You Don’t Have a Squat MOBILITY Problem

One of the most frequent squat coaching faults I overhear is coaches telling athletes that they don’t have adequate MOBILITY to perform a full squat. Coaches then provide the athlete with a variety of stretches etc. to try and address what they usually call a hip mobility problem.

Usually I just shake my head (to myself) when I hear this, because I know the coach has only checked the movement pattern of the squat and hasn’t properly assessed for MOBILITY versus STABILITY / MOTOR CONTROL ISSUES.

Stability and motor control issues can frequently manifest themselves as mobility problems.

Stability and motor control issues can frequently manifest themselves as “mobility problems”. A great example of this can be seen with the active straight leg raise versus a hamstring stretch. Assess an athlete’s hamstring flexibility as pictured below (lying on back, passively raise one of the athlete’s legs up with knee straight until stretch is felt on posterior thigh). Then assess their ability to ACTIVELY do the same (they keep one leg flat and raise the other while keeping the knee straight). Very commonly there will be a difference in how high they can raise versus how high the athlete can raise their leg. This is due to motor control issues, as you’ve demonstrated their available mobility/flexibility is better than what their active motion is.

Hamstring Flexibility

The same concept can be applied to a squat.

The mobility needs for a full squat are:

  1. Dorsiflexion
  2. Knee flexion
  3. Hip flexion (and rotation)

To assess for MOBILITY versus MOTOR CONTROL issues we will assess mobility first. If mobility is adequate for performing a proper squat, then we are likely dealing with STABILITY / MOTOR CONTROL ISSUES.

I start with my mobility assessment with the ankles. I’ve previously written multiple articles on the importance of dorsiflexion (1 and 2) as well as how to assess ankle mobility (1 and 2).

Have the athlete in half kneeling (as shown below) and see how far away from a wall their first toe can be while touching their knee cap to the wall without his or her heel rising off the ground (and foot remaining in a neutral position). A three to five inch distance is considered functional depending on an athlete’s height. I frequently use the width of an athlete’s hand as my measurement for adequate dorsiflexion mobility.

The easiest way to assess for knee and hip flexion mobility for a squat begins with the athlete lying on his or her back. Have them then pull their knees to their chest while holding their shins. If they can touch their thigh to chest and calf to hamstring, then they have enough hip and knee flexibility to perform a proper squat. (We are not going to go into hip rotation for simplicity sake in this article….I believe that a decent squat can be performed if the above mobility tests are passed…an optimal squat does require proper rotation as well)

Hip and Knee Flexion Mobility

If the athlete has passed both of the above tests then we have strongly decreased the likelihood that MOBILITY IS NOT THEIR LIMITING FACTOR for their squat….and we are dealing with STABILITY AND MOTOR CONTROL PROBLEMS. (NOTE: as mentioned earlier, there may be some rotation or other minor mobility issues…but if the athlete passes these two tests, mobility is most likely not the biggest problem.

For my thoughts on the best tests to assess for stability and motor control issues, download my “Five Squat Principles” which includes my squat assessment algorithm to help you and your athletes better identify squat mobility and stability problems. It can be downloaded HERE.

  One thought on “You Don’t Have a Squat MOBILITY Problem

  1. August 15, 2015 at 7:56 pm

    Hi there. I performed the lie on the back test and realize I can’t get my thigh to my chest. My calf can touch my hamstring though. It feels very tight.. do you have any recommendations on how I can fix this? Since young I’ve been unable to do a full deep squat

    • August 15, 2015 at 7:59 pm

      Thanks for asking Jason. Breaking your mobility down from there to determine where your mobility restriction is from can be difficult via online. Look at mobilitywod for some stretches to try or find a good PT in your area that works with athletes and get their input

      • August 16, 2015 at 9:36 pm

        hi zach, thanks for your quick reply. mostly my stretches include the couch stretch and also foam rolling on the hip, quads and calf area (i think it covers the upstream and downstream area, unless you have any to add) [just started the stretches a month ago].

        based on your experience, how long does it take for a fairly active person to achieve full mobility on average?

        thanks

      • August 17, 2015 at 6:36 am

        There will be some mobility problems that can be quickly changed with simple stretches, breathing exercises, and joint mobilizations. These problems are usually due to muscular tone more than actual tissue elongation.
        Other problems are due to tissues being shortened. Actually changing the structure of these tissues takes weeks, months, years to improve.
        In other words, it is going to depend on what is limiting mobility, how long it has been going on, how severe it is. BUT steady and consistent work should always show SOME degree of progress in a few weeks.

      • August 17, 2015 at 9:45 pm

        thanks zach

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