For as long as I can remember I’ve had problems getting into a full depth squat. So long that the definition of “full depth” has changed and only made me further away from my goal.
Let Me Explain
You see, for years the advice was to “only squat to parallel” so as not to put any undue strain on the knees. Which is, quite frankly, rubbish. Of course at the time none of us knew this, so it can kind of be forgiven.
Anyway, the full depth squat is much deeper than this. In fact, in full range of motion you should be able to get your bum to rest on the back of your calves. Yes, really.
I, on the other hand, struggle to get to a ¾ squat. When I do get to a deeper squat position, it is through severe compensation in my back with a forward lean. How I sit and stand up in my daily life I have no idea. Ok, I do know how – through maladaptation – but I’ll get to that later.
The True Full Depth Squat
Watch a toddler at play and you’ll see the very natural full depth squat position within, I’d guess, a few minutes. Children will rarely bend at the waste to get to something on the floor, they’ll squat down. In fact, they can quite happily play with an object on the floor while sitting in the bottom of the squat.
In more primitive cultures, the squat is actually a sitting position. Used to rest, the squat is a perfect position to unload the legs, back and glutes.
With full mobility in the ankles, hips and knees, the deep squat should be comfortable and easy, but in our modern lives this has become a increasingly more difficult to achieve.
Whether it’s spending too much time in a seated position (tightening the hips, hamstrings and calves and causing a slumped upper body position and limited back mobility) or wearing poor footwear (again tightening the calves and also the achilles tendon), our modern squat position is much more restricted than the free movement we see in children and less westernised cultures.
My Slightly More Complex Issue
Not wanting to be outdone, I’ve gone a step further in my squat depth deficit. You see, I’m a postural mess.
My recent visit to see Caroline Kremer had already made me more aware of my posture and the areas that need work, but little did I know just how much it was affecting my exercise.
With increasing frustration at not being able to participate in CrossFit competitions outside of my usual training, and being limited at my strength in lifts such as the Snatch and the Clean and Jerk because of my poor squat depth, I booked in to see Joseph O’Connor of Forge Physio.
Following a few tests to eliminate other factors, Joe quickly identified the main reason for my high squat position as ankle mobility caused by tightness in my calves. He told me that in order to get just to parallel you need 22 degrees of dorsi flexion (bringing the foot towards your shin). I have 0 degrees. Yep… zero degrees.
The forward lean in my standing position is referred to as a “sway back” posture, and guess what… the calf muscles control sway. Joe explained to me that by standing and walking in this position my calves are always switched on, basically my calves are clinging on desperately to stop me falling flat on my face. Yeah, classy.
Now What To Do?
The bottom line is that in order to get more ankle mobility I need to learn to switch my calves off. By constantly working to hold me upright they have become seriously over-used and over-tight. Joe showed me the correct standing posture I would need to work to achieve, and also how to walk without leaning my weight forwards onto my toes – simple things that everyone does, but with nearly 30 years of standing and walking this way I’ve got a lot of catching up to do.
He also advised me that I would need to be vigilant in breaking bad habits where I go up onto my toes; until recently I had always climbed stairs on the balls of my feet rather than planting my foot flat on the step. Reaching for things in cupboards, standing up and sitting down, have all historically been done with my heels off the ground. This is the “maladaptation” I eluded to earlier; meaning a trait that is, or has become, more harmful than helpful.
The final piece to my squat puzzle is a concentrated amount of time stood on a slant board. By putting my calves in a sustained stretch (at least 5 minutes accumulated over the course of a day) there would be an opportunity for positive adaptations to occur, in the form of the soft tissues of my calves to start to release.
Soon after I will also begin to stand on the board with bent knees, working on my squat depth. At the moment I can only achieve a slight bend when my feet are on the slant board.
The Long And The Short Of It
Perhaps optimistically, Joe advised that, with consistent focus, I could get myself to 10 degrees of movement in my super stiff ankles in a 12 week period. With 22 degrees being the ultimate goal, this means at least 6 months of waiting, and stretching.
I hope I can get there…
Watch this space!