Frozen Ankles, Ugly Squatting

About the Author: Eric Cressey

Q: For years, I have had difficulties with acquiring any real depth in my back squats. I took on board all the thoughts some authors had about working on ankle mobility and then what others had to say about weak abdominals and how they can wreak havoc on one’s ability squatting into the hole.  However, it wasn’t until I went to get fitted for a pair of orthotics recently at the podiatrist’s that I realized that even though I have done STACKS of ankle mobility and soft tissue work, genetically, I am limited by my foot and ankle structure to ever really squat deep.

Why on earth have these authors of whom I have a great deal of respect for continued not to acknowledge that for some people, squatting DEEP is simply not an option due to structural limitations. I rate you among the best of the best out there Eric so if anyone should tackle this one and explore why genetics can dramatically improve or hinder someone’s ankle mobility it should be you!

A: I have actually seen a fair amount of high-level athletes with feet like this, and you just have to realize that you can’t put a round peg in a square hole. If you have a foot that won’t allow for much dorsiflexion (toe-to-shin range-of-motion), it just won’t let you squat deep safely. These are the guys who get better results from single-leg work in place of squatting.

And, if you are going to try squatting variations, it ought to be more sitting back (box squats or powerlifting-style free squats) where the shin is more vertical, but the spine remains in neutral. Have a look at this squatting video and you’ll see that sitting back minimizes how much dorsiflexion ROM one needs to get the benefits of squatting:

Conversely, check out this more quad-dominant, “traditional” squat. You’ll see that the knees come forward more, indicative of more dorsiflexion occurring.

Why has this become such an issue? Well, there are still a lot of coaches out there who are just “clean, squat, bench only” – and a one size fits all approach like that is sure to throw some athletes under the bus. These guys want to do what they’ve always done rather than recognize that everyone isn’t the same; otherwise, they’ve lost one-third of their training arsenal! The more open-minded guys are looking to functional mobility and stability deficits – and the guys who “get it” are realizing that some athletes are just “stuck” with the ankles they’ve got.

For more information, check out To Squat or Not to Squat, featured previously in Newsletter 91.