The Magic Number for Squatting Well and Without Pain
You were born squatting like a champ.
Soon after you learned how to walk, you were naturally picking up lint, furballs, and other curious paraphernalia as you explored the world around you.
Then, you began sitting in the first grade for hours at a time, quickly adapting to an artificatial environment that didn’t require healthy movement. Why would it? With a seat under your butt holding you up against gravity and a backrest behind your spine, no energy was required to keep your body upright in space.
Immediately, you began losing range of motion as your muscles, ligaments, tendons, nerves, and other connective tissue began to tighten. As author Kelly Starrett notes in his book “Deskbound”, “In nature, people run and land on their midfoot. In kindgergarten, kids run naturally, having never experienced an environment without healthy movement. As early as first grade, after hours of sitting every day, kids begin landing on their heels, starting to overload the ankles and build adhesion in the calves.
This is the downward spiral of musculoskeletal health and fitness, leading the way for a lifetime of improper movement and chronic pain.
The Downward Spiral of Ankle Overload
Kids experience pain for an instant. A few tears – and they’re immediately back in the game.
That phenomenon doesn’t mean that the downward spiral of compensatory mechanics hasn’t already begun.
As the calf muscles put the brakes on your stride when you walk or run, you naturally overload those tissues. In the short-term, your muscles do the best they can to keep up, gaining some strength and stamina. After enough over-time work, the body begins to lay down excess fascia to passively blunt the force of that heel strike.
The once beautiful ass-to-grass squat with full-range dorsiflexion in the ankles that you experienced as a babe begins to deteriorate into a feeble glute-less involved sitting into the chair.
Squatting Well Requires This Much Ankle Dorsiflexion
As a baby in that picture-perfect squat, your knees migrated well over your toes.
This range of motion allowed your hips to sink low, your spine to stay neutral, and ease throughout your body.
As an adult who has lost the ability to do that squat, your ankle dorsiflexion has likely become significantly limited.
As you mobilize, stretch, and move into the boundaries of your flexibility, you’ll want to know what you’re working towards.
The magic number for ankle dorsiflexion range of motion, allowing an ass-to-grass squat, dissipating ankle, foot, calf, knee and low back pain pain, as well as minimizing risk of injury in the future, is 5” of ankle dorsiflexion range of motion.
How to Test your Ankle Dorsiflexion Range of Motion
Test your range of motion with the knee to wall test.
Find a trusty wall and put a ruler perpendicular to the wall. Stand on the ruler with your toes to the wall. Keep your heel down and bring your knee to the wall, being sure to keep your knee over your 2nd toe. Move your toes as far from the wall as possible without your heel lifting. Your ankle dorsiflexion range of motion is the furthest you can go from the wall without your heel lifting up off the ground.
How to Reach Your Magic Number
Any interventions you take on to increase your ankle range of motion and muscle flexibility should increase this range in as little as a month. Assuming you’ve been diligent about your mobilization and stretching efforts (4-6 days per week spending 10 minutes per session) and if your range hasn’t increased after that timeline, it’s time to seek out an expert who can diagnose why your range of motion hasn’t increased. Possible suspects include structural blocks (that would require surgery to increase and I suggest, you work around for your fitness and movement routines) and the more common culprit, adhesion.
Structural blocks (picture your wallet in the hinge of a door and you cannot close the door) require surgical solutions. Unless you have a glaring issue that the surgeon notes would be easy clean up, I recommend that you accept that your range of motion will not increase and modify your movements appropriately.
Concerning your squat, this means choosing a wider stance with your toes pointed out more significantly from parallel in order to avoid your end ranges of ankle dorsiflexion. Key to hip flexion depth is making sure your groin muscles are flexible enough.
Hopefully your issue is one of adhesion. A qualified myofascial therapist will be able to increase your ankle dorsiflexion range of motion within 3-5 visits and get you to the magic number of 5″ quicker than you will be able to do on your own.
Get your ruler out and measure. How much ankle dorsiflexion do you? Do you see a correlation with how well (or not well) you squat?
Dr. Christopher Stepien D.C.
– 5 Eastmans Rd, Parsippany, NJ 07054
– 862 – 205- 4847