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Hey Dr. Bell,
I have really good squat form and technique, but I want to go lower in my squat (ATG). The problem is I don’t have the flexibility. I can get to about an inch past parallel, but I can’t get any lower than that. What are some stretches I can do to improve flexibility?
I do not recommend going lower than “knee hip line” in a Squat. The IFPA Key Teaching Points (IFPA-KTPs) for a Squat state “Do not exceed “Knee Hip Line.” IFPA-KTPs are based on maximum effectiveness, while minimizing risk. Descending to the Knee-Hip-Line, but not going below the boundary, provides a great deal of effectiveness. Descending below the Knee-Hip-Line DOES increase the effectiveness of the exercise by increasing the stretch and placing higher levels of stress on the Vastus Medialis and Vastus Medialis Obliques (the VMOs). The VMOs are the primary stabilizers for the patella and play a key role in treatment, care and prevention of knee capsule injuries and rehabilitation.
Why then would the IFPA not recommended everyone go down to the “The Bucket” (AKA: “Butt-to-the-floor” or “ATG”)?
The reason for the “Knee-Hip-Line” KTP is that, at least 40% or more of the population has a knee structure that does not readily handle that full range of motion (ROM) under load, without risk of injury. While everyone should have a functional range of motion (FROM) where they can go down into a “Bucket” unloaded, many cannot safely achieve that FROM without significant chance that some structures in the knee would be injured. And of course, the greater the load, the greater the chance of injury.
Add to the risk that a relative beginner or even an advanced lifter that violates other IFPA-KTPs while Squatting “ATG” will exponentially increase the risk of injury. Exceeding Knee Hip Line can be dangerous, but doing so while exceeded Knee-Toe-Line, Twisting the Femur in relation to the Tibia, not keeping the knees over the toes, bouncing at the bottom, or violating any other IFPA KTP can easily result in injury.
If you feel that you can handle Squatting to the Bucket, then do make sure you have sufficient ROM. Try the Bucket unloaded first. Try several Reps unloaded, slow and controlled. Determine if any particular muscle or group feels tight, restrictive or painful. Targeted flexibility work can improve FROM, but it is highly recommended you follow all the IFPA Guidelines for flexibility and increase your FROM symmetrically throughout your body.
Athletes may present with tight Gastrocnemius – Achilles Tendon- Ankle Complex, but in my experience “the ankle bone is connected to the knee bones and the knee bone is connected to the thigh bone…” just like the song says. When you work exclusively to correct a limited ROM in the calf, your tight Q.L. (Quadratus Lumborum) can tear and put you out of training for weeks or months. Improve your flexibility in ALL your muscles and around all your joints.
Therefore, to improve your FROM for ATG Squats, stretch your QL, IT Bands, Quadriceps, Hamstrings, Abductors, Adductors, Gastrocnemious-Achilles Tendon. Do light stretching prior to ATG Squats and do not hold a stretch for more than 6 seconds. Work to increase your FROM during your Cool-Down and follow your IFPA Stretching Guidelines to maximize your safety and effectiveness.