Squatting is a fundamental movement pattern that we expect our athletes to perform in training. The squat, or the overhead squat derivative are used as a movement screening tool in both the Functional Movement Screen and in the NASM screen. The inability to correctly perform the squat movement may be a strong predictor of injury potential among athletes.
Though the squat is a basic movement, its involvement of various joints makes it more complex. The ankle, knee and hip joints must possess the request ranges of motion to enable the achievement of appropriate squat depth. Additionally, the surrounding musculature of these joints must create sufficient tension to produce stability in the full squat position. This means that the feet must maintain its arch and not pronate (flatten). Additionally, the knee must not experience medial displacement which is largely controlled at the hip joint.
In team settings it can be difficult to individually prescribe corrective exercise to improve their squat mechanics. It would be more convenient to standardize mobility and/or soft tissue work that will provide that biggest bang for your buck in terms of helping the most athletes that have similar issues.
A new study published in the Journal of Human Kinetics evaluated ankle range of motion and hip range of motion and correlated these variables to squat depth in over 100 healthy college students. The researchers found that among both males and females, ankle dorsiflexion was the biggest predictor of squat depth. Hip flexion for males and ankle dorsiflexion strength in females were the next biggest predictors.
Ankle range of motion is critical for a variety of athletic movements including jumping ability, sprinting and change of direction. Limited ankle range of motion can cause medial rotation of the femur during squatting as a compensation. It can also be a factor that causes lumbar spine flexion during squatting, an issue that often gets blamed on short hamstrings.
When individualizing correctives and soft tissue work is difficult in team settings, addressing hip and ankle range of motion may be the most effective for the greatest number of athletes. Addressing the soft tissue with foam rollers or lacrosse balls followed by flexibility and mobility work can go a long way in improving hip and ankle range of motion and will likely carry over to improved squat mechanics. This will enable safer squatting in the weight room, and better performance on the field.
Kim, S. H., Kwon, O. Y., Park, K. N., Jeon, I. C., & Weon, J. H. (2015). Lower Extremity Strength and the Range of Motion in Relation to Squat Depth. Journal of human kinetics, 45(1), 59-69.