Hey paleo peeps! Today I’m back with an all new Fitness Friday! Last time I talked about different ways to improve your pull-ups. Today we’ll tackle a few different things to help you improve your squats. First off, there are a variety of squats you can perform (pictured below). These include front squats, back squats, overhead squats, goblet squats, air squats and pistols (one legged squats), just to name a few. No matter which one you are performing, these tips are sure to help improve your squats.
- Mobility, mobility, mobility
I can’t stress this one enough. I don’t care if you can put your foot behind your head, everyone can use some mobility work. Obviously some need it more than others but I promise by doing a little bit every day, you will see improvement. The two most important areas to focus on are hip mobility and ankle mobility. During the squat, a lot of flexion occurs at both these areas. If your hips are too tight, your chest will probably come forward and you’ll struggle pushing your knees out. If your ankles are too tight, you probably won’t be able to keep your weight distributed properly and you’ll end up forward again.
For this stretch, you want to try and get your knee as close to the wall/couch/box as you can. Next, squeeze your butt to stabilize your lower back and bring up your right foot, keeping your shin vertical. If you are too tight, stay over in more of a lunge position for a minute or two. If your mobility allows it, try to come up to the position pictured above. The goal is to keep those hips square and not turn too much to one side. If you can, try to bring your torso to an upright position. If this is too much, you can use a PVC pipe, box, table, whatever you need, to help you stabilize.
For this stretch, you want to start with your hands on the inside of your right foot in the lunge position, making sure your right shin is vertical. Next, you’ll use your right hand to hold down your right foot as pictured above. As you’re doing this, you’ll want to drive that left hip down to the ground. As you move around and find tight spots, you can turn into our leg or away from it to find more sticky spots in your hip. Make sure to keep the right foot flat on the ground. After spending a few minutes working through tough sports, you can move your hips back to hit more of your hamstrings or move that front foot forward slightly to find more stiff areas.
- Ankle mobility; hip external rotation with flexion, foam rolling, barbell ankle stretch
For hip external rotation, you’ll start in the same position as the single leg flexion above. If you start with your left leg forward, make sure that your shin is vertical and your foot straight. You’ll use your left hand for balance and then drop the left knee out, rolling onto the edge of your foot. If your mobility allows, you can rotate toward your left knee and push it out further with your hand. As with the single leg flexion, make sure to move around, rotate and find other stiff areas.
If you don’t have a foam roller yet, you are missing out! This is seriously one of my favorite mobility tools (besides the all mighty lacrosse ball). Besides helping with ankle mobility, it’s good for a variety of other areas too! To use it for ankle mobility, you’ll want a pretty sturdy foam roller, nothing too soft. To start, you’ll place the foam roller just above the ankle and roll up and down the length of your lower leg. Make sure to get the calves and the achilles heel. If you feel any sticky spots, make sure to spend some extra time there. As with the other stretches, move around, rotate and try to find those tough spots.
This stretch is good to work in if you’re going to be doing any type of barbell squats. As you can see above, the lifter has weight on the bar. When you first try this, I recommend starting with an empty barbell. The added weight helps push down on your ankles and allows you to reach good dorsiflexion. I also like to move the barbell to one side and focus on one ankle at a time. Make sure to keep your back in a good position and the barbell at the top of the knee. This can also be performed with a lighter kettlebell or wall ball if a bar is too heavy.
2. Spending time under tension
What does this mean exactly? Time under tension just means how long the muscles are under tension. In this case, the tension comes from the weight in the squat. Now obviously, if you don’t have a great air squat, you’re not going to be using tons of weight here. You want to have the proper mechanics for the squat without weight before you start adding weight. Time under tension can either be applied to the eccentric or concentric movements of the squat, ie lowering yourself to below parallel or coming back up out of the bottom of the squat. By using time under tension, you are building your muscle growth, strength and endurance. The muscles will adapt to the amount of work being applied to it. Not only will this help build your strength for the squat but it should also help your form. Since you’ll be moving slower, you’ll have to focus on hitting those perfect positions of the squat.
- Examples of time under tension
4 sets of 8; 4 Count down, 0 second pause in the bottom, 1 second up and a 2 second pause at the top before starting next rep
5 sets of 2; 2 count down, 3 second pause in the bottom, 1 second up and 0 second pause before starting next rep
3. Correct Form
This part is probably the easiest to correct. Now everyone squats a little differently but there are some main ideas that are the same. Foot width is something that varies person to person and will depend on your ankle and hip mobility. I personally like to stand about shoulder width apart with my toes pointed slightly out. When you take the squat out of the rack, or you’re doing an air squat/goblet squat, you want to remember to breathe properly. At the top of the squat, you want to take a deep breath and push it into your belly. Once you hit bottom of the squat and are coming back up, you want to breath this air out, especially at the sticking point. Another thing to remember is to be actively driving your knees out the entire squat. Most people tend to have their knees come in at the bottom of the squat. If you are actively pushing your knees out, especially as soon as you hit the bottom of the squat, this will make the squat a little easier.
Now there are plenty of other things you can do to help build strength and improve your squat. I think these are the 3 most important and easiest things to add to your routine. If you’re interested in learning more, check out some of these resources.
I hope you guys find these tips helpful! Make sure to tag us on Instagram @wholehealthhacks if you use any of these tips or comment below and let us know what you thought! Happy Fitness Friday!