In these trying times, it can be nice to know that some problems have simple answers. If you have trouble hitting depth in your squats, sometimes you just need a little ankle flexibility. And that’s something you can work on even if you’re not at the gym.
Ankle mobility is important for squats because as your hips and knees bend, your ankles need to bend too. The taller and longer-limbed you are, the more you’ll probably notice this. If your ankles are stiff, you’ll probably have the most issues with front squats and high bar squats, and do a bit better with low-bar squats (where the bar sits just below the top of your shoulders).
With good ankle mobility, you’ll have an easy time squatting deep enough, and keeping your feet stable throughout. If your ankles don’t bend easily, you might not be able to get all the way down with your heels still on the floor.
So how can you fix this issue? There are a few easy fixes, some quick and some that require a bit of time. While you may be looking forward to rocking your heavy barbell squats next time you’re in the gym, all of the following tips apply to bodyweight squats as well. Try them and see if your air squats feel better.
How to improve your ankle mobility instantly
First, remember that muscles stretch more easily once you’re warmed up. So instead of jumping straight into squats, warm up with some jogging or other exercises of your choice to get your legs moving.
Next, consider elevating your heels. Weightlifting shoes, also called squat shoes, will bring your heels a bit above the floor, so that you don’t need to bend your ankles quite as much to get to the same body positions. They’re a godsend if you have issues with depth or balance in your squats.
How to get even better ankle mobility over time
Ankles, like anything else, respond to foam rolling and stretching. You can do these exercises before you squat and they’ll help a bit immediately, but they may also help you improve your flexibility over time.
When we talk about ankle mobility, we mean dorsiflexion, which is the action of bringing your toes up toward your shins. The body parts that need to stretch here are actually located on the back of your leg, and include your Achilles tendon (which attaches to the back of your heel bone) and the soleus muscle that runs up the inside of your calf.
This ankle stretch, shown in the video below, targets those areas specifically. You want to stretch your calf with your knee bent, not straight. The stretch shown below is a lunge done while leaning against a wall, but instead of focusing on your back foot, you press your weight into your front foot with your knee bent. (Keep watching for a second, bonus exercise.)
You can also use a foam roller on your calf before you lift. Take a look at that and more ankle mobility exercises here. If your feet cramp up while you’re squatting or while you’re doing these exercises, roll a lacrosse ball under your foot too.
After you try all of those, give your squats a try again, and see if you can’t hit depth a little more comfortably.