Today's post will be a quick followup to the previous Simple Fixes to Keep You Squattin'. Here we have a simple handful of activation/mobility drills to get you in proper positioning and alignment for the squat. These are not an end all be all, as some people will need more activation work and others may already be very mobile/lax and require more stability work. However, this warmup meets in the middle and should appropriate for most people. I like warm-ups to start ground based and have the client or athlete work towards their feet as they progress. Going from standing to laying down, to kneeling to standing again and back down just doesn't have a good flow. Plus, starting with the simplest drill and progressing to the hardest usually means ground=>hands feet(quadruped)=>kneeling=>standing.
These drills cover a few simple but crucial elements in getting prepared for the squat which are; glute activation, hip internal rotation, neutral lower back, thoracic mobility, hamstring/quad/hip flexors mobility and lastly, proper squat stance.
Some people move like the Tin Man, some people move like Gumby and some people just naturally look good and move well. The first two make up the majority of the population with the third always surprising me because you never know when some guy or girl off the street will execute a great squat with minimal coaching. I've seen some clients move like a rusty robot slowing losing battery power all while making grunting noises like the mobility drills are the most painful thing they've ever done. Instead of turning into THAT, do these drills and stay healthy.
Here, Taylor takes us through these quick and effective drills.
This one starts on the back, with one leg flexed. I prefer keeping the kneed over the bent leg close to the chest to keep the weight over the glutes, so we don't let the hamstrings dominate the movement. The leg with the foot touching the ground stays bent with the heel of the foot around 6-8 inches from the hips. Again, placement makes a big difference: foot out too far means the hamstrings will take over, foot too close and people extend through the lower back instead of the hips. Not how Taylor's lower back is neutral in the picture, not extended. Her glutes are doing all the work.
Aim to keep the knee of the working leg from caving in, so it stays in line with the foot. This is also critical because the glutes help to not only extend the hips but abduct as well so working to keep the knee from caving forces the glutes to work harder. While doing the exercise, actively contract the glutes and hold for a 1 or 2 count at the top and focus on using you BUTT, not your hamstrings. It will take some practice but be diligent. Do 10 reps per side.
Quadruped Hip Mobility
From the glute activation, simple turn over and get on all fours. The knees will be spaced out about hip width and the hands directly under the shoulders. Assume a neutral back and head position; there should be a straight line from hips to shoulders to the back of the head. next, turn one leg in so the ankle is crossed directly behind the crook of the other knee. Once you do this, inch the bent knee forward just a bit so it is slightly forward the of non-moving leg.
From here, you are going to push the hips back and out, towards the glutes of the bent leg. This will be about a 45 degree angle, halfway between sitting straight back and rocking to the side. As you push back, keep the back and head neutral as this trains proper squat positioning as well. You will feel a stretch in your glutes as you push back and some work in the hip of the bent leg as well. The deeper you go, the more internal rotation you will get on the side of the bent leg, which is good. Push back as far as you can with a neutral back and then come back to starting position. Do 10 reps on each leg.
Quadruped Hip Flexion
I covered this one in the Squat article but it bears repeating here; also you are already on your hands and knees so it makes sense to reinforce some good body positioning while you're down there. Start with a slightly wider than shoulder width knee position, with you back and head in the same neutral position as the exercise above. Once again, we are pushing back as far as we can get with a neutral back and head. You should feel a contraction in the hip flexors the deeper you go. You might find if you start too narrow, that as you get further back, your knees may turn themselves out. This is just reinforcing that you most likely need a slightly wider stance. Slowly move the knees out and repeat until you find the position that allows deep hips (near the feet) with a neutral lower back. Here, Taylor looks slightly deeper with a very wide stance but she most likely would not be able to maintain that lower back position once on her feet, so she moved it in a little and looks good on the right.
Squat to Stand
This next one is deceivingly simple but challenges a lot of people. Come to your feet and assume a stance just outside of shoulder width with toes pointed slightly out. From here, bend over and grab the toes and pull yourself down with your arms. The arms should remain straight and on the INSIDE of the knees. The hips should be below the shoulders and in the bottom position the head and chest should be up. if you had a logo on the front of your shirt, someone should be able to see it clearly when you are in the bottom position.
You will hold onto your toes and stand back up and then repeat. If you cannot get your hips down low, try either moving your stance out a little or turning the toes out a little more. You may need to do both. if you find you need a super-wide stance to get low, then start with doing some bodyweight squats to a low box and then progress to this exercise.
Looking at Taylor from the side we see A. Low Hips B. Neutral back. C. Chest up D. Knees over toes. Perfect.
Walking Spidermans with Hip Lift and Overhead Reach
This next one is certainly the most complicated of the bunch which is why it is saved for last. I find most people have an easier time getting their chest up in this exercise than the squat to stand. This movement is all about finding the proper stance and hand positioning.
The first movement of this exercise is a BIG lunge forward from a standing position. The forward knee should make a near 90 degree angle when in the deep lunge position with the trailing leg extended back far with the back knee touching the ground. Both hands are on the INSIDE of the forward leg, right in line with the ankle.
From here, the chest is up like in the previous exercise, with the arms straight, back knee on the ground and a big stretch in the hamstrings of the forward leg and quads/hip flexors of the trailing leg.
The next movement is simple. Drop the head and lift the hips as high as you can get them, staying on the toes on the back foot and the front foot completely flat. Then we are dropping the back knee to the ground again and driving the chest up.
Lastly, once the chest is up, we are going to reach to the OPEN side of the body (the side with the leg back) and follow our hand with our eyes, getting our arm over head. Most of the movement here should come from the upper back, you are basically making a big windmill with one hand.
Bring the hand back in, step forward to bring your feet together and then lunge forward with the opposite leg. Repeat 8 times on each leg.
I've also included a youtube link of the exercise being performed. I got this one from my time at Cressey Performance so I thought it fitting to give them props here. Featured in the video is my friend Kiefer, as well. Enjoy.
These five exercises should get you moving and feeling well enough to tackle a great lower body training session. You might not even notice it while doing the exercises, but these 5 tackle so many areas of mobility, tissue length, neutral back positioning, thoracic mobility, hip mobility, shoulder mobility etc. that you are getting a near-entire total body warmup.
Try these out compared the the normal arm waving and calf raises you see most people do before they jump into their workouts. Trust me, people will stop trying to oil your joints when they see you stop moving like Tin Man.