Regardless of how strong you are, hip and ankle mobility is critical for achieving proper squat form, says Renee Peel, NSCA-certified personal trainer at Fhitting Room in New York City. The reason? Having a solid range of motion in these areas allows you to squat deeply and activate the right muscles. If you don't have proper mobility, you run the risk of overcompensating, and driving the movement from your back instead of recruiting your legs and glutes. Aside from struggling in your squats, other indicators that you may have poor hip or ankle mobility include constantly feeling tight or stiff in those joints and muscles, or pain in other areas like your low back or knees.
If sounds familiar, Peel suggests elevating your heels onto a raised surface when you squat instead of keeping them parked on the floor. When your heels are elevated, it changes the shin-to-foot angle, and there's less of a backward bend (otherwise known as "dorsiflexion") of the foot. According to Peel, this will allow you to get into a deeper squat while keeping an upright torso, because it requires less mobility in the ankle and hips. So by elevating the heels, ideally, you should be able to get into a squat more easily (and go deeper) than if your feet were flat on the ground.
Simply put, the heel-elevated squat is a great option for squat newbies or those with limited mobility in their hips and ankles. But before you try this variation, Peel says it's important to have the basics of how to perform a squat nailed down, such as maintaining an upright posture, shifting your hips back, and keeping your weight evenly distributed throughout the feet.
And if mobility is your problem, instead of ignoring it, "this should be addressed so that this [heel elevated squats] is not used as a crutch," says Peel. (Here's a great 10-minute mobility workout.)
How to do a heel elevated squat
1. Grab a weighted plate, dumbbells, or squat wedge. Place your heels on the plate, or object of your choice, and stand with your feet slightly wider than hip-width apart (or however you normally place your feet when performing squats) and your toes on the ground.
2. With control, engage your core and glutes, maintaining an upright posture. Keeping your weight evenly distributed throughout your feet, inhale, and as you begin to lower down into a squat, push your hips backward like you were going to sit on a chair. Try to get your hips below your knees but don't force it, and remember to keep your torso vertical and your spine straight.
3. Hold for one to three seconds, embrace your core, then exhale as you push through your feet to return to the starting position, leading from the crown of your head.
4. This counts as one rep. Complete three sets of 10 reps.
Perfect your squat form with this simple tutorial:
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