you would think with overloading the bar.
If that strength is not present, no amount of mobility or tissue work is going to get that depth.
These four factors can all influence hip mobility, with a specific focus on the squat.
As you can see, yelling things like “knees out” or “sit back in a chair” is going to improve any of the four categories above.
Coaching the squat is not as simple as finding a couple of key coaching points and repeating them.
There is a better approach if we truly want to improve our lifting performance and movement.