Sunday, August 19, 2012

Improve the bottom of that squat

At Crossfit on the Square, we are embarking upon a 6-week Olympic lifting cycle, focusing on the clean, clean and jerk and the snatch, and I've discovered some lacking mobility in myself, so I've been inspired.  I'm about to start a brief series of entries aimed at addressing mobility issues that can hinder Olympic lifting movements - but nearly everyone could improve their mobility in these few specific areas, and I will try to offer some insight of the areas these might help you outside of these lifts.  So read on...

First, I'll start with the mobility issues in the bottom of a full squat, which is the "catching" position for the full clean and full snatch movements.  Many of us (myself, included), can get away with air squats, front squats or even back squatting with sub-optimal mobility in the ankles, because the position off the weight counterbalances us as we lean our weight back into our heels.  But in the overhead position, that weight also sits further back toward the heels, and can no longer counterbalance an artificial lean into the heels.  For those of us who need the weight to counterbalance us, this means that we cannot get to the bottom of the squat properly.  In order to recenter the weight, the knees need to come further forward in order to bring the trunk forward and get the bar over the feet again.  Poor ankle mobility can prevent the knees from getting further forward.

The movement we need in order to get the knees forward in the bottom of the squat is called dorsiflexion of the ankle and in this instance is most likely to be limited by a shortened gastrocs/soleus complex (these are the muscles that point your toes, and you know as your calves).

How to improve ankle mobility in the bottom of your squat?  Some options:
Simply stretch the calves.  The sneaky part here is going to be to make sure to do some stretches with your knee bent.  This will isolate the soleus muscle, which only crosses the ankle, making it our prime suspect in the bottom of the squat.

Or, you can foam roll your calves.  Be sure to do it with all three toe positions: straight up, pointed in, and pointed out.

Want to stretch, but add a little something to it?  Anchor a jumpstretch band to something sturdy and wrap it around your ankle.  This will help create some traction in the ankle (always awesome in sticky joints), and will help keep the ankle anchored to the ground better during your stretch.

No matter which other options you choose, work on your ankle mobility in the bottom of your squat!  This is where you want to see the improvements, right?  So work it there!  But balance is our archenemy in this one, right?  So hold on to something!

Do a little bit of this every day - preferably a couple times each day.  Spend a total of at least 3 minutes working on each ankle every day.  More time, if you can swing it.  Have someone photograph or video tape the bottom of your squat now, and then again at the end of our Oly cycle, and every week along the way.
And reap the rewards of your time.