Unable to keep heels down in a full squat? It may not be your ankles’ fault!

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If you google ‘how to keep heels down in a squat’, you are likely to see many articles that streamlined the cause to be Ankle Tightness. Now, I’m not doubting that ankle tightness is the main reason for the inability to keep heels down in a squat, but that are other causes that get very little attention and I’m going to talk about them today.

Limited Hip Flexion

*Hip Flexion – Decreasing the distance between Stomach and Thigh

When going down into a full squat, in order to counterbalance the weight of our buttocks, the knees have to travel forward, or you will lean your upper torso forward over your feet. The closer your chest comes towards your knees, the easier to balance. Now, if you have poor hip flexion, you will face difficulty in leaning your torso forward over your knees, which puts more weight backwards (direction of the buttocks). Hence you will have to stretch your knees forward even further to counterbalance the weight – which will force you to elevate your heels!

Now, mobility exercises can be found everywhere so I’m not going to add on to that. I’ll be going through exercises that STRENGTHEN your hip flexion. No matter how flexible you are, if you are not strong enough to stay in or stand up from your squat comfortably, your brain and body (think muscle memory) are not going let you do multiple reps of it.   

To strengthen hip flexion, you may try these exercises:

Happy Baby Pose

Despite hearing about this pose from my yogi students, I only get to practice this during an online yoga class yesterday, and I felt that this is quite a good alternative to a full squat!

Benefits:

  1. Stretches Adductor and Groin
  2. Passive Engagement of Hip Flexion (so stay there for at least 1 minute to let your hip be accustomed to the flexion)

In my video below, you will find various modifications to Happy Baby Pose. Choose the one that suits your current capability and eventually advance towards the true pose. The most important cue to note – Tailbone down towards the ground.

Horse Stance

In my earlier days in Gymnastics, Horse stance has to be practised in every single session to build explosive strength for jumps. Most of the time, the mind gives up before the legs so this is also a good time to hone your mental toughness. 

Benefits:

  1. Builds Active Hip Flexion Strength
  2. Improve balance from the strength development in legs
  3. You will never have to worry about finding a chair again!

In my video below, you will find 2 versions of Horse Stance:

  1. Beginner – Wide Horse stance
  2. Advanced – Narrow Horse stance

Final exercise – don’t be surprised… JUST DO A LOT OF SQUATS!

Yes, if you want to get a good squat, why not try to do… a lot of squats?

“Specificity + Frequent Practice = Success”

Pavel Tsatsouline

To prevent falling backwards (which results in elevation of heels), simply hold onto something in front of you to keep you leaning forward so the heels stay down as you descend. No matter how many supplementary exercises you do, if you don’t do the real thing, your body is never going to have the chance to familiarize itself with the squat and then, your full squats with heels down is not going to ever happen.

Ankle & Calves Tightness

 As Ankle tightness is still one of the main causes, let’s head towards an exercise that not only stretches your ankle and calves but also builds the strength & engagement of your ankle to do multiple reps of a single-leg squat.

To improve ankle & calves tightness and strength:

Unilateral Heel Raise

As you descend your heel down, you are increasing the dorsiflexion of your ankle (toes coming towards the shin). You will feel a stretch in your calves – the ones that limit the flexion in your ankle.

As you ascend, you are building strength in the calves and ankles so that these muscles have the strength to stand up from a squatting position.

Only when your body knows it has the strength to ascend from squatting position, it will be more comfortable in descending into it. To build familiarity with squats, do many many squats. No matter how many supplementary exercises you do, if you don’t do the real thing, your body is never going to have the chance to familiarize itself with the squat and then, your full squats with heels down is not going to ever happen.

Coach JayJasmine

… And you never have to worry about finding a chair anymore!

Click here to learn how to progress from double-leg squats to SINGLE-LEG Squats!

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2 thoughts on “Unable to keep heels down in a full squat? It may not be your ankles’ fault!

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