Written by: Chris McMahon
When I was fourteen years old, I spent the entire summer wearing black jeans. I wish I could say it was because I loved sweaty knee caps, but I would be lying. As a kid, I was teased for my “chicken legs,” and if I wore jeans, no one could see them, genius, right?
Eventually, I started going to the gym and tried my hand at squatting. That meant loading up the bar for heavy squats, even though I didn’t know jack squat about squatting. I didn’t have the motor control or mobility to perform barbell squats. My lower back and knees would bother me for days after every leg session.
My first year as a personal trainer completely transformed my squat. I was lucky enough to be surrounded by mentors who had been squatting longer than I had been alive.
Fast forward, and now squats are fun-ish. I want to help you avoid the same mistakes I made. All of the movements in this article can be added to your lower body routine or recovery day.
Let’s dive in!
To perform a “proper” squat, you will need ankle mobility (knees over toes!), hip mobility, Thoracic spine mobility (chest up!), trunk stability (chest up, again!), and strong knees (knees over toes, again!).
Before going further, the definition I am using for mobility is strength + flexibility. In general, strengthening the end range of specific movements, like the squat, can be considered mobility work.
Two birds, one stone, and strong legs!
I dive into each movement in the following tutorial.
Supine Squat Breathing is a beautiful way to prime your body for the squat pattern. This breathing pattern allows you to activate the stabilizing required for the squat.
1 – 2 sets of 15 breaths is more than enough to get you started.
Tim Anderson, the founder of Original Strength, popularized rocking amongst the strength community with the publication of the book “Becoming Bullet Proof: An Uncommon Approach To Building A Resilient Body.”
Here are a few reasons to add rocking to your current routine:
- It is lovely for your thoracic mobility.
- It acts as an assessment for hip and ankle mobility
- It helps you link your diaphragmatic breathing with the squat pattern.
You can add 1-2 sets of 10 repetitions in your next leg day warm-up or use rocking as active recovery between squats.
Happy ankles mean deep squats, and many folks tend to overlook the benefits of spending a little time mobilizing the ankle. It doesn’t need to be anything too complicated. I prefer using something like joint circles to assess the range of motion. One common mistake is moving the entire tibia while articulating the ankle. By holding the tibia in a fixed position, you can target the ankle joint.
Another drill that I have recently fallen in love with is the Single Leg Knees Over Toes. I couldn’t think of a better name; please let me know if you think of a better one. This mobility drill allows someone to mobilize their ankle and teaches them that it is OK if the knees go past the toes. This is a common fear amongst those new to squatting.
It is normal to have a more challenging time lowering the heel while performing this drill. If the heel is too far from the ground, decrease how far you lean forward. With practice, the heel will get closer to the ground.
Perform 1-2 sets of 10-15 repetitions for each ankle.
Wall Assisted Loaded Beast
The Wall Assisted Loaded Beast will target your hips, quads, thoracic spine and acts as an excellent self-assessment for the squat.
Setting up your heels against a wall provides feedback and further body awareness. Focus on squeezing your glutes and pulling your belly button toward the spine. Push through the arms as you sit your butt back toward the wall.
Try performing the Loaded Beast as a part of your warm-up or active recovery for 1-2 sets of 10 repetitions.
Assisted Bodyweight Squat
The Assisted Bodyweight Squat is often overlooked and deserves its place in your leg day toolbox.
To perform the Assisted Bodyweight Squat, you can use a door frame, squat rack, or other sturdy objects, like a bookcase.
Set up with feet hip-distance apart and slightly turn out to roughly 45 degrees. Not every person will be symmetrical and will have the same hip shape. Find the best positioning that leaves you pain-free and able to squat comfortably.
Holding on to the frame, begin to walk yourself down as you lower into the bottom of your squat. Make sure you are spreading the floor apart with your feet and that your knees are tracking over your toes.
Pause at the bottom of your squat, rocking side to side. Drive your feet through the floor and return to standing.
Perform 3 sets of 10 repetitions focusing on moving slowly with control.
The Goblet Squat is a popular movement thanks to author and strength coach Dan John. This is a movement I prefer programming for clients before any other loaded squat variation.
Choose an appropriate weight that allows you to maintain a tall spine while still challenging your stability.
Set up with your feet hip-width apart.
Hold the kettlebell or dumbbell chest height. Make sure to keep the elbows tight to the rib cage.
Focus on splitting the floor apart with your feet and allowing knees to track over the toes.
Initiate the movement through your hips and maintain a tall spine.
Squat as low as you can while keeping a tall spine.
Drive your feet through the floor as you return to standing.
3 sets of 10 repetitions will be more than enough to get started.
Now that you have practiced, it is time to explore the range of motion and have a little fun. The frogger is one of my favorite moves from GMB Fitness, and it always leaves my hips feeling like butter.
Start in your squat with feet hip-width apart. Focus on keeping your heels down, which means you might not be in a deep squat, and that’s OK!
Reach your arms forward and place then hands on the ground with palms flat.
Shift your weight forward and push through the arms.
Pull yourself forward with your arms and take a tiny hop forward. You will end up in your squat.
Instead of counting repetitions, I suggest using time and focusing on exploring your entire range of motion. 3 sets of 30 seconds is a good starting point.
Now it’s time for you to take these moves and add them to your current squat routine. I’m not sure what that looks like for you, but I use rocking, goblet squats, and the frogger as a part of my leg day warm-up.
The only way to know what works best is to try.
There is no such thing as the BEST exercise. It boils down to what your goal is and how your body responds.
Do me a favor and tag me on Instagram or shoot me a DM and let me know what you think. I love helping, and I currently have a few slots open for 1:1 coaching.
If you want to learn more, use this link.