Watch any healthy toddler and you’ll see that squatting is one of the easiest, most natural of movements. So why do so many of us have such a hard time doing one? There are many factors, but usually it boils down to decreased mobility due to age, lack of movement, and poor daily habits.
One of the best things you can do to improve in CrossFit—and to improve your overall ability to move through life—is to reclaim your squat. It is the building block of fundamental movements both in and outside the gym.
There are many exercises to work on your squat; here are a few to get you started:
First, Test Your Squat
Face a wall, with your feet stacked below your hips and your toes no more than four inches from the wall. Try to squat, sitting back and pushing your knees out. If you can’t get full depth from this position, it’s likely you have an immature squat. This means you have a tendency to “fold over” as you squat, making your torso go horizontal as you squat down. This may be a result of poor flexibility, or simply unfamiliarity with proper balance and use of your anterior leg muscles.
Wrap a medium band around a pole about 18″ off the ground and step into it. Place the band at the base of your spine, just above your butt, and take a step backward so there is tension in the band. Now squat to full depth and hold it. The support of the band will help you to shift your weight back further than you normally would without tipping over backward. Get a feel for what this is like, with your torso vertical and the bulk of your weight shifted toward the back half of your foot. You can also do this by simply squatting while straddling a pole.
Sit at the bottom of a squat with a bumper plate or a kettlebell. Keep your torso as vertical as possible in this position and sit for thirty seconds at a time. The weight will help push you into full depth, while at the same time providing a counterbalance that will allow you to shift your weight backward onto your heels. This works similar to a band but also helps you get into full depth because of the added weight. For an added stretch, use your elbows to gently push your knees out. The key is to go only as deep as you can while maintaining perfect form. Keep your back straight and strong; keep the weight evenly distributed on your feet.
Push one knee against a wall with your shin and the top of your foot going up along it, and then step forward into a lunge. You may want to use an ab mat to pad your knee. Carefully stand your torso up as much as flexibility allows, keep your hips square and facing forward. Hold for ten to fifteen seconds. For a more advanced stretch, grab your forward foot with the hand from the same side, turn your trunk toward your knee, and gently push your knee out with your elbow. This helps to stretch your hip flexors even more. Hold for ten to 15 seconds and then switch sides.
How’s Your Progress?
Proper positioning takes time. The more you practice, the better your squat will get. You can gauge your progress by using a medicine ball on bumper plates. Try squatting down into proper position, but stop as soon as your torso begins to fold over. This is the point at which you are losing squat control. It may only be three or four inches at first. Build up the medicine ball to that height using more bumper plates, and practice good squat form with this limited range of motion. Make a note of the height. Continue to practice the exercises above two or three times a week. Then, at the end of each week, set up a medicine ball again on bumper plates to see if your range of motion has improved. If the ball is lower than last time you tested, you’ve improved!