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There are essentially three things to address in correcting this problem: 1. Mobility (both hip and ankle), 2. Core stability, 3. Footwear. Let’s address these one at a time.
A. Mobility: It is important to consider that mobility is different from flexibility. Whereas flexibility refers to the length of a muscle or group of muscles, mobility refers to the range of motion about a specific joint. When it comes to functional movement (like that required in a below parallel squat), we want to improve mobility. You will want to focus on hip flexion and external rotation, as well as ankle dorsiflexion. A great article with videos of both hip and ankle mobility exercises can be found here.
B. Stability: When addressing this problem we need to consider the possibility that what appears to be a mobility problem may actually be a stability problem. In reality most cases of movement dysfunction in the human body are a combination of both lack of mobility and lack of stability. The reason why stability issues often present as mobility problems is that if the body cannot stabilize itself through a given range of motion, it will simply reduce the range of motion that is has to move through, thus creating a more stable (and usually safer) movement pattern. For example, if I have poor spinal stability during a squat and my back starts to flex near the bottom of a squat, my body will often respond by limiting the hip and knee flexion that it moves through in order to protect the spine and prevent it from flexion unnecessarily. Motion requires stability. It follows that less motion, all else equal, requires less stability. In order to address stability issues we have to focus on improving spinal stability, particularly through ground-based core strengthening exercises. My favorites for this are the cable lift and chop and the Pallof press. Videos of these can be found here: Pallof Press and here Cable Lift and Chop. The stance progression (from easiest to most difficult) for these two movements is as follows: standing, tall kneeling, half-kneeling, squat, split squat. I would master the full squat position for these movements in order to improve core strength specifically for the squat. However, progression must be used to start out. Other core stabilization movements for the squat are the following:
C. Footwear: many people like to squat in Olympic Lifting Shoes. These are fine, but they require great hip mobility and can negatively affect ankle mobility. A better choice for those with less than ideal hip mobility may be Reebok's Version of Powerlifting Shoes.
- Bryan Dermody, Powerlifter/Former Strength Coach