View Full Version : Squat Form and Ankle Mobility

Marcus Holden
06-06-2008, 01:54 PM
Hey guys, lately, I've been working on two drills: the Third World Squat (http://www.t-nation.com/readArticle.do?id=1856085&cr) and pistol squats. Basically, my form on front squats and overhead squats are really good, but only while wearing olympic shoes (or any shoes with a raised heel). When doing OHS without shoes, I can barely break parallel, so I've been working on these two exercises (mainly the deep third world squat), but have hit a wall.

When doing the third world squat in shoes, I can sit deep without any problem for minutes at a time. However, when I try to do them without shoes, I have to lean really far forward to balance myself. When I do them without shoes, I can sit really deep, but I have to me holding onto something in front of me, like a power rack. I've practiced this for a few weeks, and stretched everything I can think of, but I hit a plateau. Here's my problem: I can't dorsoflex my ankle past a certain point and keep my heel on the ground, so I have to 'sit back' when doing these squats. My knees are in my armpits, my femurs are pressed into my torso - it's got to be my ankles. However, it really, honestly doesn't feel like a flexibility issue - rather, it feels like mobility of the joint. When I try to flex my knee forward and keep my heel on the ground, I don't feel any kind of stretch. Instead, I feel bone on bone - just complete inability to move the joint any further. This immobility is minor - isn't interfering with my life, and I'm sure I have better than average overall mobility/flexibility, but I'd really like to be able to break parallel on OHS without relying on shoes. Is it possible to just be structurally incapable? Does the sensation I'm experiencing (no stretch in the muscle - just a hard stop) mean I've hit a structural limit, or is there something I can do about it?

Thanks in advance for the help.

Steven Low
06-06-2008, 02:21 PM
I have a very similar problem because I sprained my ankle badly and elected not to go to PT. Of course, at the time I didn't know I was supposed to stretch it out pretty much right away to regain mobility especially before calcification occurred in the joint. So my left ankle is like minus 10 degrees plantar flexion and dorsiflexion. Very tough to get my knees over my toes very far without the bone on bone grinding like you said Marcus.

Would be interested to hear some ideas for this.

Garrett Smith
06-06-2008, 03:05 PM

You may want to find a chiropractor who does extremity adjusting and see if there are any fixations that can be adjusted out.

Foot drills. (http://wellness.ndsu.nodak.edu/fitness/Events/marathon/footDrills.pdf)

Ankle flexion mobility drills. See this article (http://www.t-nation.com/article/most_recent/the_ankle_paradox_building_indestructible_ankles) for some, Z-Health is also a great place to learn them from. There are some YouTube videos on basic mobility drills, some of them are on this page (http://recoveryourstride.blogspot.com/).

You may already have done or are doing some of the above. If so, you may be stuck with a problem that isn't the end of the world. Simply keep squatting in shoes--better to squat than not!

Derek Weaver
06-06-2008, 03:46 PM
I also think that Cressey has done some ankle stuff on T-Nation... or maybe he's more of a hip and shoulder guy.

I'll look and see what I can find and post.

Allen Yeh
06-06-2008, 08:11 PM
Mike Boyle had a ankle mobility drills I liked which I do on a regular basis because of a 2nd degree sprain in my right ankle back in 2004.

The foot mobility drils are great as well.

Greg had one where you in Oly shoes just squat down and shift your weight from side to side. I know this is not the most descriptive but I can't think of how else to say this.

Steven Low
06-06-2008, 09:56 PM
Ah, well, for me at least the one thing that is the problem is if I stretch it (mainly soleus type stretches), it starts to swell up again and hurts to walk. So I really don't think I'm going to get back my mobility again unless I can figure something out that works.

Garrett Smith
06-09-2008, 02:58 PM
Don't underestimate the power of an adjustment/manipulation, you guys. If 1-3 adjustments doesn't fix it, then move on, but if you don't try it you'll never know.

Even Dr. Cobb (the Z-Health man) says that there are times that we need external forces applied to joints to get them back in line...

Steven Low
06-09-2008, 05:33 PM
I have tried exactly 2 or 3 different times to stretch it beyond it's current limit with said swelling and stuff afterwards. I'm probably gonna wait another couple months and try again. I don't like being limited.

Allen Yeh
06-09-2008, 06:13 PM

So anything in regards to stretching aggravates your ankle, how about mobility exercises? Same story?

Steven Low
06-09-2008, 08:19 PM
Mobility/strengthening it seems to be ok. Pushing the limits of my flexibility leads to the swelling and pain inside the joint. :\

Charles Moreland
07-31-2008, 04:47 PM
I actually have this same issue. It's taken me several months of work Marcus but I can now get to the point where I can sit and not hold on to anything. Trust me, LONG TIME. It took me 4 months of dedicated work to even get my squats lower than parallel. When I sit in the "asian" squat, I notice my shins are not forward at all and are actually relatively vertical, so I have to rely on better hip mobility.

I also generously stretch my soleus and have seen very minor mobility gains. I've noticed even a 5 degree raise in my heels will make this position feel absolutely comfortable in every way yet I cannot seem to force my shins forward in this position.

For me this position is very much a workout and involves most of my posterior chain to hold balance. It isn't relaxing at all.

edit - I didn't realize this was my first post. I've been a troll here for wayyyy too long...

Greg Everett
07-31-2008, 08:21 PM
Keep stretching the shit out of the ankles - as Allen said, sit in a squat, rest your forearms across one knee at a time and lean on it so you can drive the knee down.

Another trick is to send the knees outside the feet (i.e. instead of the thigh and foot being parallel, the thigh is at a slightly greater angle than the foot away from center). This may get you a few more degrees, especially if you have ankle problems like steven (and me). But soleus inflexibility can feel like joint limitations - trust that stretching will help, but it takes a long time and much stretching througout the day.

Allen Yeh
08-01-2008, 04:05 AM
I recently ran across the Dick Hartzell Lower Body flexibility routine, Shaf has done it and really likes it. I have just started doing it last week. Shaf recommended 4-6 times a week for maximum benefit. If you have Jumpstretch or Iron Woody bands it would be something to look into.

John Kaupp
08-22-2008, 11:31 AM
Something came to mind while reading this. Try working your ankles either by getting in a lunge position working it lower and lower if you can without pain. As you get better at it, get it to a high lunge with you back heel on the ground and your back leg as straight as you can. If you can also unweight yourself(lunging between to benches and holding on) you could work the foot in different directions while in the lunge to try and get some mobility.
Another one might be to set your foot up on a box as you would for step ups that would be below parellel. Work your range of motion with your other foot on the ground both front to front and side to side. You will also get the added bonus of some hip flexor at the same time.
Also if you haven't tried deck squats, or squatting while counterbalanced with a 5 or 10kg plate held in front of you. Just some thoughts.

Ben Moskowitz
08-22-2008, 02:40 PM
Wouldn't that stretch the calf rather than the soleus? I thought the latter was what we were after. Anyone have some good stretches besides what Greg mentioned?

Steven Low
08-22-2008, 03:37 PM
Wouldn't that stretch the calf rather than the soleus? I thought the latter was what we were after. Anyone have some good stretches besides what Greg mentioned?
Soleus = bent knee, Gastroc = straight knee; they both make up the "calf" though.

Basically do stuff that stretches both... be creative.