You Can’t Do Squat, But A Baby Can Part 2

26 Jul You Can’t Do Squat, But A Baby Can Part 2

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Part 2 of the You Can’t Do Squat, But A Baby Can series. Complete with a bunch of instructional videos, learn how to get a deep squat pattern back and take your performance up a level.


You Can’t Do Squat, But A Baby Can Part 2

In Part 1 I discussed some common restrictions that keep the body from deep squatting. Today I’ll go over one last common restriction, some tests to figure out the difference between an ankle mobility restriction and a calf flexibility restriction, and some corrective strategies to get your baby squat back.

Anterior Pelvic Tilt
You may have heard the term “sway back” before.  A person with an anterior pelvic tilt is someone who has an excessive lumbar curve or “sway back”. This is the person who looks like they’re always sticking their butt out and arching their low back. A lot of athletes and lifters, including me, have this because of the nature and repetitive movement of sports and lifting.

When the pelvis is tilted anteriorly, it can pull on the hamstrings, which attach to it, taught. If the hamstrings are pulled tight like this it can make deep squatting difficult or change the mechanics, not to mention cause back pain.

You can observe this when you watch someone with this tightness do a deep squat. Assuming they can get down into position, their butt tucks under them at a certain point because the hamstrings are pulled so taught.

This obviously happens to someone who is on the far end of the spectrum as far as anterior pelvic tilt and there is also question to what constitutes a “problematic” degree of tilt. If you’re interested Bret Contreras wrote a really interesting article on T-Nation all about this: Don’t Be Like Donald Duck

Testing Restriction

So this brings us to testing restriction and specifically finding out if that restriction at your ankle is an actual mobility restriction at the joint or if the calf muscle is tight.

Although there are tests to see if hip restriction is capsular, and so a joint mobility issue, or a muscular restriction, tightness in the actual hip flexor muscles, it is harder to test for this on your own in my opinion so we will stick to the ankles for now.

To test:

  1. Stand facing a wall and place one of your feet in front 1- 3 inches away from the wall.  (If you have tight ankles start on the lower end of the range.)
  2. Place both hands on the wall and try touching your knee to the wall.
  3. Keep your front heel down and lead with your knee and not your hips.
If you feel like your ankle is locking up in the front it’s most likely restriction is capsular and joint mobility, specifically within the talocrural joint.

If you feel a stretch in the in back of your calf it’s most likely a muscular flexibility restriction.

Addressing Ankle Restriction 

The muscular flexibility restriction can be addressed with a bunch of calf stretches, most of which I’m sure you learned in middle school gym class.

To address mobility though, you would set up the same way you would to test ankle restriction but rock back and forth multiple times:

Loosen Those Hips

If we’re sitting all day and our hips are constantly stiffening we need to aggressively address the issue and that’s where the bent knee band resisted hip flexor mobilization helps.

Check out the video below from my Flexibility For Performance Series  :

  1. Attach a resistance band low to a stable post and step through the band pulling it as high as possible on your leg.
  2. Step back into a deep lunge and make sure you feel a good amount of resistance from the band.
  3. Grab your back leg and pull it up towards your butt. (This allows the rectus femoris to be stretched adequately because it crosses both the hip and knee and is involved in both hip flexion and knee extension.  Flexing the knee makes sure of this.
  4. Rock back and forth to go through your active range of motion.

The assistance of the band pulls you into a deeper hip flexors stretch  and adds resistance to your hip extensors when you rock backward and extend the hip thereby getting a little activation of your extensors ( the inhibited muscles) while you stretch.

Remember that after you loosen up the hip flexors you have to correct the problem of your inhibited hip extensors.  Glute bridges and hip thrusters are some great fundamental movements for this.

Fixing the Squat Pattern

When you build strength and fitness on a dysfunctional squat pattern your body makes sure to protect itself. Fixing this dysfunction is never as easy as you think it will be.

A while back I had a client who literally could not squat to parallel. So, I did what any overconfident young coach would do andassumed he had a muscular or capsular restriction that prevented him from squatting lower and zealously taught him to do every mobility drill in the book without testing anything.

One day, I decided to take him off his feet and actually check his passive range of motion in his hips and ankles.  He seemed to have no restriction. I then had him lay on his back and actively raise his locked out leg to check his active hip mobility in a non-weight bearing position.

Hip mobility seemed perfect.

So I’m thinking, “I am all that is man and coach. I just fixed this poor soul. I wonder if people will build monuments to me one day. I hope whoever works on my statue carves my image with hair.”

I immediately stand him up and tell him to a do a deep squat. He still can’t

What the heck?

Well, younger self, let’s break this down.  If someone has a restriction from injury or general tightness and he tries to squat low his body will stop reflexively stop itself before the degree of motion where he experiences pain or where his tightness will inhibit him.

So time goes by and our hypothetical guy is injury free and has adequate mobility to perform a deep squat.  Naturally you would expect the problem to fix itself and to see him perform a perfect squat but instead he physically can’t squat past that same point.

The restriction still exists because he created and enforced a motor pattern with the partial range of motion and no longer has the stability to perform a deep squat.

His body reflexively stops itself from squatting lower because he cannot use the range of motion while stabilizing his own bodyweight.

This is what happened to my client. It looked as if he still had a mobility restriction but instead he did not have the stability to perform a deep squat so his body stopped itself before he went to low and fell backwards.


Learn Like A Baby

There’s a solution to all this. You need to reestablish the full squat pattern like a baby does – from the ground up.

I did end up helping my client; I helped him sit down on a low box and then I told him to stand up. I had him do this over and over explaining that this is what a squat is.

Eventually I took the box away, had him kneel down on his knees, then get in a squat position and stand up. As time went on I loaded him by having him hold a dumbbell in a goblet squat position like this:


Other Methods

Correcting and perfecting the squat pattern can also be done by what I’ve hear Gray Cook call “riding a weight into the hole.”
This is what it looks like:

You use a heavy enough weight to actually force you into a deep squat position, drop the weight at the bottom, have someone hand it to you at the top again, and repeat.


Reckless Abandon

Sometimes you can’t stop squatting long enough for you to use all of these methods and perfect your squat pattern, I get that. You may be an athlete who has to keep your squat number up or a lifter with a competition coming up. While you should exercise caution in your lifting if your squat pattern is so screwed up that it may cause you to injure yourself eventually, sometimes you have to keep squatting.

That’s fine, just implement some of these tools before or after your workout.

Remember that these are just a few causes and solutions to restrictions and you would be wise to remember that there are other reasons for restrictions and that the problem is usually more complicated then it seems.

If you want a more detailed list of mobility drills that won’t just “stretch” you out but rather fix patterns and perform better check out my  Flexibility For Performance Series absolutely free.

Have you used any drills that I didn’t mention to correct your squat pattern? Let me know in the comments, I’d like to hear them.

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