I have a confession to make….
My squat sucks.
I really struggle to get my thighs parallel to the floor when I squat without my heels lifting. I struggle to keep my back straight and chest lifted and I feel like I lose my balance when I try to squat as low as possible. When seeing photos of myself playing Roller Derby, I feel like my knees are really bent and that I’m in really good Derby Stance but it reality – not so much.
And we all know why getting low down is good for Derby right? And also how squats are great for your strength and stance?
So why won’t my knees bend as far as I want them to??
Tight Calf Muscles & Ankles
To be able to squat properly, to get your thighs to parallel or below without your knees caving inwards or your heels lifting from the floor, you need good ankle dorsiflexion.
Dorsiflexion is how far you can bend your foot towards your shins (If you used to do Ballet its the “naughty toes” motion). In order to have good ankle dorsiflexion you need flexible calf muscles.
Often, people spend most of their time with their ankles in plantar flexion – toes pointing downward due to wearing a raised heel or sitting on a chair with toes pointed down and heels lifted. In this position your calf muscles are in constant contraction. Over time, your calf muscles will become shortened meaning your ankle dorsiflexion becomes less and less!
Why is dorsiflexion important?
In order to be able to squat properly – thighs at least parallel to the ground, knees in line with toes, chest up and hips back – you have to bend the hip, knee and ankle past 90 degrees. If you can’t do one, you can’t do either.
Having good dorsiflexion is also great for sports that involved a lot of jumping (hello!) as it means you can absorb more impact as you land through bending ankles, knees and hips.
Tight ankles and calves tend to lead to sprains, strains and Achilles injuries. Ew!
For some lolz and a demonstration of good dorsiflexion, here are some pics of my boyfriend squatting verses moi.
How to improve dorsiflexion
Foam Roll That Shit
Get yourself a foam roller and maybe a golf ball. Use these to massage all the muscles in your calves and feet to try and break up some of the knottiness. Roll all the way from behind the knee and side to side. Use the golf ball to work on the heel and sole of your foot. You can even put the ball on the floor and roll your foot over it.
Stretch Those Bad Boys
Calf Wall Stretch – Put on your trainers, find a wall and, with your heel on the floor, get the ball of your foot up against the wall as far as you can. Then bring your hips closer to the wall, keeping your leg straight so you can really feel the stretch. Hold for 5 seconds then breath out as you push deeper into the stretch. Keep breathing deeper and deeper into the stretch until you’ve gone as far as you can before switching legs. Then repeat the stretch, this time with a bent knee for a more squat-like position.
Bent knee calf stretch: Stand a few feet away from a wall or a chair and stagger your feet with both feet facing straight forward. Bend both knees until you can feel the stretch in the back leg and hold for 20-30 seconds before switching legs.
Perform these stretches at least once a day for a minute each leg and especially after skating, workout out or wearing any shoes with a heel.
Practice Good Squat Form
Wall-Facing Squat – Get yourself in front of a nice wall and stand about a foot away with feet shoulder width apart and toes pointed out slightly. Next, raise your arms above your head and place your palms against the wall. Squat down as low as you can go without your head, boobies or knees to touch the wall, making sure you’re pushing your bum out behind you and that your knees are going in the same direction as your feet. Try to keep your back neutral – neither over arched or rounded – but try to get as close to parallel as you can. Don’t worry if you can’t get that low yet, over time you will improve.
Assisted/Pole Squat – As the name may suggest, find a pole, grab onto it and squat! It will prevent you from toppling backwards whilst getting your body into the correct position.
There are other factors that can limit how low you can get that maybe I’ll approach in another post but for now, lets work on those damn calves!
Let me know how low you can go in the comments.