One fairly common theme that we see from people is that they are having to find positions they never knew they needed to have. Take the overhead squat, for instance. Holding a bar overhead, while pointing your elbows to the ground, having your armpits facing forward, with the shoulder blades retracted and pushing upwards, is a problem for a lot of people. Life in our world doesn’t often call for these positions. It calls for the positions necessary to talk/text on the phone, drive a car, and type on a computer. Or, take the deadlift. Picking something up off of the ground with a completely straight spine is not taught in our day to day life. Slouching, relaxing on the couch, and generally not focusing on having a straight spine is the norm. So, when we tell you to drive your knees out at the bottom of your squat position, understand one thing first and foremost: we understand that this is new. We also understand that it is hard. So, why do we ask it of you?
Because it’s the safest way to squat. With the foot flat on the ground, if the knees drive out as the hip descends to the bottom of the squat position, your joints are locked into their respective positions in a healthy way, and your tendons and ligaments are all bending in ways that they are supposed to bend. Keep in mind, this is a relatively new way to teach the squat. We used to simply say, “Make sure your knees track over your feet.” Now we say, “With the foot flat, drive the knees out as far as you can.” It ramps up the torque and tension in the hips, leading to a safer position. But what if you are unable to do this? There are two areas of your body that you may want to consider mobilizing.
The first is your ankle. If any of you played sports in another life, you probably remember spraining your ankle over and over again. This, and other activities in your life have led to a serious build-up of scar tissue. How do you know if your ankle is an issue for you? Try performing a one-legged squat. If you can’t perform one with full range of motion while keeping your heel glued to the ground, you lack ankle flexibility. A simple way to work on this is to elevate the ball of the your foot on something, perhaps a 2×4 or some other household object. While keep the heel on the ground, drive your knee forward, and out. This helps you practice your ankle flexion.
Another problem area could be your hip. Because so many of us sit at our jobs, our hips can get very tight. On the side of your hip are two muscles that are stacked on top of one another, the gluteus medius and the gluteus minimus. With the leg straightened, the gluteus medius and gluteus minimus function together to pull the thigh away from midline, or “abduct” the thigh. If these muscles are tight, you obviously wouldn’t be able to perform said movements. So, how can we help this? With our dear, dear friend, the lacrosse ball. Take said ball, lie on your side, and put the lacrosse between your gluteus medius and the ground. Put your weight onto the lacrosse ball. Now, while laying on your side, straighten and extend your leg in a squatting type motion. Do this for a minimum of two minutes per side.
The goal for you should be to, with feet flat, drive your knees out and your hips down until your hamstrings bump into your calves, and cannot go down any further. Some people call this the “third world squat.” Regardless of what it’s called, it should be on your list of movements to conquer.
(Source: CrossFit Verve, written by Luke Palmisano)